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November 28, 2008

Je ne ReLIVE rien

I don't suppose that the title of this post comes close to meaning anything in reality!  What it means in the very personal virtual world of InsideMyHead is, "I didn't go to the ReLIVE conference at the OU last week but I wish I had" :-).  Why?  Because it looks to have been a great success. Certainly if Roo Reynold's excellent final keynote, a summing up of what happened over the two days, is anything to go by.

Having watched Roo's summing up, I tweeted that every conference needs one of these kinds of closing talks - particularly so where you are trying to amplify the event to people who are not attending in person.  Cliff Lynch often performs a very effective similar function at digital library events.

InsideMyHead didn't feature of course, not least because the orientation experience is so poor that absolutely no-one makes it through :-).  No surprises that, based on the little that I saw, it looks like Second Life predominated.  Despite a couple of recent calls to knock our obsession(?) with Second Life on the head (here and here), it remains (quite rightly in my humble opinion) the primary focus of our attention as far as the use of MUVEs to support learning is concerned.

There is only one point at which I take mild exception to Roo's talk.  Towards the end he shows an image of the in-world venue that the OU had created for the event and says something like, "there was a virtual backchannel for this event... but this wasn't it", referring instead to the widespread use of Twitter made by conference delegates.  Well, I can't argue with that - I wasn't there after all.  What I would say though is that, as a partial remote attendee, I would have much preferred for the talks to have been streamed in-world (rather than on the Web) so that those of us wanting to take part remotely could have used in-world chat as our own back-channel.  Twitter probably worked very well as the back-channel for those delegates "in the room" (though I have a strong personal dislike for the use of Twitter as a live-blogging channel because it lacks any sensible filtering mechanism and there is wittering (sorry, I mean twittering) that I simply do not want to listen to in large volumes :-).

Of course, Second Life wouldn't have worked well as a back-channel for those people in the room, not least since having lots of people trying to run Second Life over a wireless network is pretty much doomed to failure, but also because if you are immersed in a RL conference, then trying also to become immersed in a virtual world probably isn't very helpful.

So there's a problem... Second Life would have worked better (IMHO) for those of who were remote but Twitter (or something similar) worked better for those in the room.  What we needed was some kind of bridge between the two - allowing conversations to happen across all the participants.

This wouldn't be hard to do technically (there are a number of Twitter repeaters available in Second Life, including one that I built some time ago) but there are probably organisational and cultural issues to address.

Anyway... this is more "thinking out loud" than complaining or anything.  My gut feeling is that hybrid physical/virtual meetings are going to feature significantly in our future and that thinking about how best to facilitate them is best done sooner rather than later.

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I think at any large(ish) event, you are bound to get different sets of people forming together - essentially forming ad hoc communities for the duration of the conference (and possibly beyond).

It seems to me that this is something that is bound to happen the more you amplify a conference. So if there is enough of a community in SL to virtually 'attend' the conference, then that is a valid channel - but there may be one on Twitter as well.

I realise that this dilutes the effect somewhat - but I'm not sure it can be avoided. I went to ALA this year - which must have been the largest event I've ever attended professionally - and it was great, but the number of people I managed to have meaningful conversation with was relatively small - there must have been people there moving in entirely different circles to me and experiencing the event in a completely different way.

So, in terms of 'facilitating' virtual attendance - is it about community action - if you'd said "I'm attending in SL, who's coming with me"? I'm not sure - but I think multiple channels are bound to happen, and it is beyond the ability of the conference organisers to 'manage' all the possibilities.

Actually, I had quite an interesting natter with an avatar at the cafe on Day 2 prior to Roo's summing-up. I was also the subject of an expert put-down by an SL semi-celeb, probably deserved. But I agree that there was a disconnect between the cafe and the event. As to the SL negativity, people have been saying that kind of stuff for a *long* time. Nothing new or clever there, really.

I noticed that AngryBeth was attending both inworld and in person... but yes, it would have been nice to get more 'presence' from the virtual world projected to those there in person.
What SL was also missing was a good way to capture the in-world discussions and make those available. There are solutions for this (chat-bridge, SLOODLE, sleeds, etc) I guess, but all need a little extra work to set up.

@owen I wasn't suggesting that multiple channels shouldn't be encouraged (quite the opposite in fact) and I agree that they will form to a certain extent spontaneously. But where we can predict them happening, as I think is the case with both the use of SL (for a largely SL-oriented conference) and the use of Twitter (for pretty much anything these days) then we should take steps to coordinate/bridge the activity and communication if we can.

In the case of this particular conference, I was very tempted to say, "come over to Eduserv Island and we'll watch the live video stream there" (I have done this with other conferences in the past). I didn't do so because it was obvious that the conference organisers had put a lot of effort into their in-world venue and I didn't want to be disruptive of that.

@daniel sorry, I should have mentioned the Sloodle chat widget thingy - apologies for not doing so.

as a partial remote attendee, I would have much preferred for the talks to have been streamed in-world (rather than on the Web) so that those of us wanting to take part remotely could have used in-world chat as our own back-channel

I've been thinking out loud about that recently too. (http://rooreynolds.com/2008/11/22/relive08-closing-keynote-when-its-all-over-we-still-have-to-clear-up/#comment-145364) The fact that needs and available attention of the physical and the remote attendees makes it hard to have a one-size-fits-all solution.

The point I was (clumsily) making in the talk wasn't that SL didn't act as a backchannel (it clearly did), but just that the backchannel which got most of the attention from the RL participants was Twitter. It was shown on screen a couple of times, and the panel at the start of day 2 made extensive use of it. Nothing wrong with using a range of tools to meet a range of needs, but I was struck by the way the lightweight, text only backchannel attracted more of the physical attendees time and attention than SL did, even in an event at which a lot of people were sharing best practice and examples from SL.

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