Making Conferences Suck Less

As commented to Spark: Aspirational technology, the future of search, and dinner with a stranger.

I go to a fair number of educational/technology conferences, including an upcoming one where you’re the keynote. I do presentations, and occasionally sit on planning committees.

I recently did an ignite-style presentation at Educause09 in Denver, CO. titled “Making Conferences Suck Less”.


Conference feedback and comments seem to have similar themes: “There were too many sessions to choose from”, “The description was misleading”, “I knew more than the presenter did”… I think that social/recommendation search can play a role here. I’m imagining that when someone registers for a conference, they start to build a profile using web-based tools to capture what they do, where they work, the tools they use, challenges they have and things they’d like to share with others. It’s a living, breathing profile that is added to before and during the conference. Maybe it can harvest information from other digital profiles (linkedin, facebook, slideshare, twitter…)

The profiles created are all thrown together into a database where connections are made and groups start to be formed. Participants with similar interests are grouped together, people with things to share are linked up with people who want to learn from them. What results is a highly customized schedule for the conference, where the participants have the chance to share and to learn, make connections, and walk away fulfilled. Think “people who selected this break-out session also selected x” or “we see from your linkedin profile that you’re interested in accessibility standards, meet with this group for lunchtime conversation” or “based on your evaluation of this morning’s keynote, we suggest you attend this panel discussion”.

The schedule is made by the interests of the people attending & instead of you selecting the sessions, the sessions select you!

If done correctly, the conference becomes part of the conversation, and if the “profile” piece can be maintained, then the opportunities for networking beyond the conference event are potentially awesome. I imagine alerts saying “Hello @kylemackie, we see that you’re attending in May 2010, and that you’re interested in social networking, educational technology, and other things geeky, would you like to import a feed from your calendar to arrange for a time to meet with @somebody from someplace who is doing something similar?”

“Yes, wonderful social search engine, I would”

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