How do you attend a conference from your desk and gain wisdom and insights?
Last year, I would have answered ScribbleLive. I followed the STC Summit 2010 using ScribbleLive, and I had a feeling I was at least having the conversations in the hallways. Tweets were drawn into the ScribbleLive setup, but people could also have accounts where they wrote more than 140 characters at a time. You got substantial tidbits directly from the event. I had a sense of the problems on the first two days of the conference (too much organizational navel-gazing that drove people batty), and the overall success of the conference when it was just about technical communication and its myriad of topics.
I felt like I attended the conference in person.
Real-Time is Exhausting
The STC Summit 2011 was far less enjoyable from my faraway perspective.
One problem was the distance. From Denmark, the Sacramento, California location was 9 hours away. They got going when I was heading home from work. I tried following the tweets all evening, but I needed to get dinner and I had other things to do (my so-called life). I’d come home and turn on the computer, but after making and eating dinner and doing non-Twitter-computer tasks, I was often too tired to bother checking up on any #stc11 tweets.
There was no ScribbleLive for easy viewing. The organizers tried a social networking tool called Zerista, which was used mainly as a calendar and coordinator for meetings. It was a walled garden given only to attendees, so if anyone did use it for chatting or sharing, outsiders like myself were excluded.
There was a CoverItLive widget on the Summit website. That showed tweets with the #stc11 hashtag as they rolled in. I didn’t use it because Twitter search was just as good for me, if not better for my nearsighted eyes. As of this writing, the widget is still active on the page, but I have no idea if a CoverItLive user can also grab a file of those tweets. Few seemed to know about using Lanyrd.
I suddenly found myself working too hard to follow events 9 hours away from me. I think I hit a mental timezone limit. What I did when the conference was in Dallas (only 7 hours away) was uncomfortable with a 9-hour difference.
How to Grab and Archive Tweets
I don’t have the perfect answer to this, but there are some methods – as long as the applications pulling the tweets don’t shut down or drastically change their business model, as WTHashtag.com did.
- If you use Google Reader, you can grab the RSS feed for a particular hashtag. You must do so before the event starts or else you miss tweets. After the event, it is too late.
- Search Hash can grab tweets and let you download a .csv file for offline viewing. This is how I collected tweets from the 2011 STC Summit. I collected them while the conference was on. When I try collecting them now, the results are incomplete. Perhaps they struggle with the “disappearing” of tweets at Twitter, too.
- I tried using The Archivist for Summit tweets. However… Over 5000 tweets were collected, but I cannot see them all and I cannot download them. Twitter’s Terms of Service do not permit this. (Commence wailing and gnashing of teeth.) Oh, and I’m irked the search is named for me and not the hashtag. Not sure how that happened, and I can’t change it.
What’s in These Tweets?
Do I really want to read all tweets? No. Some will be people tweeting about a lost item, where to meet for a shuttle bus, or the joy of meeting a virtual friend in real life. They are OK because they add color and life to the event. When there are hundreds or thousands of tweets, I need those types of tweets filtered out somehow.
This is where curation comes in. A tweet from @wion and supported by @annindk says it all: “I’m less concerned with live tweeting and more interested in the thoughtful write-ups during/after”. @Wion addressed his tweet to people attending the Content Strategy Conference in Minneapolis, which used the hashtag #confab. His comment applies to any conference.
But… maybe we should just go back to blogging after the event – or during, if we have the time, energy, and internet connectivity.
Some people are investigating and pondering this capturing events for posterity and for pondering. @annindk, a.k.a. Ann Priestly, shares her explorations and excellent insights on this very topic at Danegeld. Through one of her posts, I found two must-read articles on this very topic:
Ann led me to Real-Time is Burying History on the Web by Stephanie Booth.
Real-Time or History?
You think these posts talk less about the real-time experience and more about the history? Of course. Shouldn’t that be the aim of these conferences? Sure, you have some beers, you meet people, you laugh, you talk. In short, you get re-energized for whatever it is you do. However, isn’t learning or teaching an ideal goal for a conference? That means you need to collect this wisdom somehow. Some sort of curation is needed.
Why don’t we attend more conferences and stop whining about curation? They cost money and time, and not everyone has big (filled) pockets or a sponsorship at their back. Again, if goals are teaching and learning, then the conference should extend beyond the days at the physical conference site. STC has provided Summit@aClick for the past few years. (Free for attendees or at a fee for non-attendees.) This is a collection of most presentations where the audio is synchronized with the slides. Unfortunately, it is not captioned and there is no transcript, which is a huge drawback. It excludes anyone with hearing issues and those who have English as a second language and who like the support of captions or transcripts.
There are automatic curating or collecting tools, but the best curation tool is inside the head of each conference attendee. More of them should expand beyond 140 characters when they get home. Two sources of inspiration are
- Jimmy Chandler (@uxprinciples) with his writeup on his own #IXDA presentation, which provides loads of background (and teaching!) material.
- Léonie Watson, (@LeonieWatson), who did a writeup of cognition and accessibility topics at Standards.next last September.
Now… What conversations do you need to expand?