Bill Deys setup a much-loved chat room during PAB2007, and many people appreciated being able to exchange in real time during the conference. In fact, he’s posted the chat log on his site. (note that the names weren’t verified, so don’t believe it when it says Mitch Joel thinks I’m a sex god. I mean, I’m sure he does, but that might not have been really him saying it..)
Whitney Hoffman and others expressed concern that it was not really fair to the speakers to be chatting or twittering during the presentations. I opined that I thought it was simply the “law of two feet” being applied virtually, and that it was all good.
Further comments from people are making me think more deeply about this. The “real” law of two feet means that uninterested people can simply walk out of the room if a speaker or topic isn’t their bag without the speaker or anyone else being offended. It’s a wonderful concept we “borrowed” from podcamp and I fully agree with the spirit of it, why sit in a chair in a room being miserable – you obviously won’t add anything. So you leave, and stop being a presence in that room. In fact, we added additional conference rooms this year just so people would have a place to go if they wanted to leave – no one took advantage of them tough.
The thing with the “virtual law of two feet”, is that people are still in the room. We got comments about giggling, keyboard clacking and general noises coming from the back of the room – and that may not have been really fair or respectful to the speakers. Also, as is the case on line, some people took advantage of the anonymity to say hurtful things. There is nothing new under the sun, no matter what the occasion, people are still pretty bold when quotes can’t be attributed to them.
I saw some great stuff too – when a speaker would mention a site or something interesting, there were links up in seconds in the chat room adding value to the presentation. That’s what I love about the online experience – the sharing of information in real time – that can’t be discounted..
I’m of several minds on this – I mean, as an organizer of a tech-ish conference, I want to provide connectivity so that our audience can continue to be where they exist : on-line. Live-blogging, spontaneous photo uploads and such adds so much to a conference it’s definitely not going away from PAB.. I’m happy Bill put the chat room up, but I’m also happy that the chat room wasn’t ours and so we weren’t responsible for the content.
People were very interested in this though, I heard suggestions such as “have an official chat room”, project the back channel on a big screen in the front of the room, etc.. I don’t see us doing this, that’s not what we’re about – but we’re not about facilitating disrespect for people who volunteered their time to present either.. The only restriction we put out there was to please not stream the conference due to limited bandwidth, and those wishes weren’t respected either.
Far be it for me to tell people how they should or shouldn’t act at a conference, but I’d like your thoughts on this.
Should/could we have done anything different? Should it even be an issue?