We are now seeing many events taking place at venues with WiFi capabilities – and many participants (especially at many of the events I attend which are aimed at Web developer and Web user communities) arriving at such venues with laptops, PDAs or other networked devices (or non-networked devices, such as iPods, digital cameras, mobile phones, etc. which can be used to capture content at events and subsequently uploaded to Web services).

Initially we tended to find that laptops were used for reading email or Web surfing. This can be a problem for speakers and event organisers, as it can mean that participants aren’t paying full attention to the talks and discussions. Rather than banning use of networked devices, I have felt there’s a need to be pro-active in providing an environment in which the technologies can be used to enrich the event.

Some of the ways I have tried to do this at events I have been involved in organising include:

  • Use of a Wiki to support note-taking during discussion groups, and using the Wiki in reporting back. This has been very successful since I started doing this at the “Beyond Email – Strategies For Collaborative Working In The 21st Century” workshop in February 2004 (back then I used Wikalong, and you can see the notes from the discussion group sessions on Instant Messaging, news feeds, Blogs and Wikis).
  • A chat facility – I’ve made use of MSN Messenger, Jabber and IRC. This has seemed to be appreciated, but by a smaller group. The most interesting occasion was when IRC was being used at the IWMW 2005 event on 7/7 (the day of the London bombings). A small group of about 15 IRCers were aware of the news, whilst others in the 150+ audience were hearing about it if they were sat close to an IRCer. The use of such networked technologies in an environment in which we are more acutely aware of potential disasters (terrorism, weather, traffic, etc.) or inconveniences (e.g. delayed trains) is something we should give more thought to, and which I’ll return to at a later date.
  • Social bookmarking: I now tend to bookmark resources I talk about in my presentations in del.icio.us, to make it easier for people to access resources I mention (and also to add their own).
  • Tagging: a strength of UKOLN is its expertise in metadata. So I try to use a scalable approach to defining a tag for an event. Use of this tag is encouraged in social bookmarking, photo and other resource sharing services, Blogs and similar services. Use of the iwmw2006 tag, for example, can help find the resources related to the IWMW 2006 event, as can be seen using Technorati.

Some of the initial work in this area was described in “Using Networked Technologies To Support Conferences” paper by myself, Emma Tonkin and Paul Shabajee in a paper given at the EUNIS 2005 Conference. I need to revisit this work, though, in particular looking at embedding this approach within events and the context of use (not everybody will want to do this).