So, yesterday’s MATLAB Virtual Conference was fun. The venue is still open, people are still hanging out there, filling in user surveys, downloading materials and chatting to each other. Can’t help but think that the people still around are those whose flights back home are later today… 🙂
As I said yesterday, this is, and has to be the Future. It’s not the real thing, but it comes pretty darn close at some respects. Listening to a talk online is very close to listening to a talk live. A lot of the “content” of a conference can be relayed virtually, and some of the social interaction could be simulated as well. But crucially, I think we need to rethink what conferences are, in order to be able to organise good virtual ones.
Conference talks and sessions, exhibition halls and networking spaces (as above, note that the people in these pics are just a background pics, not actual avatars) are useful analogies to real conferences as they help us navigate the virtual environment. But, and I think this was done well by UNISFAIR, it is crucial to focus on the strengths of the tools that are in use and not try to stretch these analogies too far. People attend a virtual conference with different expectations than an actual, physical event.
We could have an ongoing virtual conference, or a virtual common room, centered around a discipline or a research problem. There could be weekly seminars, papers and code could be disseminated, projects planned and carried out. Or, there could be a one-off event that would be run as a conference in terms of academic protocol, with calls for papers, peer review of presentations and proceedings. All these can be “souped up” with filesharing and collaboration tools that would bring advantages to compensate for the disadvantages of virtuality.
So, perhaps these are good when the event needs to be scaled up to a size that would not fit in an actual venue; or when people already know each other and can therefore interact effortlessly virtually; or when the geographic spread of the participants would make actual meetings very expensive; or when the focus is in producing solutions and exchanging materials.
Overall, I think the MATLAB VC was a fun experience. What they could do next time is somehow grade the sessions based on how elementary or advanced they are. Some were aimed for people who have never even seen the software before, while others were much more complicated. Would have been good to have some indication of this beforehand.
Perhaps the most useful bit was this link that I picked from the networking area discussion. And I also learned that people play MATLAB Golf, where the idea of the game is to solve a certain programming problem with the least number of characters in your code. 🙂