LITA’s Top Tech Trends program always provides interesting discussion and insight into some technologies that we should keep an eye on. This year’s format was both complex and interesting. In addition to the usual panel on the stage, a couple of remote panelists were included by way of videoconferencing software. As an additional level of fun, a Meebo chat room was running on another screen so that audience members could participate in a backchannel discussion of topics raised during the discussion.
It was interesting to observe the reactions of the panelists and the crowd to this new format. Some of the speakers were clearly rattled by the technological challenges this format presented. Some were visibly annoyed by technical glitches. However, others acknowledged that even though it’s not yet perfect, at least we were trying it. Two panelists probably would not have been able to participate without the remote conferencing. Likewise, although the audience members sometimes had trouble hearing the remote panelists, many appreciated the fact that LITA was at least trying to continue pushing the technology.
Just as interesting was audience reaction to the Meebo chat room. Some clearly found it a distraction – even when they were trying not to be distracted. From one area of the meeting room, it was easy to see that most people were following the onscreen chat rather than actually listening to the speakers. For those that had network connections and were able to connect, I think they truly enjoyed the backchannel discussion. For some though, the combination of live video, online chat, and on-stage speakers was simply too overwhelming, and they could not decide where to focus their attention.
I fully expect that this process will be refined over time. And, as some panelists noted, you have to have a starting point, and you have to let the technology mature over time. If you don’t practice with it, you’ll never work the kinks out.