Editors note: Interested in web apps? Join us in Florida for Future of Web Apps Miami 2010. Enter promo code FOWANEWYEAR to receive $50 off your ticket (code valid for 40 tickets)
Earlier this week I linked up a number of the great articles I read over the holiday period. Included in that list was this video from Chris Pirillo. If you use Twitter, attend tech conferences and have 10 minutes to spare then please have a watch.
I can’t help but agree with a lot of what Chris says. There’s no question that Twitter is a great “backchannel” at events and to a certain degree a barometer of what attendees are enjoying and what they are not.
Checking Twitter for feedback is often the first thing speakers do when they come off stage, smiles and more often downbeat faces follow. A quick tweet, perhaps in jest, lacks any real context and I think this is one of the main issues. Was it the talk, do they disagree, was it technically wrong or do they just not like the presenter. It’s hard to know with certainty when the feedback is 140 characters or less.
Twitter becomes the show
Danah Boyd, a Microsoft researcher, wrote a very open and enlightening blog post on her experiences at last years New York Web 2.0 Expo. In it she describes how the addition of audience participation via the live Twitter stream influenced her presentation in a very negative way. She remarks:
The problem with a public-facing Twitter stream in events like this is that it FORCES the audience to pay attention the backchannel. So even audience members who want to focus on the content get distracted. Most folks can’t multitask that well.
I experienced a similar situation last year at an event in London. Although the live Twitter stream was moderated, unlike in Danah’s case, I still found myself paying more attention to the “tweets” than the speaker. Often the audience laughed at new tweets, much to the amazement of the speaker who was in the throws of delivering a very important and serious point. It became distracting for both speaker and audience.
Equally had the speaker turned round and seen a screen full of personal or non complimentary remarks I am sure their talk would have been affected negatively.
Without question there’s a time and a place for Twitter streams. At Future of Web Apps London 2009 the live hashtag stream during the “Kevin and Gary” show became part of the show and worked really well. However I believe that it wouldn’t have worked so well during Kevin’s keynote. Context is key.
This is just my opinion and please feel free to disagree. I am sure many of you will and that’s great. What do you think? Is Twitter the answer or should conference organisers offer up more in depth ways of providing feedback during and after and event? Let us know.