Virtual and Hybrid Conferences, Technology in Transition is Normally a Bumpy Road

With many virtual conferences and events this year, we’ve seen great successes thanks to the many folks working hard to wield a virtual format in support of event and communication goals. That said, I think we’ve been lucky: lucky with the tech and lucky with compassionate folks who have been generous and forgiving of technical issues.

In my experience for technical changes over the past decades, at some point, we collectively normally run out of runway on the compassion and forgiveness for the technical, and people get frustrated. I am so thankful that this hasn’t happened yet, even though I would argue that the tech we’re using for big conferences is not yet good enough to suffice, so I expect problems. Where zoom (and other tools) have made virtual meetings feasible and sufficient, big conferences need more, and I don’t see that we have all of the technical parts in place. Even with technical parts, we also always also need community/cultural knowledge to make it work. I’d always rather see us all prepared than lucky. I see the near-future need to be lucky. This presents more risk than I ever like to see for folks. I hope to be wrong and that the tech is good enough. Or, I hope that we all understand and continue to be compassionate and generous (with our conference organizers, presenters, and each other) in our understanding of the limitations, and that we can sustain this compassion until we have tech that suffices.

Adding a note to help clarify on April 1: The conferences I’m worried about are the ones that are trying to follow more closely the in-person format: expensive, tightly controlled, 2+ full long days, with full and long presentations. I’m not worried about some conferences, which saw the change to virtual as a new way of running a conference, where have made the switch successfully and I don’t expect major bumps. For example, the Library Publishing Forum embraced that the tech means the format has to change, cost changes (and so registration is super low), and that the tech needs to be wielded as-it-is (not as we wish it could be) to be successful. I expect an easy and awesome Library Publishing Forum. I expect CNI, with smart use of YouTube for wider distribution and limited audience for in-person, to continue to be easy and awesome. I expect the same for other events that have embraced change for the virtual format with an understanding of where the tech is now.