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Virtual conferencing at HEAD conference

By Gavin, 26th October 2008

HEAD conference

I presented at <head> at the London Hub (in person) on Friday, and today online (from home). I wanted to capture some of my thoughts immediately before I forget:

This is the first time I believe I’ve seen what I’d call true p2p broadcasting.  Perhaps a coming of age.

Having spent (too) many years webcasting everything from Glastonbury to conferences to Parliament, I have to say that this went very well. I started doing “webcast chats” at Virgin Net in 1996, which worked – and helped me learn how to mash up broadcasting with chat rooms – but the video was still “one-way”. The distributed-source nature of HEAD really changed this context.

As a presenter, I found the experience relatively seamless*. The great benefits of presenting from home included;

– not having to travel the venue, hang around, and travel back.

This is a vast benefit. It’s very low stress, even travelling across London is stressful. No (/minimal) missing out on family time at weekends.

– No CO2 footprint.

– No £cost.

The negative bits? Missing out on serendipity.  This was mitigated, in part, by the Hubs – which is a great idea – and the chat room. It actually felt a bit more human than standing on a stage.

I enjoyed this more than most conferences I’ve spoken at, and had more (and better) questions via the chat room. I also felt much more comfortable stopping “presenting” and actually listening to the questions. Maybe physical conferences should present the back-channel to the presenter on their tele-prompt?

The distributed nature of the presenters coming into the video stream really helped to create a feel of community. Being able to jump between rooms was also very handy.

Things that would make it better;

1) As a presenter, being able to see and/or hear the viewers; somehow. I’m not sure how. More emoticons, a “sucks more/less” slider? This would really help with gauging feedback. Put pressure on your presenters to be better – this can only be a good thing.

2) As both audience and presenter – a cross-room chat back-channel. I’d love to see the chatter from other presentations to see if there were points of serendipity I could pull out (while presenting). As an audience member I’d like to see all the chats.

3) Better software* integration to manage my view vs everyone else’s view and how it can be customised.

4) Presenter’s need to be retrained – this will take time. Aral made a training video, which was great, but we need to extend this to a whole new “stage” (e.g. getting good lighting, decent cams, etc.). I hooked up 2 webcams so I could jump-cut but manage it well while speaking – but I have a motorised cam, so could have given position control to the audience.

In summary, this was a great experience (especially for a first conference) and one I’d definitely repeat.

I also estimate that this approach saved between 1,000 and 5,000 tonnes of CO2.

Well done to Aral and the whole HEAD team.

*Adobe still have a huge amount of work to do to get it right (there were some pretty basic features missing from the online app).