I just got back from Supernova in Washington DC. It was great. It was great hanging out with old friends, making new ones and meeting online friends for the first time. It really reminds me of the "good old days" of The Source. At the party, people had to tell each other their IRC nicknames to recognize each other.
"?"Or in the case of bloggers:
"oh! I'm mamamusings"
"Halley. As in Halley's Comment"Now there are three tiers of relationships. Normal relationships, people you know through their blogs and people who you know from IRC. I felt a little bad about the people who are not "in" this network because I'm sure a lot of our chatter and giggles were meaningless to them, but IRC is pretty open and inclusive so I decided not to worry about it.
Many of us were on IRC during the conference. I didn't get the hecklebot done, but there was a great deal of heckling going on on IRC. There is definitely a kind of attention drain in the room when everyone is on IRC. There is even more attention drain when the panelists are on IRC. ;-)
I thought about this a bit and my conclusion is that in most cases, it is better to let people be on IRC (or some other chat room) during a conference. Several reasons. If people are bored, they will do something else anyway, like sleep, do email, pick their nose, whatever. At least IRC keeps everyone semi-focused on the time/place of the conference. As Kevin Marks says, the problem with conferences is that only one person (usually) can speak at one time. On IRC everyone can talk at the same time. This is inclusive and useful. People can post useful links, give feedback to the speaker without interrupting them and everyone can contribute. One of the most important reasons for going to a conference is networking and meeting new people. The best way that I've found for meeting new people is saying something smart. It's easy if you're a speaker, but usually you have to ask some intelligent questions so people want to talk to you. IRC is great because it give everyone an opportunity to say something smart during the conference. It also lets people get to know each other during the conference without having to escape into the lobby and miss the conference entirely.
Kevin Werbach, the organizer was a good sport about all of this. He hung out on the IRC channel himself and let Liz put the IRC channel on the screen during the wrap up. It will be interesting to see how these social software tools get integrated into conferences by conference organizers themselves. There is something "naughty" about unauthorized back channels that make them fun, but better integration and more reliable connectivity would probably make them more useful. It's also easier to include everyone if it's run by the organizers. I can't remember who said this, but "in the future, the room will be the back channel for the IRC chat."
I guess my next goal should be to get a hecklebot into Davos.