Community on and off line

On Monday Tom and I participated in the Program for the Future Conference. He was onsite at the Tech. I was at home working, and watching the event in Second Life.

I’m not a fan of online only conferences, I think they’re aims (stated) are good, but the experience is bad. Conferences are as much networking, hallway conversations, as much as learning, sit in chair experiences. Let’s be honest, sitting in a chair, at work or at home for 8 hours watching online video of a presenter, is not exactly a great user experience. Sure it appeals to some folks, that’s fine, but I think until we’re all wearing helmets and truly interacting, it’s more a gimmick than a serious endeavor. Case in point, I couldn’t get anyone at my office interested in Aral’s conference. Sitting at home on a weekend, to watch a breeze preso, was not at all appealling to them, and since the local hubs were in NY, London, and a few other places, the RL (Real Life) networking wasn’t.

So this event, took a different approach, which I think makes more sense. Tom registered for the RL event, paid his fee (not much either, which was nice) and was in the room. I paid nothing (it was free to attend virtually), and sat in 1 of three Second Life gathering places.

The one I was at, “Tech 2” had a good turn out, I’d say 50ish avatars. Not bad at all. The other benefit was that Second Life provided an awesome back channel for the event, a few people that were physically present, were also in SL. As were “moderators” so to speak.

The RL to SL interaction actually left a bit to be desired. The mural in the screen shot, had SL post its that we could use, and in RL there were post its, but no inter relation. Obviouslya touch problem, but still made it a little isolated feeling.

Also to ask questions, SL users had to visit a website to submit a question. It would have been a much more interactive experience if, say there was a screen at the event with SL on it, or that the in world moderator folks could pass on our questions, it made for a kind of disjointed experience.

Overall the attempt was awesome. They did a really good (as much as can be done I think) job of merging SL and RL into a single event. I have to give kudo’s to SL or whomever does the tech behind the video, that video and audio seemed very well in sync, which was nice. Tom and I were chatting a bit, and I wasn’t like “What? that hasn’t happened yet”

Are events like this the future? No I don’t think so. Maybe the distant future, but not any time soon. There’s too much signal loss. I was sitting watching my SL screen, it was very hard to do my work (since I wasn’t ‘at’ the conference I still had work to do) since leaving SL I miss the chat, which is the backchannel of the event.

I do think however this type of Rl and SL offering helps expand and encourage community. There was hundreds more people talking, sharing ideas, etc, that wouldn’t have been able to, since they weren’t phyisically present. The networking is nil, which is why these virtual events are not a replacement, but still as a way to augment an event, they’re awesome!

A note to the organizers, for 8 people, the event was not very smooth. If it’s going to be an annual event, I suggest hiring pros to do the organizing, or put a little more into the little things. Just my thoughts.

By John Wilker

I'm a science fiction writer and conference organizer. In 2017 I published my first book, 'Space Rogues', a fun Sci-Fi adventure with a fun cast of characters. I'm also the co-founder of 360|Conferences, a conference and event logistics consulting company.

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