Over the last 3 days, I’ve been ‘attending’ the SSWUG conference from home. SSWUG stands for Sql Server Worldwide User Group and they had 4 different ‘tracks’ during the conference – one focusing on .NET which is the one I was spending all my time in. But that’s just to give you some context, what I really found interesting was how nice this turned out to be and how it changed some of my behaviors.
From what I understand by watching the keynote, the idea for the conference being broadcast virtually was because last summer the price of gas had skyrocketed to over $4 a gallon. So rather than have people get on planes, fly to the conference city, pickup rental cars, stay in hotels and eat out at restaurants, they decided to do the conference virtually. So this was a 1st class experience, not a bolt-on experience like MIX09 or PDC where you could download or watch the sessions later and felt bad because you couldn’t be their live.
Basically, you cracked open your web browser, logged into the conference website and then watch video sessions streamed live to you over the course of 3 days for $80. Pay a little extra and you can download the content later.
The video quality was excellent. High def, 1280 x 720. Audio was excellent. So it made watching the session very nice. If the presenter was showing code, then they used the now de facto standard of the having the presenter displayed in smaller window in the video. The only way i could capture this is via an old school screen shot.
I would say that this was just as good as being at the conference. In fact in this case since the sessions had no audience, it was better because the presenter could concentrate on just presenting to you.
So what about interaction with other conference attendees?
That’s a very important aspect about attending conferences. Networking with other folks, exchanging ideas or talking about something you just saw.
So while providing the streams, you could also idle in chat rooms (very irc-like) specific to your session or a conference wide chat room and talk with other attendees during the session. Afterwards, the presenter would hang around to answer questions in the chat room.
I’m not a big twittering guy, but I also found that following the #sswugvc via TweetDeck was a great way to keep up on what was happening during the conference. It definitely felt like ‘live’ event with all the benefits of being at home. This was starting to make me a fan of Twitter.
One additional thing I found myself doing is filling out the survey at the end of each session which I did not do at PDC. At PDC, I was usually trying to figure out how to physically get from one room to the next to see the next session. Now I had more time. Time to read the comments, time to fill out a survey, time to download the slides during the presentation, and time to relax and enjoy the conference.
On top of all this, all the sessions are watchable on demand so you can see ones that were running at the same time you were watching another one.
This may sound like I’m trying to sell SSWUG. I’m not. I’m thinking that other conferences could be run in this manner with a far less impact on the environment and with decreased costs (huge order of magnitudes), far more people could attend.