[iDC] Conferencing Formats and Welome to Marc Tuters

Saul Albert saul at twenteenthcentury.com
Wed Feb 1 06:45:45 EST 2006

hi Marc, iDC,

I think John Hopkins is right about timing - imho, that's the most
important antidote to the many potential ills of any conference format.

Alex Mclean's timing bot, developed for the placard headphone festival
(http://leplacard.org/) and used for the runme/dorkbot citycamp '04
(http://readme.runme.org/2004/) is still the classic solution to this

It's a ncurses console-based service that ran on alex's laptop, and
during placard, it would display a list of the next 4 upcoming acts, and
the act currently playing, with little counters indicating how long until
each one played, and how long until the current one stopped.

Underneath this information, was a log of an accompanying IRC channel, so
the fast typing comedians and remote stream listeners from other placards
could broadcast comments onto the screen.

For placard, the software, via a little nest of wires that alex had
soldered together, would actually switch between input feeds to the
mixer, so the live musician would switch to the person who had been
setting up, and people would shuffle around to prepare for the next

This wouldn't have worked for the conference format - of course,
automatically switching microphone input feeds could be considered a bit
rude, but the fact that everyone's time to live was projected on a side
wall, in view of the speaker, meant that everyone knew when they were
eating into each other's time - and consequently no-one did. Questions
were also programmed in, so they knew when they were eating their own
question time too.. 

During the dorkfest, you could telnet into alexs's laptop from elsewhere
in the building and you'd immediately get served with the same screen of
ticking down presentation times, so you wouldn't miss anything you didn't
want to if you happened to be engaged in a breakout session or just
having something to eat. You could even watch the stream or the coffee
room video feed if you couldn't get into the presentation room in time.

The programme at the dorkfest was packed beyond belief - over 40
presentations in one day I think, but using this software, and doing
lightning quick AV changovers, we managed it, plus questions, and I think
everyone felt really good about both listening and presenting.

This was quite a specific circumstance and event, I don't think the same
software would work for every event - Alex had to customise it for the
specific occasions in which it was deployed. What really worked, though
was having an external automated authority to do the timing, not a
potentially obsequious moderator who would allow a prestigious podium hog
to rattle on and on for hours. Everyone obeyed the timer bot and the
moderators got to sit back and concentrate on poking interesting
questions and comments into the flow, or actually listening rather than
sweating and nagging.

To be honest, I think presentation 'formats' - ie. chat-show, fireside,
etc.. are fun but kind of distracting, it's more the organs of the event
- timing, lighting, AV setup speed, microphone / PA functionality,
  streaming, good food and *interesting speakers with something to say to
one another* that make things work.

Oh, and btw, if anyone does want to read the locative media dystopian
sci-fi that Marc was pointing at, this link is more up to date:



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