September 29, 2022

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Social Media and the Changing Nature of Conferences

Social Media and the Changing Nature of Conferences

Social media has morphed from a series of interactive platforms–particularly blogging–to a series of interactive, immediate
platforms. We can share information, from the trivial (“I’m eating a sandwich”) to the vital (Twitter messages about San
Diego fires), instantly, across the planet. One of the more influential effects of this immediate communications is the live-blogging of events.

I use the term “blogging” loosely, as the new platforms have succeeded blogging as ways to get a series of short updates quickly to any number of people. This has been on my mind lately chiefly due to the recent Society of New Communications
Research (SNCR) symposium in Boston on December 6, where I did some live “blogging” myself along with a number of colleagues. These “blog” posts mainly took the form of dispatches on Twitter, the popular microblogging platform, but also took me through other media, particularly the new service Seesmic and a trip through Second Life.

The problem with live blogging

Live blogging has been controversial, mostly because of the concern of proprietary live information–paid content–getting out to people who haven’t paid. This issue came up earlier this year at the NCAA baseball tournament. Louisville Courier-Journal writer Brian Bennett was removed for live-blogging the game for the paper. Why? Apparently the NCAA was concerned about a violation of their exclusive rights to the live broadcast. “The accounts and descriptions of this game…” and all that official
stuff you hear every time you tune into to a sports broadcast, apparently they carry some weight.

This same concern has crossed into the conference world as well. Corporations such as Apple, wanting to hold onto control over how their announcements get to the public, have tried to keep bloggers from reporting live from their annual conferences in the past. Other brouhahas have brewed up in the past as well. The same worry about paid content getting out the door in real time cropped up among complaints about live blogging at a recent Ragan Communications event. As you will see from the link, Steve Crescenzo raised another issue; what about the accuracy of bloggers writing dispatches in real time?

Indeed, what about the ability to pay attention to the speakers and panelists you paid to see and still blog/Twitter/Utterz/Flickr/Seesmic etc? One could argue that in order to write something of any value, you need to pay attention. Of course, in reality it is a balancing act.

Live blogging success

Despite the objections to live blogging, it has become more prevalent and more successful over the course of 2007. Does “Information want to be free?” Maybe it’s more that information is a slave to whoever accesses it, repeats it, and transports
it. Apple must have relented, because otherwise how did Engadget get away with the live-blogging of the Macworld keynote introducing the (gasp!) iPhone (ooh!)? The concurrent Consumer Electronics Show reportedly ground to a virtual halt to
catch the reports of Jobs’ pronouncements.

The real game-changer has been Twitter. The microblogging service actually first broke it big in March, when it spread like juicy rumor throughout the conference attendees, and entertained many of us who were not there and wished we were. From there, people at conferences such as VON, the various PodCamps, Le Web 3, Web 2.0 Expo, and many more, have kept each other
and those on the outside apprised of events, from major pieces of news to blow-by-blow descriptions of keynotes and panels, at best with astute commentary. As a Twitter audience member, I have found these dispatches invaluable. Just last week, a Gilbane event was brought live to me through the “tweets” of Chris Brogan and David Fisher, and I even got a link to the research PowerPoint as it was being presented!

At the SNCR symposium, my fellow social media enthusiasts and I took things to an extreme. A whole table of us, in addition to several other people throughout the audience, were live-twittering the panels and speeches. To experiment further, a few of us, including Laura Fitton and SNCR fellow David Parmet, used the Seesmic video service to work out how this new service could prove useful at live events. The jury is still out, but Laura in particular was able to catch some potential “wow” moments, including a live long-distance ear-scope examination to demonstrate healthcare by Internet, and a demonstration of my explorations of the Second Life worlds as they were being discussed on the stage by a separate panel.

Did closing keynoter Shel Israel good-naturedly wonder aloud at what the heck Laura was doing placing her laptop on the stage? Yup, and that would probably be considered too disruptive at many events. However, the way we report events the people who report them, and when they report have changed forever.

*Doug Haslam is a public relations professional with [Topaz Partners](, specializing in technology clients in the Web 2.0, mobile, online marketing and networking industries. Doug blogs at [Tech PR Gem]( and Gischeleman’s

(, and is a regular on Topaz Partner’s weekly [PRobecast](*

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    Todd Van Hoosear

    Hey, I tried the “Sign in” feature, but got a weird error about an invalid sendmail path? Apparently it tried to email me but failed. Kink on the new site.
    Anyway, Twitter itself isn’t changing conferences, it’s simply replacing older backchannel technologies such as IRC–somebody tried to set up an IRC channel at PodCamp Boston and got maybe three people to log in.
    But Twitter and Seesmic are just the latest technologies that *have* forced change in conferences. Feedback loops are now real-time, much to the chagrin of the unprepared speaker.
    Shel certainly was not unprepared. He probably simply didn’t care about any potential interruptions. As an a social media / unconference veteran, he’s used to it! But woe to the unprepared speaker, who may assume nobody’s paying attention. Mind you, some people indeed aren’t. But most are simply trying to get the most out of the conference, and a few, like Doug and Laura, are trying to help others get something out of it too. (I spent time breaking the news about John Cass, Greg PC and Paul Gillin’s survey results (
    ) when I should’ve been listening to their actual presentation, for instance.)
    It’s a brave new world for conference organizers and presenters used to capturing and holding an audience’s rapt attention. And as messaging and display technologies get even better, it’s only going to get harder. The ‘attention economy’ is just getting started, and the fight over this last scarce commodity will get very interesting!


    I definitely appreciate people who invest the time and energy to live-blog or live-tweet conferences and events… especially since I’m unlikely to be attending one any time soon! 😎
    I found Le Web 3 to be a particularly interesting experience, thanks to the live video feed.
    For the first time, I could listen to the actual presentations before receiving the tweets. It really brought home to me just how difficult it is to filter and condense compelling content into blurbs of 140 characters or less without robbing the original thought of its richness or power.
    It takes a special kind of skill and a lot of concentration to do this effectively, so I just wanted to say THANK YOU to everyone (and especially Laura) who has ever taken the time and gone through the trouble of live-blogging or live-tweeting an event. You guys rock!

    Tim Allik

    At the risk of sounding old and bitter, I think that the “twitterization” of in-the-flesh conferences is a net loss for all parties involved, audience members and speakers alike.
    After reviewing the substance of the tweets generated during the SNCR event and comparing them to the blog posts written after the event, I believe that there is clearly no comparison in quality. The stuff written afterwards always wins.
    The tweets are invariably short on substance, akin to the monologue one might hear from a cellphone user on a train who loudly proclaims, “What up? Nothing much. I’m on the train now,” as if sharing one’s space-time continuum is in itself worthy of discussion.
    Ironically, social media becomes its antithesis, anti-social, during a live event, diluting the energy, attention, and focus of the audience in favor of the production of superficial gleanings.
    Don’t get me wrong. I think social media is wonderful in the right context. But it comes in a distant second to a live, in-the-flesh meeting.

    Doug Haslam

    Yup, I could have gotten IRC in there Todd, thx. I remember the utter failure of the IRC attampt at PodCamp. the new tools can have the advantage of possibly breaking out of geek-only status, though they’re not quite there yet.
    @mdy, that’s the sort of stiff I’m talking about.
    Oh, and by the way– I’m on Twitter @

    Doug Haslam

    Tim– and I’m the one who gets called an “angry Nerd.”
    I think there is a balance. Journalists have always resorted to note-taking at press conferences/speeches etc. Even the bloggers take notes during the conference, some of them posting in real-time, some of them waiting.
    I think if you dig a little deeper you will see that a good number of the SNCR Twitterers actually produced lengthier blog posts after the events.
    Just as the blogosphere has opened up the editorial process to the public, live-blogging and twittering has opened up the on-the-fly thought process.
    do you think the Engadget live-blogging of MacWorld was insubstantial? That was a single blog post made of live updates that might as well been Tweets (though with pictures and without character limits)/
    As silly as our table got (and Shel I. was definitely hip to the silliness, no question– he was comically “shushing” people all day), that was probably an extreme. Short posts usually need a cumulative effect to make any sort of real impression anyway.

    Jason Falls

    Great article, Doug. The one thing that struck me during reading was that exclusive live rights cannot hold under the pressure of an audience of citizen journalists. The law is going to change because of microblogging and mobile technologies.
    And it should. As the primary source for an individuals media shifts from mainstreatm to niche and from traditional to within one’s network, no longer can organizations, events or governing bodies expect to maintain a stranglehold on the rights to what they do.
    If you weren’t in the crowd at the NCAA baseball regionals here in Louisville last spring and weren’t watching on TV, Brian Bennett was your source for information. This time, the NCAA won. Next time, someone (say Jason Falls) sitting in the crowd and not subject to press box rules, might be Twittering it. As long as people know where to go, the information will get out. And with 5,000 people sitting there, chances are, I won’t be the only one live blogging the event.
    It will take a lawsuit and someone willing to fight for our right to be citizen journalists. But we’ll win. Mark my word.

    Sarah Wurrey

    Tim, I absolutely understand where you’re coming from. And Todd also makes the same observation. The constant clacking of keyboards during a presentation does give the presentation a less formal feel, and the impression that people aren’t paying attention.
    But I do think that there’s value to live-tweeting, and as it becomes more common, I think presenters and rooms will adapt to the challenges it presents them…

    Chip Griffin

    Jason, I have to differ with you here. I don’t think that any journalist — professional or citizen — has an absolute right to cover an event live. The fact of the matter is that when you buy a ticket to a conference or a sporting event, you agree to the terms and conditions. If you are admitted for free as a member of the media, you agree to the terms and conditions. If the event organizers don’t want you to provide live coverage, they have a right to revoke your admission. And they should.

    Jen Zingsheim-White

    It will be interesting to see if live-Twittering moves over to previously public but not widely-attended forums, like legislative committee hearings. Way back when I was a lobbyist, people would wait for the hearing to end, then run out and call whomever was interested in the legislation to let them know what had transpired. I can see Twitter changing things in that arena substantially.

    Doug Haslam

    Chip and I should add, SNCR’s Jenn McClure was well aware of the live-tweeting of that paid event. If there had been any objection, that battle had been fought and finished before it started.

    Judy Gombita

    Doug someone who was at the SNCR symposium commented to me (independently of this post) on your table:
    My favorite moment: watching six people at a nearby round table, all facing the center of the table, supposedly listening to the speaker, but buried in their laptops. Then, they would ALL laugh at the same time, with no connection to what the speaker was saying that moment. Do you suppose they might have been blogging for each other?
    (Sounds to me like the Twitterati were a wee bit disruptive to the rest of the attendees.)

    John Johansen

    I wasn’t following all the Twitter conversations that were going on (not enough outlets and my laptop battery doesn’t last very long) but I could see people reacting to them around the room. From this very limited perspective, I would say that Twitter was being used by the attendees to talk with one another without substantially disrupting the presenters.
    The context of being at the event would be crucial to understanding the content of the tweets. I don’t know if that should be extrapolated. Do micro-blogging platforms allow enough information to pass outside the venue that followers can get a real sense of what’s happening?

    Matt Searles

    I followed SNCR by Twitter and Seesmic and it was pretty amazing. I sorta felt like I was there, captured by the energy, and even able to interact with it via twitter.. and then even met up with some after the event.
    There’s clearly a difference between what someone twitters at an event versus blogging about after words. It seems to me that that what constitutes value in these two cases is probably different. To some extent I think its best not to judge these things too fast as things are evolving so fast that what they really mean today, in the internet ecology of this moment, will be very different from what they mean 6 months from now.. where the ecology of tools, along with our sense of how to use the tools, will have evolved.. To some extent I think the most important thing is to try and see the potential in them.
    To Chip and Jason, I think there’s no question that laws and rule sets will have to evolve overtime. It seems that technology, and the way people use technology, is moving faster then the rule sets. Many of the laws impacting social media were not drafted with our current challenges in mind. As boneheaded as the RIAA sometimes seems to me, I can certainly appreciate the interests of copyright holders. The RIAA does seem to be generating an unintended consequence of a lot of ill will towards there plight, which may have a long term effect of shaping a political reality that will eventually work against there interests as they currently understand them. On the other hand it might be there perception / conceptualization of there interests are there chief problem, so that it might be that there dethroning is actually in there long term self interest.
    I think underlying all this is that we have shifts in how we categorize stuff: In many ways social media is much like the sorts of stuff that would normally go on in private; it’s as if we are having private conversations that anyone can listen into and join, just because its online.. So now it’s not private use, or is it private use? There’s the legal standpoint on one hand, and how we think about it on the other.
    How things get categorized is a complex subject: It’s basically a and expression of a combination of our underlying collective and individual challenges, and power relationships. In the social media context the influence of power on the process is very different then anything we’ve had before. I imagine it will be very interesting to see what the long term effects of all this will be on the democratic process.

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