Last month I attended my first conference held in a timezone from the other side of the globe. That was a one day event, and an interesting experiment in timezone travel and virtual jet lag.
This month the experiment grows, as I’m attending Sankalp Global, a week-long virtual conference, with the programming running morning through afternoon in India Standard Time and East Africa Time. That is 13.5 and 11 hours ahead of my home timezone, which means a week working until 4am or 5am.
This is actually the third conference I’ve attended in the last month. The third was SOCAP, a week-long conference I attended two weeks ago. That is a North American based conference, historically in San Francisco, and thus didn’t involve any time shifting.
This whole idea of virtual conference is interesting. I think of conferences as serving two purposes: talks and networking.
Talks work better in the virtual format (when the technology works). In the virtual format, the audience can interact with each other while the speakers are speaking, and the questions to the speakers can much more easily be curated vs. the mobile microphone and too-often long-winded questions.
Networking is a work in progress. The virtual conference software is trying to make networking work, but in three conferences I’ve not yet replicated the serendipity of networking at conferences, nor all the unexpected reunions that happen when you’ve been to these conferences many times before and know many of the attendees.
Of the networking, Sankalp has the most promising system so far, from a company called Brella. They have implemented a big chunk of a service I’ve been dreaming about for years. When you login to the conference, it asks if you want to network, and if so, you fill out a short profile of interests. The service then shows you other attendees who have overlapping interests.
The other nice, but a-long-way-from-a-great experience is the chat in Hopin. It included @Name like in Twitter for fellow attendees, with a quick click of those names to lookup attendee profiles. But if you are not watching the chat when you are mentioned, you never know.
I spent the first twenty years of my career designing user interfaces and thus as I’m using these new services, I have a background dialog in my head tossing out ideas on how to make the user experiences better. I’m sure the virtual conferences in 2020 will be great. At the moment they are good.
They are good enough to merit elective virtual jet lag.