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Using Twitter at Conferences

Twitter.com/cote

Sometime ago (1-2 years), there was a discussion about using “official” IRC channels at conferences as backchannel. People still do it for sure, and it’s nice. The idea is that there will always be a backchannel at a conference, so why not formalize it a little bit to benefit from it. A “backchannel” is essentially the conversation the audience is doing while a presenter or panel is going on. It ranges from heckling (or “intelligent snarks”), to side conversations, to people providing links and commentary that compliment the talk. Of course, the backchannel can also be about the conference itself, not just the talks at the event.

Things get fascinating when people project that backchannel in a public place, if not right behind the speaker. The idea is to weave the “front-channel” and backchannel together as needed. In doing so, the hope is to add even more value to the talk and conference. This kind of thing freaks the crap out of some (most?) presenters, while others are neutral, and some like it.

So, people have been doing this with IRC for some time. There’s nothing wrong with IRC, I’m all for it (though I wish more people would use it). During Adobe Engage last week, several people (myself included) used Twitter as a backchannel to great effect. While that didn’t work for some people, other people really, really liked it. More importantly, it pulled in several people who weren’t at the conference. Now, using Twitter like IRC is quite the open debate at the moment, but I’ll put that discussion aside for the moment. (I appreciate the people who take a pragmatic approach to the problem and “change the channel” ;>)

Twitter as a backchannel

I’m more interested in experimenting with Twitter as an official conference backchannel. Here’s the experiment I’d like to perform or see others do:

  1. Create a Twitter account for the conference. For example, ApolloCamp.
  2. As you (the person(s) who control that account) find people who are at or writing about the event, follow them on that conference account. This will mean that the “with friends” page for that account will contain all of the updates (“tweats”) from those people. Theory being that you’ll see a lot of backchannel commentary about the event.
  3. Use a projector or a large screen to display that “with friends” page in at least one promonate public place. This way, people in “meat-world” can walk by and see the “ambient intamacy” in the backchannel. This is like projecting an IRC room as described above.
  4. If you were super-swanky, allow anyone to walk up to a terminal and add their own update to the conference Twitter account. Ideally, you’d build your own app to do this so that any random person using the terminal couldn’t go and screw with the Twitter account.

I’ve suggested to this to a few people and hopefully we’ll see it in action at ApolloCamp (looks like it’ll happen). I’ll try to do it at BarCampAustin and SXSWi if there’s not an official one setup (anyone have a projector/big screen for either?). Or, I suppose, you could just watch my Twitter page as I’m sure I’ll be adding the same people.

Now, there’s the whole question of using Twitter to do this (I’m not even sure if it’s within their terms of service: I can’t read lawyer, but it looks OK). Like I said, some people get quite rankled for using Twitter as a party line versus a status/presence server.

What do you think?

Update: looks like SXSWi is handled.

Disclaimer: Adobe is a client. I got a free, press pass to SXSWi (thanks Josh & crew!).

Technorati Tags: , , ,

Categories: Collaborative, Community, Conferences, Ideas, Social Software.

Comment Feed

11 Responses

  1. i'm undecided. on the one hand, it's probably the simplest possible approach, but on the other it's tough on the folks that aren't at the show; i abandoned twitter when you guys were there b/c it was buried in conference related miscellany.

    tough call.

  2. I hear you completely. I so wish the world took to IRC like they do to Twitter. As it stands, the Twitter community seems to be a better gathering point for this backchannel/ambient intimacy stuff that IRC.

    Don't get me wrong about IRC: #redmonk and #drunkandretired are awesome. There's just something about Twitter that's nicer to use than IRC alone.

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