Robert Hahn

inspired by integration

I'm always interested in infrastructure that brings people together and facilitates communication. I'm currently exploring social software, markup & scripting languages, and abstract games.

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noted on Sat, 21 Feb 2004

Conferences: Why bother, really?

So I was reading through Justin Hall’s reflection on the 2004 O’Reilley Emerging Technology Conference 2004, and maybe it’s just me, but I can’t help but wonder: Is there any point to holding conferences in person anymore?

It seems to me that the amount of information being generated per presentation is far bigger than the presentation itself. If this is the case, why not create a special web site for the purpose?

Here’s what I envision: A conference website is launched with a call for papers. There is a rigorous enough screening that the organizers are confident that the person doing the presentation is who they say they are. On the day of the presentation, that author’s work is added to the web site along with an IRC channel for the backtalk and questions, and a wiki that can only be edited by the author.

Visitors to the site, during a pre-set time slot can read through the document, and pop questions on IRC with other participants or the author. The author, if he wants to, has the chance to modify his document on the spot to take the questions into account. Even better, the author can annotate his presentation on the wiki to help answer the questions that come up. If the author can’t easily work in this format, then an assistant can transcribe what the author wants to say in the document.

Let’s now talk a bit about the business model for running an online conference like this. Obviously, to set up such a site can save on a lot of expenses for the company wanting to host such a conference. So, once this infrastructure is nailed, it becomes a lot less expensive to run such a conference.

But the conference holders still need to make money. That’s why they put them on. It’s for profit. Where can a potential host make money? I think that website ads would actually work very well here. Conference swag can also be sold through the site. Finally, the conference hosts could sell a limited number of anonymous registrations. I’ll need to explain that in a moment.

Where a host should not make money is by charging the participants an admission fee. If the point of these conferences is to share ideas, then nothing should be done to impair that sharing. But that doesn’t mean the hosts should be stupid about this. Anybody can participate, but they must not be allowed to be anonymous or to use a pseudonym. All potential participants must register before they are permitted to contribute; the registration must be structured in such a way as to ensure that the host can reasonably prove that the person who registers is who they say they are. This restriction should not be a problem for most people wanting to participate. They don’t go around with pseudonyms at real conferences, so why should the online version be any different?

However, there are, I’m sure, some people who feel that they must be anonymous for some reason. And since this is a feature that they hold to be valuable, the conference can sell them anonymous accounts. These accounts will be held to the same standards as the others. If anything, I would imagine that any trollish behaviour from these accounts would make them more likely to be cut off.

So what do you think? Is this workable? Are there details that need filling in? Would it work? Please let me know.

tall ship