Just about every person and their animal-companion-of-choice who attended the MuseCon last week has written a blog post about by now. So rather than clog up the interwebz even more with my piece of the pie, I had planned to mention it one more time in passing and then move on … however, the best laid plans of meeces and lesbians …
“I’ve been hearing about online conferences lately. Do you think they are as useful as regular conferences for networking and socializing purposes? How do they work? Are you all in a chat room together? Is it at specific times or can you work it around your schedule a little? Sorry if that’s a lot of questions. I’ve wanted to do some but am not sure what to expect.”
I’ve attended 3 online conferences. Last year’s Muse Online Writers Conference, and the one just finished, and last year’s CoyoteCon. (which is now, unfortunately, defunct as far as I know. The website has been taken over by spammers and other primordial pond scum, and no-one answers my emails to the organisers) Both conferences were US based.
I’ll just give a brief overview of the two and hopefully incorporate my answers to S.P.’s questions at the same time.
CoyoteCon ran on consecutive weekends throughout August 2010, and was chat based. A moderator would introduce the guest speaker who would either do a brief presentation and open the floor to questions or go straight to the questions. All the chats were listed on the website with a brief description. For those who didn’t make the chat for various reasons, a transcript was posted on the site. Some of the presenters also made handouts of their workshops available to attendees, which the presenters then talked to during the chat.
This enabled a much faster exchange of ideas, and communication between the presenters and attendees.
The down-side of this type of conference is that you are tied in to the times set for the chats. 5pm EST (US time) might be great but if you’re anywhere else in the world it could be troublesome. The transcripts may have the information, but it’s not the same as being there.
The Muse (for short) is primarily forum based, with some scheduled chats by presenters and chats for pitches. (I believe there was also a casual chat ‘lounge’ but I didn’t know it was there until after the ball was over!)
The forums were as short as one day workshops or ran all week long. The presenter created several threads depending on what format they chose, and also made handouts and/or workbooks available to download. The attendees could read, comment, and participate in the workshops as their time permitted without feeling that they had missed out on anything.
There were also forums available for the attendees to exchange information between themselves.
The down side? Unless the presenter had scheduled a chat, there was no way for the attendees to a particular workshop to get together in real-time and discuss stuff, or socialize. (unless they organised something themselves)
Both types of conferences also allowed private messages to be sent between attendees.
As with just about any kind of conference on just about anything, you get out what you put in.
My first time at Muse I wanted to do every workshop that held even the vaguest interest for me … and spread myself too thin, didn’t really get into anything and felt exhausted at the end anyway. This year I focused on a few workshops and got a great deal out of them plus a couple of new friendships.
At Coyote I realized that the free-flowing nature of the chat format meant that although there was a set subject, the instant communication aspect enabled all sorts of other information to be introduced. (the moderators kept the discussions on track, but sometimes it was like herding cats! – not necessarily a bad thing) … So, because I had the time I decided to at least listen in on all the chats, and even the ones that I had really no interest in, and I always learned something useful. It didn’t hurt that ‘Widdershins’ thereby kept a very high profile all conference long!
Apart from the obvious, one of the big differences between online and geographical conferences in terms of one-to-one interactions, is you’re not going to just bump into someone and introduce yourself as you hand them a paper towel to wipe off the drink you just spilled.
In an online conference you will have to actively reach out and engage with others, to network, to socialise. Send them a personal message, invite comments to whatever you might’ve posted, deliberately participate in the workshops. ‘Lurkers’ are welcome but unless you speak out, no-one will ‘see’ or know you are there.
Muse provides workshops and information events throughout the year, so keep it in mind as a way to see how the whole concept works.
The Muse conference is free, and I firmly believe in a fair exchange of energy so, foolishly or not, it remains to be seen, I volunteered to be a moderator next year. I’ll let you know how the view from the other side of the interface looks, throughout the coming year.
“ … a workshop is where you do actually get feedback on your work, not just something where you go and sit for a day” – Octavia Butler