Sunday, August 31, 2008


Logo Virtually attending the Nature Science Blogging Conference 2008 (#sciblog) yesterday via online backchannels was an interesting experience, more interesting than I thought it would be. I started out following the the tweets of friends who were there and the #sciblog tag on Twitter. That proved to be a rather fragmentary experience, mostly because few of the attendees were twittering, so there wasn't enough coverage to keep me engaged.

Being a geeky kind of meeting, a Friendfeed room had also been set up in advance, and by mid-morning, the action had started to move there. After Matt Wood's microblogging session, the Friendfeed room really took off and the Twitter stream dried up. Personally, I found it more work to follow the proceedings on Friendfeed rather than via Twitter, although technically, it worked equally well. The longer comments took more time and work to read and to compose, sometime distracting from the live stream. Also, threading on Friendfeed made the flow of material harder to follow live than it would have been on Twitter. Although Friendfeed leaves a better "lasting" resource after the event, Twitter makes it easier to participate contemporaneously.

Via the Friendfeed room, I found Cameron Neylon's streamed video on Mogulus. This was an excellent addition (thanks Cameron), although the video quality didn't add anything, but the audio stream was extremely valuable, especially when I found myself listening to the audio in one browser tab and participating in the Friendfeed room on two simultaneous sessions (microbloging and science blogs and online forums as teaching tools) - which was pretty hard work.

Participating in a conference online is of course not the same experience as being there in person. Less networking, less serendipitous meetings and conversations. In some ways, I felt like I had more in common with other remote participants such as Mike Seyfang in Australia. On the other hand, virtual attendance has benefits: not travelling, saving money, time and the planet; participating in simultaneous sessions; sloping off for a while to fix my roof, catch an escaped gecko, pull some carrots, etc.

As for the conference itself, meh. Nothing will change. I got particularly irritated during the first panel session, the scientific life exposed. This was poorly judged for this particular meeting, although that would have been hard to predict in advance. It sucked up all the energy which had been built up by Ben Goldacre's keynote, and if you changed "scientist" to "accountant" in the platitudes coming out of the panellists, it would not have altered the session. What particularly irritated me was the conceit that bloggers know what "the public" want better than professional media organizations. Wrong. Those guys deal in eyeballs by the millions, they know what sells. When 2.3 million people tune into you blog to read about your latest failed western blot or the fact that you haven't been able to get another job since your last short term contract ended, let me know.

But I don't want to end on a negative note. Would I do it all again, give up a Saturday to sit in front of a computer? Yes. I wish more conferences were organized like this.