If You Are Doing An Event, Bring Twitter Into The Room
I tend not to write too much about Twitter these days. God knows enough gets written about it elsewhere. But we had such a great experience with Twitter at Hacking Education on Friday that I feel compelled to share it with everyone.
Hacking Education was what we call a "Union Square Sessions" event. We've done a number of sessions events now and we use the same format for all of them. We find a nice venue here in NYC, we put together a big table where everyone faces each other, and we talk for five or six hours about a single topic. There are no presentations, no panels, just discussion that is lightly moderated by the Union Square Ventures team.
We record, transcribe, and photograph the event so its easily bloggable. And there have been some terrific blog posts that have come out of these events in prior years.
This year we added Twitter to the mix. Here's a picture of Sir Ken Robinson kicking off Hacking Education:
You'll notice on the far wall that we had Twitter up on the big screen. It was up there all day. We set up a hashtag (#hackedu) and announced that publicly in a number of ways.
At the start of the event, most of the messages on the Twitter screen were coming from the room. David Wiley, John Bischke, and Jeff Jarvis where effectively liveblogging the event. It was interesting to see what nuggets they "pulled" from the discussion and shared with the outside world.
It is hard to moderate a conversation of 40 people and there are times when several people want to make a point but one gets the opportunity. I started to notice that the others would simply post their thought to twitter instead which allowed the rest of the room to see what they wanted to say in parallel with the point that was being made live.
So within an hour of the start of the event, we had a very lively discussion flowing on Twitter. Then I saw people outside of the event start to take notice and send out notes to their followers that the discussion on the #hackedu tag was getting interesting. That brought quite a few new people to the Twitter stream that were not in the room.
By 11:30am (an hour and a half into the session) #hackedu was trending on Twitter. It eventually got to be the fifth most popular item on Twitter search and stayed there the rest of the afternoon (but fell off during lunch when nobody was posting from inside the session).
I found it very easy to both listen and participate in the live conversation and also follow the discussion on Twitter. It helped that my seat was directly facing the big screen (I took the Sir Ken photo with my blackberry).
So here are my top three takeaways from the experience:
1) Twitter adds a lot of value to a live event if you have enough people at the event who are comfortable live blogging it. In our case, three or four active participants was enough. Their job, so to speak, is to find the juiciest comments and throw them up on the board.
2) It also provides a way for less agressive people in the group to share their thoughts with the rest of the group even when they can't get a word in edgewise.
3) It provides an ability for others who are not at the event to both follow the event live but also contribute to the event in real time.
When we do this next time, I am going to make sure we do a few things differently. First, I think there should be at least two large screens so that nobody has their back to the Twitter stream. Also, I think we should have tried to loop the conversation happening outside of the room back into the room. Maybe have one person whose job it is to pull the most interesting tweets coming from outside the room and feed them into the conversation.
If you are doing an event, whether its a small invitation only event like ours, or a larger public event like a conference, I highly recommend you include a live Twitter stream as part of the conversation. It's a big win for everyone.
Yes, the tyranny of large, square tables is turns: It’s your turn and then its her turn. The anarchy of the square table is that the loudest win. Twitter doesn’t fix that (a great moderator can almost do that) but it helps.We used to used IRC for a back-channel at panel discussions. It tended to lead more to snark-behind-the-back. Twitter moves from chat to publishing and that makes a difference in the tone and quality of the output, I think.You’re right to assign a person – or everyone – to speak for twitterers outside the room. I’ve seen Ethan Zuckerman do that at many conferences with IRC and he’s a forceful spokesman for the world.Twitter is also good for adding links and material supplementary to the discussion. (I was inspired to post the entire education chapter from my book to my blog and link to that from Twitter; folks outside the room also posted relevant links.)I found it useful to record ideas and quotes that I would use later in blogging (the first of two posts here).Besides just adding ideas to the discussion in the entire room, it’s useful to have side conversations (albeit in public). Scott Heiferman and I started hatching a business plan in tweets.I remember at earlier sessions, Fred, you discouraged open laptops as they were a distraction. With the Twitter channel, the open laptop instead encouraged deeper participation.
You don’t need a laptop though, if we had enough screens, blackberries andiPhones would have done the trick as the input device
This assumes you can get reception in the event space.At least with AT&T’s crappy network that’s a dicey proposition. Can’t speak to the others. Wouldn’t most attendees at these events have laptops? So what you really need at events is hardwired laptop connections.
I think laptops are disruptive to the conversation in a way that phones arenot
I am doing a session on twitter and presentations for the upcoming Presentation Camp in SF.
NicePost the slide deck if you can
i would expect an evolution towards a full suite of communication tools specifically for such events, i.e. discussion forums, micromessaging (i.e. twitter), importing discussions from around the web on this topic, photos, live chat, etc. also a greater focus on enabling people to connect individually and break into sub-groups.basically i think live events is another target area for niche social networking. crowdvine.com is taking this approach.
Spot on, I think there is definitely room for niche Twitter hack to address this space.
Consider the fact that real time discussion only allows for one person at a time. A lot of great comments are lost in the shuffle.Twitter stream is kind of like a radio station…they screen the phone calls -> whoever has the most interesting story to tell will get on the air. If you keep an eye on the twitter stream & use it to interrupt the ongoing dialogue when some powerful statement/discussion point comes across.What if you made a “point leaderboard” a la Hacker News where the comment popularity wouldn’t necessarily be based off of RTs, but rather, real-time impact?
great to hear you liked the idea. i wanted to add a little more to my thoughts…–think about all the introverts that go to conferences and would never even consider raising their hands. they’ve got great ideas, but they keep them inside. it’s not just the extroverts that are the smart ones ;)–it also makes me think of how frustrating it would get in the classroom where only one person is allowed to talk at a time. Twitter allows for many mini-discussion “branches” and the ones that are most interesting can take off on a life of their own.–back to the traditional classroom analogy: what if I just spoke, but I have an EVEN BETTER point to make right after? Sucks for you. You just spoke. Others need their turn..–I think the whole concept of ReTweeting can be expanded far beyond it’s current limitations.
re: “the introverts that go to conferences and would never even consider raising their hands”introverts can raise their hands. people are more effective & happier if they get the guts to speak up and confront directly. you make yourself vulnerable by speaking up, but people are more civil F2F, anyway. vital socialization and confidence-building happens when people don’t avoid confrontation. address passive-aggressive & asperger tendencies head-on.
You could also enable this same sort of interaction (and add a threaded comment stream) using Disqus and a single page for the event; obviously a little more limiting because of the input device restrictions, but it would be a good addition to the twitter backchannel.
I completely agree – but I humbly submit that the justSignal Tracker is a far better way to do this. 1) You don’t have to rely on JUST a hashtag – we will find your topic/subject where ever it is tweeted 2) The widget is customizable – you get the look/feel you want 3) Tweet back right from the widget AND the iPhone Web Application that comes with every widget 4) We capture all the tweets and give them to you via XML for later analysis. See: http://justsignal.com or http://briantroy.com for more information.
Fred- I run Defrag (www.defragcon.com) and Glue (www.gluecon.com). Defrag has had twitter at it since inception, and glue will as well when we launch in May.I cannot emphasize enough how valuable twitter is for a conference organizer. It has helped with sponsorship sales, attendee registrations, and (as you point out) content at the event.Beyond Twitter, I’ve been pushing people to use Eventvue (www.eventvue.com) as well. Eventuve meta-aggregates the majority of our activity streams and republishes it back out onto a twitter account (ie, it’s like all attendees get all of their content aggregated into one stream)…..ie, it’s like twitter on steroids. ;-)Any event organizer NOT using twitter is just simply missing out.
Eric’s absolutely right, the Eventvue’s twitter feed for Defrag was incredibly useful. It sparked a lot of conversations that would have never happened otherwise, both online and face-to-face.One under-appreciated advantage of using Twitter at events is discovering completely new people. Like you say Fred, there’s often less aggressive or well-known voices who would normally be drowned out that have interesting things to add. You can find them by keeping a close eye on the feed or using Twitter’s raw search; I’ve also built tools to visualize the communities that form around concepts. Here’s the network for #hackeduhttp://twitter.mailana.com/…
I found myself splitting observations into private and public — private ideas/thoughts (maybe not as fully fleshed out) I’d e-mail to myself, with the goal of thinking about them more over the weekend before interrupting my team or others. Whereas public tweets were either posting others’ comments for the external audience, or thoughts that felt more fully baked. I was reminded of how much the what’s-happening-now added to both the room, and the external interested audience, and then how their responses flowed back to the discussion — was really fantastic.I like the idea of ‘voting’ on tweets, but think it could lead to ever MORE private messages to yourself, which I don’t think would be a good thing. In hindsight, I think it would have helped to post even more of those wilder observations/questions to the in-house and external audience, to spur further discussion, because I’m sure I wasn’t the only one thinking them — things like:* importance of ‘encouragement of passion’* how to develop tests to discover what people want to know… then encourage/empower that pursuit* what are the great examples of webapps enabling synchronous and asynchronous?* my wavering between the emergence of video-teaching (one-to-massive) & the critical involvement of an in-person face-to-face passionate teacher/mentor (and all the other benefits of social interactions with other students, etc.)
Hi Fred, We have been doing a twitter feed at the Boulder Denver New Tech for a while and it has been positive and negative. As the host of the event, I believe the positives outweigh the negatives but several of our new technologists would disagree. The stream can quickly become a distraction, and easily become the silent heckler in the room.
Are you getting the data for later analysis? The thing about events is that the stream is interesting, participatory and brings in the outside world. Can it be distracting? Yes. Can it provide huge value post event when you analyze the content? Absolutely.
“Maybe have one person whose job it is to pull the most interesting tweets coming from outside the room and feed them into the conversation.” Wonder where ya got that idea, from. 😉
Point # 2 is spot on. It gives every one an equal chance.One other interesting strength of having twitter as a mode for inputting questions to the speaker of the moment is that it keeps it brief and it prohibits those type of personalities who tend to take over the Q&A session with a philosophical discourse of their own. (people who love to listen to their own voice)But a twitter simulcast in the background with streaming tweets from the audience does indeed put focus on the twittering and less focus on the speaker of the moment. It’s very important to get an audience to participate in the meat of the discussion as opposed to the focus on tweeting.
Great post! My talk on social media as it applies to marketing landscape architecture/architecture/engineering got delayed due to the storm last week, so now I can pop this photo and topic into the talk. It will be a fun challenge to explain/demo Twitter to newbies. Wish me luck! :- )
“I found it very easy to both listen and participate in the live conversation and also follow the discussion on Twitter.”There are many times that I have personally made the same statement, yet I think we need to more seriously consider the issue of “attention” and what it means to be present at an event, panel, or conference. I may be the contrarian here, but I’ve actually been to numerous events where I’ve been completely disheartened watching half the audience pound away on laptops and phones. I’m no neuropsychologist, but there must be a theoretical limit to our ability to parallel process and to remain meaningfully engaged in a dialogue.There is clearly a massive opportunity to broaden discussions outside of the room and to allow more commenting from attendees, but I think that there are times we risk losing substantial value from not focusing our attention. There is a narcissistic element to much of the tweeting that I see at conferences that is less about value creation and more (in my arm chair psychologist’s opinion) about overcoming individual insecurity that there are indeed identified “experts” on a panel whose perspectives are worth really listening to.Unfortunately, I don’t have a particular solution to offer, but I do know that we can’t assume that more commenting will always be better. There will definitely be a point of diminishing returns where our attention is stretched too far and where there is far more noise than signal from outside audiences that negatively impacts the ability of an intelligently selected group to engage each other in live dialogue.
You are right to point to this as an issueIn our event, however, out of 41 attendees, only three or four had laptopsopenI think that’s important
I can understand that some people may use Twitter as a method for self promotion. However, and generally, I think that after using Twitter for a period of time there is an influential experience that develops where Twitter becomes the medium to express passing thoughts, ideas, and concepts. There is something to how Twitter “fits” the expression of a passing thought, or an individual’s experience, both in content and in time. Events are the creation of content and time, and it is events that have long term meaning to people.Regards,Sal.—Salvatore Saieva
At bloggers’ events, those people pounding away are usually blogging what’s being said. So I get disheartened when they DON’T pound on laptops.
Twittter is the technology that will prove the Warhol theory of fame to be true.Regards,Sal.—Salvatore Saieva
But maybe it is 15 followers instead of 15 minutes
Number of people or amount of time, I don’t think it matters. Fame is relative and individual. What matters is that a person is acknowledged by their own measure in an way that is meaningful to them. And the experience of Twitter can enable and increase that possibility.Regards,Sal.—Salvatore Saieva
I think this is a brilliant idea. I run an event in NYC that brings out 150+ and it’s largely centered around the audience and their participation via mobile devices. We’ve been using large displays (projected or on plasma TVs) to provide real-time feedback to the attendees. As you’ve pointed out it promotes participation, even from the shiest of attendees. For us the screens has brought about engagement of about 90% of our attendees.When you have open discussions and people are encouraged to participate it’s important to provide feedback so that everyone feels they’ve contributed to the experience. Not only does it help individuals, but the discussion as a whole. The great thing about twitter is how accepted it is and how it encourages not only engagement, but discovery.
…and if you conference or event is big enough to be of interest / discussed by a lot of ppl, try to include twitscoop. You should look at it during the next Apple / Demo / TC / LeWeb event and you’ll understand how powerful it can be at extracting general meaning (in real-time) without you having to read the whole stream (as you would do with search.twitter)
I love doing this at events.BrightKite just made it easy to do just this, and added a feature for non users to be able to txt in a message.For instance, here is a wall for Boulder, Colorado (or the address of your event), with a search term for “iPhone” on twitter: http://is.gd/mpOcCreates a full screen capable flash player for your event, includes photos with the tag and refreshes every 3 seconds.We have used this for a few events, works out really well.
I am a layperson who doesn’t usually comment in these discussions, but I thought I would post an amusing take on the twitter phenomenon (in the political context) that echoes some of the criticism here:http://www.thedailyshow.com…
When I saw that earlier this week, I thought “let the backlash begin”
Twitter as a backchannel has been the norm at most Irish Technology (related) conferences for over a year. Screens with Twitterstreams are also popping up all over the place.It greatly improves the interactivity of conferences and “forces” a speaker to be more on their toes.It alos allows people that cannot attend to follow the events and even post questions to the speaker or the crowd.A relative new development is that Twitter is being used for live comments-streams on TV shows. Have a look for the #ddire hashtag and you will see what I mean.
The other fantastic thing about a hashtag is that it lets non attendees like myself meet other interested folks. This is the basics of the social media trend – don’t connect your brand / topic to people, connect people to each other around your brand / topic.I met a number of great people and complimentary projects on twitter around the #hackedu tag. By holding the event, and opening it up, you connect, galvanize and strengthen the whole community around your topic. It helps you, as the organizer, (more ideas) and helps everyone else (more connections). Thank you for that.
I love that line about don’t connect your brand to peopleGonna reblog it at fredwilson.vc
Given the social potency of hashtags, it seems pretty fundamental that a public hashtag index becomes a formal thing, but unclear if that is the case at the present. Are hashtag names defined ad hoc/on the fly, or is there a more formal vetting mechanism?
Totally ad hoc right now
If hashtags become owned like accounts I think they will have lost a lot of their value. That they live and die through community is a big part of their magic. There are a number of services that are trying to ‘define’ hashtags – really we just need to better ways to get contextual summary faster.
Out of interest, who is trying to formally define hashtags? I am with you on community definition but there is a line between being completely ad hoc and having community driven recognition systems.Granted, twitter is moving to provide some of this data from a trending perspective but what is needed are more reliable contextual framing mechanisms so: a) it is easier to plug into conversational threads and b) as contexts become anchored they persist beyond NOW.While there are spam considerations to reliability of hashtag persistency, the 140 character limits mitigates over use by legitimate users, I think.
Hi Dave, I read your post last night and found it very timely and inspiring, and returning this evening I’m enjoying the lively commentary posts as well. I thought some of your observations and thoughts on how to improve were spot on, and I’ve posted a somewhat lengthy response to your post at my blog TechSifter, and hope you don’t mind if I link there for the complete post.I totally agree that the benefits of using Twitter far outweigh the drawbacks.We at Positive Matrix have some experience with conference micro-blogging and wanted to share a few ideas on how some structure in the way Twitter is used at events can improve the experience and outcomes. In short the concepts include1.) The Technology alone is not enough2.) Enhance the Experience with a Social Protocol3.) Sensemaking by Identifying Themes4.) Use of Tweetdeck for Breakout Sessions5.) Attention to the Physical Room SetupI think that not only Twitter event software, but also best practices in Twitter enhanced event organization are emerging.
PS apologies I meant Hi to both Fred (who wrote the article) and Dave, John and Jeff (who did the live blogging)
<#hackedu>How about college professors implementing this into lectures? Perhaps via a closed Twitter-esque system like Yammer (to keep it within a course or section/ensure conversation stays on topic).Think: 400-person lecture hall at a larger university…multiple sections…Works on a smaller level, as well.Would be an interesting way to engage students, especially those who may not like to “speak” in front of the class.Have a T.A. monitor the comments and notify the professor of the most salient points brought up so he/she could respond in context or via a follow up blog post, during the next class, etc.<#/hackedu>
Great idea, butIn the spirit of hacking education, why should education and learning ever be private?Default to public unless you are sure it has to be private
Sure.So, more:Is the hashtag sufficient or should edu-focused dialogue get a new tag and a whole aggregator/site devoted to it, a la the $$ and StockTwits?Will Buzzable groups do? (Is no visible hash or @ address in a group reply within a user’s Twitter stream a problem? vs. something like the @shakeshack bot, which at least gives context).For example, ^hbsECON551xx = ‘Harvard Biz School Econ 551, Section XX”The section can be optional if multiple sections are taught by the same professor. Or not, encouraging dialogue across sections and gaining transparency into another professor’s tract of thinking if you are a student in a different section.To engage the public, the successful professor/TA could attract live followers by tweeting a schedule and agenda regularly in advance of the class, i.e. “@drsmith Lecture on role of gov in mkts 3/14 2pm ET. Follow ^hbsECON551″Especially exciting would be those blessed occasions where real-time, real-world events intersect with the day’s topic, i.e. A-Rod steroid use in a sport psychology class.A Political Economy Major, I almost yearn to be back in “Government in Economics” class just to experiment.;-)So, who here is a professor?Charlie?Let’s experiment!
I’d like to experiment too. There are a number of educators doing just that
Is there at all a concern regarding ‘noise’ or someone from the public being too ‘loud’, misinforming, contradictory, etc.?How to filter noise?Any concern from professors that they might lose “control” of the discussion?Think: Rodney Dangerfield in ‘Back to School’http://www.script-o-rama.co…Search for ‘widgets’;-)
I love Rodney in Back To School
Funny you should use that ‘glyph’. Will be launching something this week that you might be able to use for what you want to experiment with. I’m @igniter on twitter if you want to connect.
“Teaching With Tweetdeck”Neat.http://tweetdeck.posterous….
@mbrosen Couple of examples of this for you: http://buzzable.com/ , using Twitter. My project http://www.redroverhq.com and WordPress Multi User with Buddy Press. Many are working on the “streamification” of education, #hashtags is a temp solution for nodes until semantic web catches up to promise.I suspect Facebook’s coming public feed will do keyword filtering as well.I’m with Fred, this should be public by default.Privacy is legacy thinking from FERPA (http://en.wikipedia.org/wik…. Changing this paradigm for the schools will take a few years at least – the students are mostly there.
“It is hard to moderate a conversation of 40 people and there are times when several people want to make a point but one gets the opportunity. I started to notice that the others would simply post their thought to twitter instead which allowed the rest of the room to see what they wanted to say in parallel with the point that was being made live.”Very clever indeed. One of the first time I actually read an application of Twitter with a positive aspect to it, professionally useful and, at last, convincing. I’ll spread the word, thank you.
Hi Fred,I am excited by this post and have two comments, especially to the paragraph: “It is hard to moderate a conversation of 40 people and there are times when several people want to make a point but one gets the opportunity. I started to notice that the others would simply post their thought to twitter instead which allowed the rest of the room to see what they wanted to say in parallel with the point that was being made live.”1. It helps to facilitate such meetings if you provide an etiquette or protocol that (1) focuses the conversations; (ii) captures the inputs and ideas (and not just those of the dominant personalities); (iii) acknowledges all contributions; (iv) allows for sense/meaning-making.After using groupware in face-to-face meetings and on-line in this way for a three years, time and time again, I have groups move very quickly from a bunch of individuals with great ideas to a high performing team.2. These exciting digital tools are valuable only if they help us move from knowledge capture to new knowledge creation and we then go out and apply this new knowledge wisely.I would be delighted to continue the conversation. There is a lot still to learn and do.
we do this every single weekday of the year minus a few holidays from 930am to 4pm straight with thousands of people giving their takes and cash money on the line. …and it rocks!
It doesHave you ever put stocktwits on a big screen with a bunch of people in theroom?
great idea fred! we must do this at lindzonpalooza.
Here in Asia (where I’ve been for the last month), I see the potential to be even more impactful.There are many here who would never make a comment via their mouths in public, but typing things out, particularly via a handle or avatar, can really empower a voice.It’s really interesting studying how Twitter and other social/communication services are used here.
Hey Fred,I’ve got an http://www.NYVideo.org event tonight with over 500 members attending. I want to give this a try but how do you get the hash stream to update/refresh automatically?
Either use a client like tweetdeck or have someone at the computer hit the refresh buttonWe did the latterIt would sure be great if it did auto refresh like stocktwits does
Cool, will try the former. Will look awesome on the big screen.
Projecting tweets worked great for us at the Shorty Awards too. We built an interface that automatically updates with the latest tweets about Shorty at http://shortyawards.com/tic… and projected it on the big screen during the event. It’s not as compelling now that the awards are over, but you can view it in action on the video embed here: http://shortyawards.com/.
I agree. This thread reminds me of a research study I co-authored during my graduate school internship. This was in 2000 and we wondered about the enabling effects wireless devices could have in face-to-face meetings. We set up a study that was focused on a brainstorming and voting task, and we weighted it to disadvantage one segment of the group (women) by outnumbering them in the group and by having the task be male-oriented (naming and then voting on the winning names for a series of new video games). People were told to discuss the task, but they were instructed to submit names and votes electronically, ostensibly to make sure all ideas were captured accurately. So there was a combination of face-to-face and wireless activity (everyone could see what everyone else submitted as they submitted it, very much like your Twitter stream). We set up the wireless devices to enable anonymous contributions for one session and then submissions that had peoples’ names attached to them for another. The study was pretty remarkable in that when women were anonymous they contributed more ideas and had more of their ideas voted as the best. To us it proved the efficacy of a tool like this in face-to-face communication, especially when you had a group with built-in status differences (peers vs. bosses, etc.).By the way, Fred, I’m a huge fan of this blog. Thanks so much for all you put into it.Brenda
Hmm, that part about women vs men is interesting
I wish I had known about this part of the event, beforehand. It would have been a blast to be a part of the action.
A read this from a MusicianAuthor that intrigued me:”Recently I read an article in the New York Times about an emerging trend called Slow Blogging. Said to be inspired by the Slow Food movement in Europe, which was born as a backlash against fast food and to celebrate the joys and rewards of growing and preparing the finest food possible, Slow Blogging (loathsome word, but we seem to be stuck with it) is likewise the antithesis to the rapid-fire, semi-literate, compulsive texting that is so prevalent these days (anyone feeling too optimistic about human nature need only read the comments that follow any online news story — shockingly, appallingly ignorant and vicious!). By definition, Slow Bloggers do not hack out quick-and-dirty opinions, but rather deliberately take their time in observing their subjects, whether a morning walk in the woods or a workplace epiphany, then frame those moments in words as artfully as they can.”As some one who is just beginning to explore (and really digging BTW!!) Twitter, the above gave me pause.Just sayinFlavio
Don’t you guys find it distracting talking to people tapping away on a keyboard. It seems rather ‘rude’ to me.
There were only three or four people out of 40 doing thatIt was fine
I think twitter is a brilliant tool for many things – if used wisely.having it positioned so all can see helps; danah boyds recent speaker experience shows that:http://www.zephoria.org/tho…I love twitter as a way of following events that I can’t attend but it seems to work best in the way you mention if the event is a small one – the larger the event the more likely mob rule and snarky conversations will overtake the relevant comments and discussions – alongside the ‘self promotion’ that people keep mentioning in the comments here.
Great post Fred and nice approach to encouraging input. Not sure what it says about today’s SM driven society, but some people are probably more comfortable posting a Tweet publicly for the world to see then speaking up verbally in a room with 40 or 50 people.