Virtually academic

MATLAB Virtual Conference Networking Lounge

MATLAB Virtual Conference Networking Lounge

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… ūüôā

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. ūüôā

MATLAB Virtual Conference

Technology is awesome. The high point of geekism and nerdity of this year is the MATLAB Virtual Conference. This, I dare to predict, is The Future. As flying across the world is increasingly difficult to justify for environmental reasons, building virtual meeting places and having virtual gatherings and learning to work in online communities is the way to collaborate from at home.

I still think that nothing replaces actual, face-to-face interaction and I do think we need more of that, not less, but there are many occasions where less interaction will do. The MATLAB Virtual Conference is today, and it is a lot of fun. Well, “fun” in my geeky standards, at least. There are more than 7000 registered participants from all over the world. I’d like to see an actual conference with this kind of attendance… There are conference talks in parallel sessions, there is an exhibition hall where you can visit exhibition booths, chat with presenters and other guests, and you can network using various tools that are similar to any social network. Presentations can be downloaded or saved to conference briefcase, at exhibition hall there are videos and links…¬† You can also ask questions after the presentations using a simple form that attaches your business card to the question, so that the presenter knows who is asking what. The presenters are then available for one-on-one chats at the exhibition booths afterwards, much like in actual conferences you can go and talk to people at coffee breaks.

This event is organised by MATLAB and it is their PR event more than an actual academic conference with CFP’s and speakers from various different institutions. However, the platform for this conference, by UNISFAIR could well be used for that.

There’s now a lecture starting on developing algorithms for MATLAB, so I’ll go to the conference room to join in the fun. And just for fun, here are some screenshots of the virtual venue.

Exhibition hall of the MATLAB Virtual Conference

Exhibition hall of the MATLAB Virtual Conference

Exhibition booth of MATLAB Virtual Conference

Exhibition booth of MATLAB Virtual Conference

Conference Hall of the MATLAB Virtual Conference

Conference Hall of the MATLAB Virtual Conference