Amplified Events

UKOLN’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW 2010) starts a week today, with the welcome talk being given at 13:30 on Monday 12 July.  Way back in July 2005 we exploited a WiFi network at this event for the first time (with the discussion on the IRC back channel being used by about 18 or the participants who had brought a laptop centred on the London 7/7 bombings which occurred on the second day of the IWMW 2005 event).  Since then we have made use of WiFi networks to support the annual event, which is a good example of an ‘amplified conference’ to use the term initially coined in July 2007 by Lorcan Dempsey and described in Wikipedia (although I wish Lorcan had used the term ‘amplified events’ as not all events are conferences!).

I am aware that interest in amplified conferences has grown since such early experiments with, for example, The IX Girona Seminar, amplified conference, which takes place today, showing that the interest in such approaches has gone beyond the IT and Web sector and is now being embraced by the scientific research community.  For those who have an interest here are my thoughts on best practices for engaging with amplified events from the perspective of the event organisers and the local and remote audience, based on our planning for the amplification of IWMW 2010.

The Organiser’s Perspective

Our approaches to the amplification of the IWMW 2010 are based on, as in recent years, live video-streaming of the plenary talks, the Twitter back channel (using the #iwmw10 event tag) and use of Slideshare for access to the speakers slides.

We have made the speakers aware that we intend to stream their talks and ensured that they are happy with this. We have also told the speakers that we intend to make the videos of the talks available after the event, but we do allow speakers to request that the video of their talk is not published if they change their mind after the event.

As we did for the first time at IWMW 2009 we will. be using an official event live blogger who will use the iwmwlive Twitter account to provide a summary of the plenary talks.  The blogger will also provide summaries of the talks on the IWMW 2010 blog which should be published shortly after the talks have been given.

We will try to ensure that the slides used by the plenary speakers (and, if possible, facilitators of the workshop sessions) are published on Slideshare under the IWMW 2010 event group.  If the speakers are Slideshare users they may choose to upload the slides themselves, and should then add them to the IWMW 2010 event so they can easily be found.  If speakers ado not have a Slideshare account we will do this on their behalf. The availability of the slides on Slideshare is designed particularly to facilitate viewing by the remote audience. In addition the slides will be able to be embedded in other blogs, Web sites, etc.

A WiFi network will be available for use by the local delegates. We will need to check for access to the network is obtained and if there are likely to be any problems with non-standard devices (I wonder if anyone will bring along an iPad?)

The Speakers

The amplification of the event will enable the speakers to reach out to a (much?) bigger audience than would be the case otherwise.  However we are aware of possible dangers that this could be regarded as too intimidating or that talks will become too bland,  with speakers unwilling to be too honest about any problems they have experienced when, for example, they describe institutional case studies.

The Local Audience

We expect significant numbers of participants to be using a networked device during the event and also during the talks.  Based on the experiences of previous years we feel that many participants appreciate the benefits which can be gained from active participation in the discussions around the plenary talks.  Last year we introduced a ‘quiet zone‘ (located in the balcony of the auditorium) for those who wished to avoid the possible distraction associated with people tapping away on their keyboards (although this may be a temporary concern as mobile devices should not be noisy). This year, however, there does not appear to be an obvious place for such a quiet are, so we will have to make a decision on how we handle this on the Monday morning, before the event starts.

We will encourage  participants who intend to make use of networked devices during the event to familiarise themselves with the technologies in advance of the event in order to gain the most from the technologies and to be able to use focus attention of the talks rather than the  technologies themselves.

Participants should also try to install relevant applications in advance  as this will help to minimise the bandwidth demands on the WiFi.

The main application we would recommend is a Twitter client – my preferred application is TweetDeck which I use on both my desktop PC and my iPod Touch.

As described in a blog post on the IWMW 2010 blog we will also be providing an opportunity for participants to explore the potential of  social location based sharing services during their 3 days in Sheffield. If you would like to evaluate the potential of such services we recommend that you sign up for Gowalla and/or Foursquare and install the software on you mobile device. I intend to geo-locate the main venues we will be using at the event (the registration area, the  main auditorium, the rooms for the parallel session, the accommodation and maybe even some of the pubs) so when you arrive at the event you should be able to see who else is around.

The Remote Audience

Once again we will be providing an official blogger who will be responsible for tweeting during the plenary talks (on the iwmwlive account) and summarising the talks in blog posts published shortly after the talks have been given.

The remote audience may find it useful  to keep up-to-date with discussions on Twitter by following the #iwmw10 event hashtag and following the iwmwlive Twitter feed. The speakers’ slides will be uploaded to Slideshare and should be linked in from the abstracts (e.g. see the abstract for Susan Farrell’s talk on “Are web managers still needed when everyone is a web ‘expert’?“. Also note that all of the ten  plenary talks and 19 parallel sessions have been allocated a hashtag of the form #P0-P9 and #A1-#A10 and #B1-B9 so if you wish to refer to Susan’s talk rather than having to use the long title of the talk or her name you can simple say “Listening to Susan Farrell’s’s #P2 talk at #iwmw10“.

We intend to provide a public display of the #IWMW10 tweets  at the start and the end of the event and, perhaps, during breaks but we don’t intend to do this during the speaker’s talks. The remote audience should be aware that their tweets may be publicly visible during the event.

We would also encourage those participating in the Twitter discussions to geo-locate where they are tweeting from for reasons which are described below.  Note, however, that you should consider the privacy and security issues associated with doing this – you may not, for example, wish to provide geo-location information about you home if you are working from home.

What’s the Business Case? What About the Evidence?

At a time of cutbacks in the public sector we need to be able to demonstrate the value of the work we do.  We could potentially be asked to provide an answer to the question “What is the value provided by amplifying the event?” and even “What is the return on investment in doing this, in concrete money terms?“.

I would argue that amplified events can provide cost saving to sector through efficiencies and sharing and may also provide environmental benefits. But whilst I am aware of the benefits of the discussions which can take place on Twitter around amplified events and can point out how speakers can benefit from the ways in which video-streaming can enhance awareness of, and one would hope, take-up of the ideas they are talking about, this is not evidence.

In order to gain evidence of the remote participation at #IWMW10 we intend to analyse the logs of the live video stream.   We would also  like to analyse the locations of those involved in Twitter discussions, so we would invite participants (but those located remotely and those in the auditorium) to geo-locate their tweets.  In the final session we intend to provide a map showing the locations of the Twitter community. This will provide some evidence of the numbers of remote participants and their locations which can help to inform decision-making for event amplification at future events, as the 20-40% cuts we read about over the weekend start to bite.

In addition to such evidence we also need feedback, comments and stories. So if you have found the amplification of the event useful please let us know.  We will be providing an opportunity for feedback on the IWMW 2010 blog.

I’m looking forward to chatting to many people who won’t be in Sheffield next week 🙂