I decided not to wait til the end of the conference to post my initial thoughts on attending the Virtual Edge Summit partly because you might like to do the same. So here's a heads up - it's on through today and tomorrow (January 12 - 13, 2011). Check the schedule because there might be something you're interested in watching.
I say watching instead of attending because really that's all you're doing. Once you login to the conference you have 9 platforms from which to choose your preferred path for accessing the presentations. I've tried a few of them now and they look a little different but all get you to the same place in the end. From the platforms' point of view this is their way of marketing their services for you to use in your next virtual or hybrid conference.
All of my online conferences in the past few years have been in Second Life or on an SL clone and I'm finding this experience disappointing. There was a lot of emphasis in the first couple of sessions about the need to engage the remote attendees to your event if you're going to have a successful virtual or hybrid conference. Unfortunately this technology doesn't facilitate engagement. Consider:
- Much like a televised sporting event you are at the mercy of the person who controls the camera. In the first session I was "at" the camera pointed at two people on the stage and stayed there. One of those individuals kept referring to his slides - I'll bet they had colour and neat graphics but I'll never know. The camera didn't show them. Another of the panelists attended by phone - which is fine. However while that person was talking we were staring at the other two panelists trying to appear to be engaged. In the virtual world we're used to looking at what we want and we control our own cameras. This was frustrating.
- In a couple of sessions we got to see the slides - and that's pretty much all we looked at. Some people don't do very engaging slides.
- The platform I've spent the most time on (through sheer laziness frankly) has a chat function. Great! We're used to engaging with fellow audience members and even presenters through chat. However, the chat function is on a different window - it doesn't appear with the video. It also doesn't distinguish between the 4 concurrent sessions so the only occasional chat I saw was from representatives of the platform trying to engage in marketing discussions with conference attendees who made the mistake of saying "Hi". (You can also use twitter though and sometimes the twitter stream appears next to the video.)
The most interesting session so far included Terry Thorpe and David Gardner (VenueGen) talking about 3d Immersive technology. They didn't have enough time to show the real difference but I hope they made a lot of the attendees interested. Once you've actually been engaged at an online conference you won't want to go back to just watching video. I keep trying to cam around and it's not working!
However, check out the schedule - the conference is free to attend online. Just don't expect too much in the way of "engagement". :)