My first experience of an online conference was with ‘GLIDE08 Global interaction in design’.
I proposed 2 panel discussions, one based on a wiki and another based on this blog.
The organization of the panel discussions was difficult due to large uncertainties of how they could be conducted. Until the last moment I was uncertain about when and how the panel discussion would be hold. The organizers set up a wiki with presentations schedule, abstracts, links to full papers blogs and wikis for discussion. As soon as the schedule of speakers came out about one week before the event, I assumed that our sessions would be in a slot marked ‘asynchronous presentations’. Only at the day of the event I realized that the panel discussions were supposed to be held in parallel to the synchronous presentations.
The synchronous presentations were held via slide sharing software, which was a web browser ad-on. It opened a separate window with chat, voice, video and slide broadcasting facilities. The organizers opted to not using the voice transmission inbuilt in this software. Instead the participants were asked to dial in via a phone bridge. This caused problems for participants outside the US, because the bridge number did not work. We missed the first presentations. Then the organizers decided to open the software voice channel via the slide-sharing tool. The quality was not great (that was probably the reason for using a phone bridge in the first place), but at least we could hear the presentations. However, voice transmission was only one-way, so we could not ask questions. This condition animated participants with similar problems to find a work-around. We went to the wiki page of the speaker and commented or asked questions on the speaker’s abstract page. This allowed developing some lively and continuing discussions; similar to the one you would have after a session at a normal conference ends. It is topic centered at first but also included social elements. That was interesting.
Due to ongoing synchronous presentations and discussion based on those topics, our parallel panel discussions were not well visited. There might have also been confusion about where to comment - in the conference wiki page or on our blog pages. I believe that the discussion would have been more successful if we had been assigned a synchronous presentations slot.
All in all, it was an interesting experience. I thought it might even be carried over to U101. Did we ever think of having life-presentations from the faculty, other invited designers and students in a conference format? As I have experienced, such a format does encourage discussions among participants.