eTech04 Backchannel

One aspect of the eTech04 conference that I found intriguing was the back channel IRC (chat) experience. Always on, almost always active, #etech and #joiito provided an alternate view of the conference; at one point during a panel that included Joi Ito the backchannel was displayed on the main screen (though pretty much ignored by the panelists). Traffic ranged from real-time expert analysis and note-taking to some pretty hilarious banter, sometimes all at the same time. I don’t have much experience with using IRC, and it’s not for the faint of heart, but I have to admit I was quite taken by the medium. I can forsee some possible uses in terms of helping teams collaborate and build relationships (especially for geographically distributed teams). It’s a different feel than 1 to 1 instant messaging; more of a commons (or perhaps a pub), if you will.

Justin Hall explores this relatively new approach to conference participation in some detail. Filled with anecdotes and insights, the article concludes with a heady vision for the future:

ETech must be what it feels like to be a citizen of the future – when you have expansive always-on network reach. If you integrate that kind of technology with a conference, or a school, you have an always-on university. Students have the choice to sit at the front of the class paying attention, or the back where it’s easier to goof off. What if the notes passed between students in the back of the class could be part of the feedback loop for a presenter? Or even better, what if that conversations could be taking place in parallel – stenocaptioning and comments online running parallel with real-time presentations. If we give the passionate smart restless kids a chance to hack and chat in conversation with the social scientists and wiser minds, we could see some deeply informed discussion with these new tools.

Justin also wrote up a nice piece on the subject of stenocaptioning after the 2003 eTech conference. Nothing formal has developed in this area, but informally, many of the sessions were logged by audience members. An index of these logs is posted as part of the conference wiki.