On Monday I facilitated a workshop on “Metrics and Social Web Services: Quantitative Evidence for their Use & Impact ” which was held at the Open University. There were over 30 participants at the workshop with another 20 or so participants watching the live video stream and engaging in discussions on the video streaming channel or using the #ukolneim Twitter hashtag.

A report on the content of the workshop is currently being prepared. In addition the feedback from the remote participants will be analysed and a report published on this blog (the provision of the remote amplification of the workshop was carried out as part of the JISC-funded Greening Event II project which UKOLN together with ILRT, University of Bristol are providing.

The post will summarise one additional area of experimentation which took place at he workshop.  As described in a post on “Plans for “Metrics and Social Web Services” Workshop on Monday” in addition to the provision of the live streaming service we used the event as an opportunity to evaluate the potential of the Shhmooze app.

As described in the post the Shhmooze Web site states that:

Research by Shhmooze shows that 75% of conference delegates find networking to be hard work or ‘a nightmare’!

That’s because it’s really hard to find the right person to talk to within a crowd of dozens, hundreds or thousands of people. And, for many people, it’s even harder to strike a conversation out of nowhere with a complete stranger.

Since myself and colleagues at UKOLN organise many events we are always looking for ways to improve the effectiveness of our events.  The use of the event amplification provide a means of improving the effectiveness of an event by enabling people who are not present to learn from the talks and engage in the discussions, thus potentially enhancing the event for those who are physically present.  But how might a proximity-based application such as Shhmooze enhance an event for those who are present?

For an answer to that question you just have to see the first message I received from he small number of people who installed the Shhmooze app on the iPhone/iPad/iPod Touch device and checked in when they arrived at the Open University in Milton Keynes.  The message read:

Help! Four of us stick downstairs – Jenni Lee building.

Yes, it seems that several of the participants had arrived at the venue early and found that they couldn’t get in to the building.  It would be nice to use this as an example of a success story illustrating one possibly benefit for the app – in reality, however, I failed to check posts to the app when I arrived at the building and the first notification I received actually arrived my an SMS text message from one of the four antibiotics no prescription participants who had my mobile phone number. But on reflection I think this shows that if use of an app such as Shhmooze becomes embedded at an event it can have benefits from making contact with event organisers as well as its  stated purpose in supporting networking by event attendees.

I found that the app working in providing an opportunity to establish a useful contact – after Elena Villaespese sent me a ‘wave’ I noticed from her Shhmooze profile that she was a PhD student at the University of Leicester and also affiliated with the Tate Gallery. This provided me with an opportunity to discuss my previous interests in supporting the museum sector and shared contacts in the School of Museum Studies at the University of Leicester.

It total, however, only size people seemed to have used the application, so it is difficult to get a feel for whether it will have a significant role to play at events. In part the low numbers may be due to the app only being available for mobile Apple devices and the relatively low numbers of users of mobile devices at the workshop in comparison with other events I have attended recently.

It does see to me that it will be worth carrying out further experimentation, with the IWMW 2011 event, which takes place on 26-27 July will provide an ideal opportunity to explore its potential further, and with over 150 participants we should be able to see how well use of the application scales with larger numbers of people checking in.

And whilst I appreciate that those participants who don’t have an Apple device might feel disenfranchised, it is worth noting that the Shhmooze blog has a post entitled We’re hiring, again. Android Developer Needed which indicates that there are plans to make the application available on a large number of platforms.

I previously commented that I felt the Shhmooze marketing material which suggested that the app can help you “find useful, interesting people” was rather cheesy.  From my initial experimentation I rather suggest that the app:

  • Allows you to contact event organisers without having to reveal mobile phones numbers
  • Enables you to chat with fellow participants without having to clutter up your Twitter stream with conference-specific discussions
  • Enables your event-specific engagement to fade away after the event is over

And as was posted to me in a final comment I received just as I ‘waved’ to a couple of Shhmooze users as the event was concluding: “It’s like being poked but more British“.  A very appropriate comment, I felt, especially, as described on their blog, Shhmooze was launched last November at Bizcamp Belfast – it does seem that schmoozing is an Irish thing and more friendly and without the double entendres to be found in Facebook.