I remember when there was a discussion about “Notebook universities” in and around some universities in my area. They were supposed to conceptualize how they would utilize notebooks. These concepts were evaluated to decide which universities get funding for WLAN and Laptop equipment. If I remember correctly the concepts were usually not very inspired. Few people actually had ideas beyond a more mobile access to learning management systems a.s.o.
Now with that in mind read this report by Flemming Funch from the BlogTalk conference:
Now, those of you don’t go to tech conferences, or who haven’t recently, might not be aware of how it works nowadays. In a conference that has a significant number of bloggers present it would now be completely unheard of if there weren’t an open WiFi network in the conference room. Which means, essentially, you open your laptop and you’re on the net. Which means that about one out of two people there has a laptop running. The lucky people who manage to grab a seat at the two rows of tables at the front can actually sit at a desk and are most likely to be able to plug in. And now, this is suddenly a different kind of audience. They look up people’s URLs right away, they browse the scheduled program, reference materials, check the validity of what people are saying, and share maps for the suggested lunch locatioin. There’s a wiki with information about participants, which anybody can update. There’s an IRC chat channel, so one can talk to each other, both people who’re there, and those who watch the live feed at home. People on macs (more than 1/2) automatically see other people there on iChat, and can collaborate on writing notes in SubEthaEdit. If people are bored with the presentation, they check their e-mail or browse the web for totally unrelated things. A bunch of people blog live right there. I.e. they write about what they hear, and have often posted about a talk before it even is done. Based on the trackback mechanism, others can see which weblog postings have happened that refer to the conference, right away, and will most likely have read it shortly after it appears.
And there is another report from Suw Charman on this:
Initially, it struck me that multitasking whilst at a conference is really bad for your concentration. You simply cannot IRC, Rendevouz, check links, edit a wiki and SubEthaEdit whilst also listening to what were some very information-dense presentations. You cannot simultanously process so many conflicting streams of data.
What’s clear from watching Steph and the others, particulary prodigious note-taker Lee, is that that doesn’t matter. By collaborating in a SubEthaEdit note-taking session you become part of the hivemind, so if you miss something, someone else will fill in the gap before you even realise that you have missed something.
Can you see my notebook university?
There is a company trying to make a business out of provinding tools for conference attendees: CoVision Inc. offers a system called Council. What happens at BlogTalk is a bunch of tech savvy adopters that just need a URL to get started with a cascade of interactions.
It is important to note that weblogging seems as much about writing as it is about checking out things and trying to improve the effect of your effort. Last year there was critizism by some, that people stare at their screens intead of listening to the speakers. I thought this was missing the point. I’d suggest to rethink the role of the speaker as being the origin of these cascades. As Thomas Burg wrote there have been 1000 users trying to watch the live stream in the morning (with just 130 attendees). Many more may even just observe the topic exchange channel or the BlogTalk Wiki.
By the way: There is a technology preview of Rendezvous for Windows. But of course without applications that use this functionality this will not help much.