Apparently Conferencing via Twitter is a Thing Now

by Christine Neilson
Information Specialist, St. Michael’s Hospital
Toronto, Ontario

Back in April, I saw a blog post about holding an entire conference – The World Seabird Twitter Conference (#WSTC2) – over Twitter. I know there’s usually tweeting happening at conferences, but holding the conference itself via Twitter? The conference was set up so that participants were given 15 minutes and a maximum of 6 tweets to present their work. Naturally, the audience could tweet their comments and questions, too. It blew my mind. And it got me thinking about the benefits and drawbacks of such a plan.

The first benefit of this form of presentation seems obvious; with no travel and a platform that’s freely accessible, participation is free. The downside with this is that – I think – conference content is only one of the reasons people go to conferences, and the face-to-face payoff is missing. Yes, you can theoretically “meet” new people via Twitter, but meeting new colleagues at social functions, having coffee with old colleagues you haven’t seen in a while, visiting vendor reps, and having an excuse to travel are all important parts of conference-going.

In terms of the format, WSTC speakers were allowed 840 characters and six images to get their message across, and that isn’t much. If you have a lot to say, that could be a problem. So perhaps a Twitter presentation is more like a poster presentation of sorts. The format is restrictive, but I think that could be a good thing. Presenters are forced to be clear and concise, and make use of meaningful graphics: all good things in my opinion. Also, not everybody is made for public speaking so this kind of venue might appeal to people who are intimidated by speaking to a crowd, or who aren’t particularly skilled presenters. And unlike webinars where if an audience member misses part of the presentation to deal with e-mail or other distractions, it’s easy to catch up if something draws their attention away. The tweets are also easy to retweet if they resonate with the audience, so we can hopefully say goodbye to ultra-vague tweets referencing conference presentations.

Would you be up for this kind of conference? I would be very disappointed if I never went to a real, in-person conference again, but I’m intrigued by the idea of having a conference via Twitter. One thing I do wonder about is what it would be like organizing such an event. You wouldn’t have to book a venue and order coffee, but you would still have to have a process in place for putting together the program and organizing the presenters. Would it be just as much work? More? Less? Perhaps this is something the EBLIP community might consider testing out for the “off” years between the international EBLIP conferences. I don’t know about you, but I’d participate.

Example of a tweet from the World Seabird Twitter Conference (#WSTC2), April 2016

This article gives the views of the author and not necessarily the views of St. Michael’s Hospital, the Centre for Evidence Based Library and Information Practice, or the University Library, University of Saskatchewan.

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