Twitter, Wiki as feedback tools for event organizers

by bledsoe on March 14, 2008

During a recent session of the SXSW Interactive conference in Austin, TX, the popular social networking application Twitter played a fairly prominent role. In fact, the widespread use of the application by a number of attendees actually served to simultaneously disrupt the session and provide an impromptu outlet for the attendees' frustration with what they felt was a less-than-informative event. The session was considered by many to be a horrible failure and quickly became a hot topic in the news and blogs. (You can read a brief summary of the SXSW session here.)

I was particularly interested in this series of events because my wife, Lisa, had recently told me about the great success of another event in which Twitter and other online tools had played a similar but much more positive role. Lisa and a colleague, Jeff, recently hosted an after-work networking get-together at their workplace. (This networking "meetup" was called the Triangle Tweetup because all of the attendees, about 35 in all, were members of a group of Twitter users in the Research Triangle area of North Carolina.)

Anyone who has ever attended a professional networking get-together is probably familiar with the basic format: there's generally someone who serves as the organizer or emcee, there may or may not be a formal or informal presentation by someone, and much of the time is spent handing out business cards and meeting new people. And that was pretty much the format of this meeting as well, except for the fact that this was a networking meeting for Twitter users, and thus it was assumed that Twitter would be a primary focus of the meeting, both as a topic and as a tool.

So it probably wasn't a surprise to anyone there (though it was to me), that Lisa and Jeff had arranged to have a computer and projector set up in the main meeting room so that all of the attendees could post comments and questions to Twitter during the meeting, and these comments and questions would be projected on the screen for everyone to see, kind of like an online chatroom. Even during times when someone was speaking to the group, people were posting comments and questions, some of which might be answered by the speaker or others, and some of which might be used to move the talk in a different direction. No one seemed to feel that this was in any way disruptive; it was just assumed that this kind of immediate feedback would be part of the meeting and everyone made use of it.

Another online tool which was set up prior to the meeting was a wiki. Many people are familiar with wikipedia, the collaborative online encyclopedia, but in general a wiki is an online tool which allows users to create any type of collaborative website. A few days before the meeting, attendees were asked to post to the wiki and indicate what they were hoping to get out of the meeting, or particular things they were hoping to learn. While Lisa and Jeff already knew what the basic format of the meeting would be, by reviewing the responses posted to the wiki prior to the meeting, they were better able to structure it so that it would be more useful for the attendees.

Online chatrooms, wikis, and Twitter have all been around for a while, and many event organizers have already been using them in a number of creative ways (see the links at the end of this post), but I suspect that the events at the 2008 SXSW conference will bring these tools to the attention of many more people. In particular, I suspect that more event organizers will make these tools a part of their events so that attendees will perceive their event to be more like that of the recent Triangle Tweetup and less like that of the SXSW Lacy-Zuckerberg interview.

Other relevant links:

http://money.cnn.com/2008/03/11/technology/fost_conference.fortune/index.htm?postversion=2008031115

http://onlinefacilitation.wikispaces.com/Twitter+Collaboration+Stories

http://www.timdavies.org.uk/2007/10/26/twitter-post-txt-conferencing-and-consultation

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