If you’ve tried to watch (or organize) an online conference these days, you’ve probably gone through the pleasure of downloading fancy software [or going through a complex online membership/login process] just to get a seat in the audience. The software or website likely included all sorts of special features to make the talks feel more like you were watching them in person. You could press a button to raise your hand. You could ask questions using your microphone. Perhaps, you could even interact with other listeners.
Today I ask, “Is all of that worth it?”. Why not just stream the conference live on youtube (or similar website), with no login required, no required software to download, and no new tools we have to learn? Online conferencing needs to leverage its most powerful feature … convenience. In theory, I could decide to attend seconds before the conference. The only major obstacle to putting together an online conference via something like youtube is that speakers are in different locations, needing to stream their talks sequentially.
I have perhaps successfully joined 50% of the online conferences I wanted to watch. The most common reason I skipped was that I tried to download the conference software (or register in the online system) at the last minute and gave up at the first sign of required troubleshooting. Many of us are trying to watch the conference on work computers that have restrictions on the types of software we can download. Some people don’t, realistically, have the patience to download software we aren’t going to use on a regular basis.
Are there convenient, free, online conferencing options, requiring no login, keep the talks all in the public domain, and feature a live stream with minimal features? Could conferences stream from a website without any login or downloads required? I don’t see online conferencing taking off until watching the conference is literally as easy as clicking a link. Does this exist and many conferences are simply choosing not to use it? Or does the right tool simply not exist yet? Discuss in the comments.
Online conferencing will never replace everything we like about in-person meetings, so we need to stop pretending it will. Instead, if online conferences were more convenient, we would actually attend in droves. Only then can they be an integral part of reducing the environmental footprint of academic conferences. I think twitter conferences might be the most promising type of online conferencing, which avoids many of the pitfalls I talk about above. And I’m happy to be joining one in 2018.
What do you think about online conferencing?