I thoroughly enjoyed the Dell Business 2 Business Huddle in Bracknell last week. It was my first experience of attending an event with a Twitterwall and Backchannel and I have to say it was not encouraging.
For those that do not know, many tech conferences have a projector screen displaying what people are tweeting about the current speaker. This is something of a cultural issue. Tech conferences are used to seeing delegates have their laptops, or notebooks, out, tweeting as the speaker delivers his or her keynote.
This ongoing stream of twitter comments is called the Backchannel.
The idea is a good one. By enabling the audience to comment as the speaker is talking, but via Twitter and therefore not by interrupting the speaker, it is thought that the presentation will be enriched. Unfortunately that was not my experience.
For long periods of time the backchannel seemed to be populated by people rather defensively reacting to what might have been said; maybe it suggested that the poster’s certain discipline was redundant, or at best overstated and oversold – ahem, Google AdWords…
In other examples there was more playful banter which was amusing enough but did nothing to add to the message being delivered by the speaker.
Others seemed to want to oust the speaker as the selected expert and draw attention to themselves and their opinion.
All of the speakers studiously ignored the stream whilst in delivery although some commented afterwards, perhaps while the follwoing speaker was talking.
I found the dual task of trying to live blog or contribute to the twitterstream and listen to be particularly problematic.
I was enjoying Neville Hobson’s opening “top ten trends” keynote but was alarmed to note that I missed numbers 2-5 as I became absorbed in my laptop. All in all, the experience suggested that just because we can do something with this technology, does not necessarily mean that we should.
I do not know if this trend will ever catch on in legal conferences and training events. I guess it will not. I am not even convinced that it will last within the tech conferences. The stories I hear of Twitterwall abuse and banality do nothing to reassure me.