Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Remotely attending a conference - the reality check

I am at Oracle OpenWorld 2008, along with over 40,000 of my closest friends.

But even if you're at Oracle OpenWorld, it is physically impossible to attend everything, even if you try. Oliver Marks wrote at ZDNet about this. Here's part of what he wrote:

Although I’m in San Francisco events have unexpectedly conspired to prevent me spending as much time physically at the conference as I’d like. It’s fascinating to follow events on live blogs such as developer Eddie Awad’s site, watch video feeds and follow the twitter stream (which is how I found Eddie).

The differentiator to physically being at the conference is getting context, nevertheless it’s amazing how much you can get from paying attention remotely. It also sets you up well for when you arrive at the live event, which I am now going to get back to.

But what if you're not in San Francisco at all? What if you're in, say, Spain? Dennis Howlett has been monitoring Oracle OpenWorld and tweeting about it.

But before you conclude that the takeaway is to cut your travel (and conference attendance) budget to 0, let me note a few things.

First, I think that everyone agrees that virtual attendance is not the same as real attendance. I made this point last year - I was watching Larry Ellison's keynote on a closed-circuit TV screen, and therefore had no idea that hundreds of people left the keynote when Ellison momentarily left the stage. I'll grant that the tweets alerted me to this...

...but what if no one was tweeting? That's my second point - virtual coverage works for some conferences, but not for all of them.

The second largest conference that I attend every year is the International Association for Identification (IAI) annual conference. (That's why I was in Louisville in August, by the way.) If you don't know about the IAI, here's a bit about them:

The International Association for Identification, the world’s oldest and largest organization of forensic identification investigators, examiners, analysts and technicians, boasts over 7,000 members. This roster of accomplished and dedicated individuals makes the I.A.I. the primary resource in the realm of forensic science applications. Our members, through appointment to or service on a variety of committees, working groups, advisory boards and coalitions, not only advise on issues relating to crime scene investigations and the resulting collected evidence but help to set the agenda. Because the I.A.I. functions independently of government, we are sought after to provide intellectual and practical guidance regarding a number of forensic disciplines and the policies and practices which support their application.

Frankly, pretty important stuff.

My co-workers know about my various obsessions, so one of them suggested to me, "Hey, while we're at the IAI, why don't you Twitter it?" The idea was that this would be a good way to get some publicity out of our efforts there.

Unfortunately, this would only make sense if anyone were listening. I performed a search of both Twitter and FriendFeed, and I was unable to discover anyone other than myself who even had a passing interest in the IAI. If an IAI tweet lands in the Twitter forest, it won't make a sound.

So remote attendance, supporting by social media updates, only works for a very few conferences. It obviously works for SXSW, and it seems to work for Oracle OpenWorld.

Sort of.

Earlier today, Biz Stone happened to post a list of things that are trending on Twitter. Some of the trending (trendy) terms include T-Mobile, Obama, Sarah Palin, iPhone, Paulson, plus some others such as Mothra and Apple. But if you look at Biz's list, you can't find any reference to oow08, Oracle, OpenWorld, or openworld08.

So, to the general Twitter population, this conference doesn't even exist, and Dan Norris Facts [1] [2] are nowhere near as important as Your Mothra jokes [1].

But I'm not concerned. Dan Norris' shoes could stomp out your Mothra anyway.

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