Conferences as Spam? Liveblogging science hits the mainstream
I am probably supposed to be writing up some weighty blog post on some issue of importance but this is much more fun. Last year’s International Conference on Intelligent Systems for Molecular Biology (ISMB) kicked off one of the first major live blogging exercises in a mainstream biology conference. It was so successful that the main instigators were invited to write up the exercise and the conference in a paper in PLoS Comp Biol. This year, the conference organizers, with significant work from Michael Kuhn and many others, have set up a Friendfeed room and publicised this from the off, with the idea of supporting a more “official”, or at least coordinated process of disseminating the conference to the wider world. Many have been waiting in anticipation for the live blogging to start due to logistical or financial difficulties in attending in person.
However, there were also concerns. Many of the original ring leaders were not attending. With the usual suspects confined to their home computers would the general populace take up the challenge and provide the rich feed of information the world was craving? Things started well, then moved on rapidly as the room filled up. But the question as to whether it was sustainable was answered pretty effectively when the Friendfeed room went suddenly quiet. Fear gripped the microbloggers. Could the conference go on? Gradually the technorati figured out they could still post by VPNing to somewhere else. Friendfeed was blocking the IP corresponding to the conference wireless network. So much traffic was being generated it looked like spam! This has now been corrected, and normal service resumed, but in a funny and disturbing kind of way it seems to me like a watershed. There were enough people, and certainly not just the usual suspects, live blogging a scientific conference that the traffic looked like spam. Ladies and Gentleman. Welcome to the mainstream.