Watching both the speaker and the audience
At the Demo 09 conference, held in Palm Desert this week, attendees, both in person and those watching a sometimes glitchy live feed over the internet, werenâ''t just watching the demonstrations on stage; they were simultaneously tracking the thoughts that popped into the heads of other audience members as they, too, watched those demonstrations. It was as if cartoon thought bubbles were popping up over the audience (though it was a little odd not knowing if the thoughts were coming from the room or from someone watching the Internet feed across the world).
This isnâ''t brand new; I talked about monitoring twitter during the Techcrunch conference last fall for a similar experience. But at Demo 09 it was an official conference tool, in the form of a Facebook application that ran alongside the video feed (visible on the laptops of many conference attendees), occasionally appeared on the big screens that flanked the stage, and, during panel sessions, was monitored by moderators, who used it as input for questions.
And, instead of it being distracting, as has sometimes been my experience, the comment stream, for the most part, was adding value. First, I could get a sense of how well the audience liked the idea simply by the pace of the comment flow; when something good was happening, the flow picked up; when a presentation was boring or made little sense, it slowed to a crawl. (That says something about this particular audience, that was faster to say good things than to say bad things, though bad things indeed did get said. Picking on people was generally not accepted; I noted one comment, for example, after a few harsh ones: â''lighten up guys, they are tech guys, not presenters, give them a chance.â'') Next, I appreciated the perspective the comments it provided; an idea might have been new to me, but if it werenâ''t truly new, a commenter was sure to point out that it had been done before, and when, and by whom. Finally, it was simply fun to have my own thoughts confirmed, whether it was â''thatâ''s the best idea yetâ'' or â''love that red shirt.â''
Even good tools can be abused, however, and late in the second day some people started using the comment stream to promote their own products or companies; it went on for a bit before the crowd blasted them and at least one or two humbly apologized.