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Author's profile photo Dennis Howlett

The future of events

This is a re-posting of something I developed for my personal weblog. I felt it was worth sharing separately with the community as it is directly related to the way the community operates and how the community experience might be enhanced. I couldn’t think of a way to completely re-write so yes – I am plagiarizing myself.


Yesterday I ran a thought experiment that turned out to be surprisingly successful. SAP was launching BusinessSuite 7 and had invited some of my colleagues to attend its New York offices. Due to budget restrictions, they couldn’t ship some of us over. That didn’t matter too much because they live webcast the event. At the same time, SAP made an Adobe Connect room available to SAP Mentors. [disclosure, I’m a SAP Mentor] This allows invited participants into a chat room where presenters can show slides and where the chat can be augmented with call-in Q&A. It’s a good, if flawed system for conferencing people in.

Around the same time, I asked a few people – just a small handful – if they’d like to join me in a Cover-it-Live session. That allowed them to Tweet directly into the CiL session. SAP was also using #bs7 and #sapbusinessuite as tags that can be aggregated. CiL allows you to pick up those hash tags. It also allows people to leave comments which are moderated by whomever is running the CiL session. My ZDNet colleague Larry Dignan was on Skype, relaying tidbits. The beauty of the CiL session is that you can run it in real time on any blog you choose. I therefore set it up to run both at AccMan and on my ZDN account. I had minor problems with the ZDN blog but that’s more to do with our back end technology which is currently in upgrade testing mode.

So the ‘rig’ consisted of:


  • Skype

  • Cover-it-Live

  • Tweetdeck

  • AdobeConnect

  • QuickTime – for the webcast

  • GMail running in background – just in case

Here’s what it looked like on my 2 x 24 inch screens.04/02/2009

Pretty impressive huh? Anyhoo – within a couple of minutes of the show in New York starting, CiL kicked into life. I’ve lost count of the number of people whose messages turned up but as a real-time Tweet aggregator alone, it was incredibly efficient. What’s more, those same people were engaged with one another.  During the ‘show’ I ran a poll asking whether people felt the new offering would make a difference to TCO/ROI. It was pimped by others and drew a strong response from those engaged with CiL. That was a surprise. Forrester analyst Ray Wang was kind enough to say:

Enjoying how @dahowlett used » link to COVERITLIVE.COM – Home to broadcast the twitter stream!

Did I know all the people who were sending inbound messages? Maybe half. Are we all tech junkies?  Not all. Did I get all those I would have liked participating? No – it would have been good to get more of my Irregular colleagues into the mix.  But what I DID get (and anyone can view the replay) was a richness and diversity of opinion and reaction along with clearing up ambiguities that I could not possibly have got without a lot of phone calling AFTER the event. Check this screenshot from a portion of the CiL record: BS72

Of all those people included in that shot, I had only asked one person to participate. That gives you some idea of the value that tags can bring to these types of application and the extent of reach that can be achieved. So what does it mean?  As the person driving the applications – or rather trying to keep up with the various streams and add in my own perspective – I felt like some crazed DJ spinning disks on six turntables at the same time. That’s OK even if afterwards I was really tired from trying to keep up. At one stage we had a dozen or so messages per minute coming in.  But if you’re running conferences in the new economic reality then assembling systems like this to capture thinking in real time is incredibly valuable.

Given that at many events these days, people tote laptops plugged into wifi networks or use Blackberry/iPhone for sending messages, it makes sense to consider how these styles of application are supplanting the old IRC channels. More to the point, as an event organizer, would you be happy with seeing a real time CiL session running on one of your projection screens? It would open the door to taking questions from anywhere in the world and allow you to gain a sense of the ‘mood’ of those participating in different ways. As a send>respond mechanism, that has to be useful.

  As an aside, as I was thinking about this piece Jon Mell of Headshift asked whether I think the 1-9-90 rule applies to intranets in the same way as it does to public social networks. In this case, which is an example of a self selected intranet of sorts, I would argue that:


  • Participants were already interested in the topic

  • There was no requirement to actively engage

  • Engagement levels were surprisingly high

So – maybe…maybe not. One use case doth not a theory make. But it does point the way to showing others how participation and knowledge capture might work in the future. You could also argue that in the era of non-events, or rather scaled back events, applying these technologies to draw in more people could be an attractive proposition and a useful adjunct to the increasingly popular webinar format.

Oh and did I tell you? Cover-it-Live is free for the version I used.

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      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member

      It was a very interesting event for those of us who participated remotely. Meet several new people whom I was unaware of online as well as saw probably more feedback on this Press Conference than any other SAP has given in awhile. Definitely more "real time" feedback.

      @eventtrack has also done a nice job collecting all of it together for future reference

      Nice going with CiL Den!

      Author's profile photo Former Member
      Former Member
      Thanks Dennis - your post came at a very useful time for me. We have a lot of fancy tools in our intranet that we use for official purposes to get our colleagues across the globe to collaborate, but I have never done anything like this on regular internet. Hey, and I loved your screens. 

      Westminister dog show is coming up next week, and a lot of folks from around the world who usually attend cannot make it this time (including me). We have been thinking how best to get every one together virtually - and your post has given me some ideas. Thanks again.

      Author's profile photo Graham Robinson
      Graham Robinson
      I gotta say I found the SAP Press Conference experience very interesting. I was connected to 3 information channels - the streaming video, Twitter and the SAP Mentor meeting room.

      I am used to multi-tasking (as best a male can be) when I am working on several different tasks at the same time. But the experience of three separate information sources, all happening simultaneously, for the same task was strangely hard to get to grips with.

      I was stunned that people at the press conference were publishing blogs while it was still underway. How do you do that and not miss anything?

      Someone has moved my cheese - and I can't figure out if I am happy about it or not.

      Graham Robbo

      Author's profile photo Dennis Howlett
      Dennis Howlett
      Blog Post Author
      If you're old enough to remember Rik Wakeman then you'll know that playing at least 2 instruments at the same time is a talent. Driving SIX live apps at the same time was heavy going. But 'we' got the job done and on the math we potentially reached 30K people in our combined networks.

      We got into the top 10 Twitter position at one point