27 May 2008

Conference season

Society for NeuroscienceSummer is prime time for most research conferences. The always thoughtful Seth Godin has a post on conferences that echo things that have been on my mind for a while.

If oil is $130 a barrel and if security adds two or three hours to a trip and if people are doing more and more business with those far afield...

and if we need to bring together more people from more places when we get together...

and if the alternatives, like video conferencing or threaded online conversations continue to get better and better, then...

I think the standard for a great meeting or a terrific conference has changed.

In other words, "I flew all the way here for this?" is going to be far more common than it used to be.

What are the online tools available that might take up some of the slack for some conferences? There are several online services. The first I became aware of was GoToMeeting.com, which was specifically marketing itself to scientists.

Lately, I've started messing around a bit with Vyew, which looks promising. They have a comparison chart on their webpage. This is handy because it points to other similar services, such as WebEx, LiveMeeting, and with a bit of tooling around, I also found Acrobat Connect. I'm trying not to turn this into an ad for any particular company, but it does point out the range of services and features available.

I am not convinced yet that these services can take the place of conferences entirely. At big conferences (like the massive Neuroscience meeting, pictured), the opportunity for serendipitous connections is just too large, and probably can't be easily replicated by an online experience. The online experience is also liable to suffer from the fact that because most people are just in their offices, they are less focused, and the event is less memorable than actual travel to a conference. And so much information is exchanged, making things memorable is a good thing.

I will be messing around with these services over the summer, not for a conference, but to work with a student who is out of town. And if that works out... who knows? A small online gathering could work very well for a smallish emerging research community.

1 comment:

Marten said...

Those are very good tools, however, in many cases those platforms are used just to allow the team to review the same document together in real-time and "be on the same page".
The recently launched free site http://www.showdocument.com does exactly that, quickly show documents to friends and colleagues.
It allows Free Web meeting and co-browsing on any document, user uploads a document and invites friends to view it with him live
All the participants in the session see each others' drawing, highlights, etc.