I can recall attending the UCISA 2004 conference and listening to a speaker describing the problems caused by providing free laser printing services to student. It seems students made heavy use of the service and this caused particular problems at the end of term: the print queues would be full, so students would resubmit jobs, compounding the problems.

But this is nothing new, I felt. I wanted to chat with my former manager at Loughborough University and ask him if we hadn’t addressed this problem back in the late 1980s. But he was near the front of the lecture theatre and I was near the back. Wouldn’t it be great, I thought, if we could exploit the WiFi networks which were starting to appear, and have such discussions during a talk – this could help to improve the quality of the questions I felt.

Since then I have explored various ways of providing chat channels at events. At the Institutional Web Management Workshop 2005 held at the University of Manchester we made use of an IRC channel – on which the small numbers of IRC users heard about the 7/7 London bombings prior to the rest of the audience: the logs of the IRC chat makes interesting reading from a historical perspective:

Jul 07 11:09:30 <SebastianRahtz>scary stuff with bombs. not impossible mchester next? ...
Jul 07 11:19:54 <AndrewSavory>Sebastian: Swindon and Brighton rail stations shut
Jul 07 11:19:59 <EmTonkin>oh
Jul 07 11:20:00 <AndrewSavory>all central london bus services stopped

Various chat tools were used at subsequent events, including Jabber and the Gabbly service. But since last year the term ‘micro-blogging’ has come into vogue and I’ve an interest in exploring the potential of Twitter in a conference setting, especially as I’ve been making regular use of Twitter for some time now.

Recent Experiments

My initial experiments took place when I attended the NDAP 2008 conference in Taiwan. However my use of Twitter (sometimes summarising individual slides) caused problems for my Twitter ‘followers’, some of whom commented that their Twitter client was full of my photos of my portrait when they logged on in the morning and others found that having my Tweets being delivered on their mobile phone resulted in a continual stream of SMS alerts.

Following a suggestion from James Clay, I then tried the Jaiku service. I’d tried this before, but this time I installed a dedicated Jaiku client and, with some help from James, set up the #ndap2008 channel which was dedicated to the conference. However, despite its richness as a micro-blogging and aggregation tool, Jaiku hasn’t really taken off – and as the most important aspect of a social networking tool is the social network, I reluctantly decided that Jaiku wouldn’t be the tool to use.

The Social Dimension Of Micro-Blogging At Events

The fact that the numbers of posts (tweets) I sent on the first day of he NDAP 2008 conference irritated a couple of my Twitter followers is a good indicator of the social aspect of micro-blogging. And although I’ve concluded that it’s not the best tool for summarising individual points for a series of talks I have found that it can provide social benefits. After the conference had finished and on my last night in Taipei I tweeted that I was about to head off for a meal. A few minutes later I received a phone call from Casey Bisson, a fellow speaker at the conference. He’d spotted my tweet and suggested we go out for a meal. Which we did, and found a German restaurant where we found sausages and dark German beer made a refreshing change from the Chinese meals we’d been eating.

And then arriving at Montreal I tweeted a few minutes after arriving at the hotel that I was about to go out for a meal. A few minutes later I received a series of suggestions for how I should spend my time in Montreal:

Twitter posts

And a few minutes later another Twitterer pointed out a post on the conference forum aimed at “Beer Geeks in Montreal“:
Twitter posts

From this I’ve learnt about the serendipitous benefits Twitter can provide. If I say where I am and what I’d like to do, people are willing to help 🙂 And this, of course, fits in nicely with the social aspect of conferences – it’s not all about listening to talks.

Micro-Blogs At The Museums and The Web Conference

These reflections are very relevant to the Museums and the Web 2008 conference I am currently attending. Mike Ellis (with whom I am running two sessions at the conference) is providing the technical infrastructure for aggregating blog posts, Flickr feeds, etc. related to the conference. Mike is currently finalising these technologies, which includes an aggregation of posts on the home page and, something I’ve not seen before, a timeline of Twitter posts with the #mw2008 tag.

Twitter Timeline

It is really interesting to see how the use of networked technologies at events is evolving. Initially we were using self-containing instant messaging tools, but we’re now using tools, such as Twitter, which, when used in conjunction with RSS feeds and agreed tags (#mw2008 in this case) allows the content to be reused in a variety of different ways. I’m looking forward to seeing how this experiment works.