ScienceOnline2010 – I wish I was there

ScienceOnline2010 just finished a few hours ago, and from what everyone was saying it was yet another wonderful meeting. I attended last year and moderated a session called Providing public health and medical information to all, but unfortunately could not come this year. News about ScienceOnline2010 are all over the place, including from our own Henry Gee.

Flickr picture by missbakersflickr.

Graham Steel has more experience attending ScienceOnline remotely (Science Online '09 – How was it…. via the internet?), but I did my best to follow the meeting via Twitter, FriendFeed, Flickr, YouTube and of course blogs and media. There was even a ScienceOnline2010 iPhone app. Another ScienceOnline2010 trend was the widespread use of Flip for short videos such as this one:

The overall online coverage far exceeds what I see at my usual science meetings, but following the sessions live (including the ability to ask questions) is far more difficult. For that you need video and microblogging (or the two combined in Second Life). Video of sessions from two rooms was streamed live at Ustream and Second Life, but Ustream didn't always work for me (didn't try Second Life, all sessions were recorded and will appear on YouTube next week).

For me and many others FriendFeed is the perfect microblogging tool for conferences (Microblogging the ISMB: A New Approach to Conference Reporting). But the use of FriendFeed in Science 2.0 conferences seems on the decline during the last 12 months because of Twitter, and at ScienceOnline2010 it was no longer possible to follow sessions using FriendFeed. Twitter is wonderful for many things, but makes it very difficult to create a connected discussion around a particular topic such as a conference session. But the Twitter board was cool:

Flickr picture by SignalShare.

After ScienceOnline2010 is before Science Online London 2010. The first planning meeting took place last Friday. We hope to announce the location and date in the coming weeks, but we are aiming for a bigger (with enough room for at least 250 people) and longer (two days) meeting with enough parallel sessions to cover all the topics that we care about.

One personal goal I have for Science Online London 2010 is to provide an even better experience for those unable to attend in person. Second Life worked pretty well for us last year, and we even had one speaker giving his presentation this way. But maybe we can do better. Livestreaming of good quality audio is probably the most important thing, the video quality seems less critical. Alternatively, we can synchronize the audio with the slides from the presentation, something SlideShare calls SlideCast. We might also find better ways to use Twitter for microblogging, e.g. by using separate hashtags for every session and a Twitter board in the sessions.

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33 Responses to ScienceOnline2010 – I wish I was there

  1. Kristi Vogel says:

    Great summary and discussion of online participation options, Martin! I would have really enjoyed the sessions on the Great Pacific Garbage Patch, the Darwin projects, Medicine 2.0, and the MLK Jr. Memorial session, I think, but I’m sorry to report that between grading, yard work, and outdoors activities (taking advantage of the nice weather-finally!), I didn’t follow anything online. I can’t see ever being able to attend either of the Science Online meetings in person, and my attempts at Second Life attendance last year were made of FAIL. My previous “virtual world” experiences, in our university version of “this”:, were happy and somewhat successful ones, but Second Life just doesn’t work for me, or perhaps I don’t grok it.
    I might just be frustrated with blogging at the moment, which would contribute to my negativity. On the blogosphere curve, people are either _way_ ahead of me (e.g. the NNers and most Science Bloggers), or far behind me (most people I work with, who can’t/won’t understand the mechanics, accessibility, and functions of a simple departmental blog). I’m in the middle of the curve, and about ready to walk off into the woods. 😛

  2. Martin Fenner says:

    Kristi, you can always go back in the next few weeks and watch a YouTube video or read a blog post about ScienceOnline2010. And I think that there are far more people in that middle category: interested in science blogging and other activities, but busy with their daily duties. Everybody can decide how much or how little he gets involved. So please don’t walk off into the woods.

  3. Henry Gee says:

    Thanks for this, Martin. I’m literally just off the plane from Scio10. It was mind-blowing. I am now in the process of writing it all up and a blog post will follow in due course. What struck me was that, first, nobody ‘official’ from NN was there; and that our blog platform is so woeful. For example, anyone who blogs, from “my ‘umble beach house on Blogger”:, right up to the might of “SciBlogs”: and “Discover Blogs”:, has easy access to feedback statistics. But not NN, where we have to rely on “occasional postings from our admins”: , which don’t even give us raw numbers in terms of hit rate and so on. I’m now rather fed up with this. By the time MT4 arrives it’ll be MT7, so excuses like that now seem rather limp. I and mulling over whether to abandon my NN blog for that reason, and for the fact that no NN people were at Sci10 to support the brand.

  4. Martin Fenner says:

    Henry, thanks for the first-hand report. Last year there were a number of Nature network bloggers at ScienceOnline09. Maybe we should hire a tour bus for ScienceOnline2011?
    You should talk to Ian Mulvany about the impeding changes of the Nature Network blogging platform. But I guess we will be happily blogging on Movable Type before you stow away your snow showels.
    I would also be interested on your opinion on article-level metrics, it looked as if you enjoyed that session. It would be great to have something similar for the _Nature_ journals. For me it’s not just the numbers, but rather a nice way to link information such as user comments, blog posts, media coverage to the journal article.

  5. Katherine Haxton says:

    I totally agree with regard to twitter being inadequate for remote participation in sessions. I tried to follow a couple of sessions via twitter but could not work out which comments referred to the sessions in hand, and which referred to the parallel sessions. Friendfeed has the advantages of threaded conversations. At a smaller conference late last year we managed to get all the participants who wished to be, onto GoogleWave and used that for collaborative note taking and commenting on the talks. Best set of notes I’ve ever had from a conference but those who weren’t present in the room said that it was still difficult to follow.
    Without proper integration into the actual conference room – via screen, dedicated monitor of the twitter/friendfeed/wave, these still remain a back channel. Question is, what does proper integration of online participants look like?
    Catching up on sessions after the fact – I doubt I’ll find the time despite my best intentions at the moment. I also felt there was a lack of blog posts from the conference – probably all having too much fun in the ‘real’ world.
    Anyway, nice post!

  6. Henry Gee says:

    _But I guess we will be happily blogging on Movable Type before you stow away your snow showels_
    Yeah, right.

  7. Lou Woodley says:

    @Martin, thanks for the post – I too would love to have been there and I agree with you about investigating all our options for an online version of the London event this summer. Second Life is unlikely to be the solution, but there are other options and lots of useful feedback from last year’s experiment with virtual attendance.
    @Henry – in response to your comments, it was mainly logistics in terms of the timing of changes in the NN team that prevented any of us from being there. We’ll be sure to remedy this next year. As for the now-not-so-mythical MT4 – please check out the bloggers forum where we have been discussing imminent changes to the blogs here, which will include the ability to track your own stats. Another announcement to follow on-site soon, but if anyone has any questions, please feel free to email me.

  8. Martin Fenner says:

    Katherine, interesting that you used Google Wave. Because you can see everybody typing in real-time, it must have been a spooky experience. I don’t know how to best do this, but my requirements are a) live audio and either video or slides, b) feedback (e.g. possibility of asking a question) by people not in the room. This is probably as much an organizational challenge as it is a technical problem.
    Lou, why do you think Second Life might not be the solution? Is it because it is too complicated for people to use? What I didn’t like at Science Online London 2009 is that the feedback/discussion from the people in Second Life didn’t really pass through to the people in the room.

  9. Richard P. Grant says:

    While stats on your posts gives a lovely warm feeling (or not), does it really _matter_? Admittedly I have to show numbers for the “work gig”: but that’s because the Board wants to know.
    As for the rest of us? It’s not really that important is it? Seriously?

  10. Lou Woodley says:

    @Martin, I was a big Second Life enthusiast as a result of the Elucian Islands project, but as you mention there is a much steepier barrier to getting started than for standard webcast options. For many, this effort to get set up is outweighed by the immersive nature of the environment – you get an very engaging experience once you are comfortable with the tools and many people who attended our events have commented on how they really did feel part of a real-time community. However, as Kristi mentions, this is often not without frustrations along the way and these may be too off-putting for us to reach out to everyone who might want to attend online.
    Joanna will hopefully be blogging in some more detail about our Second Life experiences as there’s a lot to be said on this subject. As I mentioned, we also gathered feedback from our virtual attendees after last year’s event, and this was quite revealing in terms of future directions….but let me leave it to Jo to present this first.

  11. Henry Gee says:

    @Richard – whether it matters or not, users now want and expect such facilities. The more that we go on without the ability for bloggers to feel that they have some degree of control over their own stats, the more NN looks out of date, to a degree that it’s now so unhip it’s a wonder its bum doesn’t fall off.

  12. Richard P. Grant says:

    I think NN has elevated unhip to a whole new level. It’s so unhip it’s actually cool.

  13. AJ Cann says:

    I found Scio10 difficult to follow online. The time difference didn’t help but the main problems were:
    a) Fragmentary Twitter hashtag coverage – colour rather than detail.
    b) Wiki not much help with discussions.
    c) Not much discussion on Friendfeed – in the past, threaded discussions here have been the best way to follow and participate in dicussions remotely.
    Availability of audio streams would be a major step forward.

  14. Martin Fenner says:

    AJ, your experience apparently was similar. But we shouldn’t forget that we set the bar pretty high, most meetings just get a few tweets and a blog post or two afterwards. Can anybody give examples of meetings that work pretty well for attending remotely?

  15. AJ Cann says:

    I wasn’t criticizing anyone, and it sounded like a great meeting. But streaming audio (& preferably video) would be such a huge step forward.

  16. Kristi Vogel says:

    Old-fashioned teleconferences at study sections worked better than Second Life, as far as I’m concerned. And I preferred the virtual environment we had at our university for a couple of years, which lacked the geewhiz computer game-like features of Second Life, and instead focused on secure exchange of research and educational materials. If we’re really meant to work at reducing environmental impacts and carbon footprints, and not just to pay lip service to it (I could write several blog posts on that topic alone), then these virtual attendance technologies are going to have to improve dramatically.
    I would rather remove all the nuclei of my amygdalae with a size C crochet hook, through my nostrils, than follow a conference on Twitter.

  17. Christina Pikas says:

    We missed you, Martin! As for friendfeed – I tried, but I found that I couldn’t listen to the sessions and read and respond to friendfeed at the same time. Communication with me was more like a one way broadcast via my blog! Probably not the most helpful for you all. I’m sorry the video streaming didn’t work for those sessions. I hope that feedback will get back to the organizers.

  18. Stephen Curry says:

    I tried to look in now and then on the proceedings via Twitter but it was hard-going so I gave up. I am patiently waiting for the blog write-ups (thanks for being one of the first Martin, even though you weren’t there yourself!). It’ll be more efficient anyway to read a thoughtful distillation (no pressure Henry!).
    Even with a video feed I’m not sure _I_ would have felt like devoting the time needed to keep track of sessions. As many have said before, much of the benefit of these get-togethers happens _outside_ the sessions and you can only really profit from that by being there in person.

  19. Martin Fenner says:

    Jonathan Eisen wrote about his ScienceOnline2010 experience (“Top 11 things I learned at Science Online 2010″: Some of the best things obviously only happen if you are physically at the conference:
    _3. No matter how good sessions are at a meeting, the best stuff happens outside of sessions in the hall, bar, etc._
    _12. (Bonus) Meeting people you only knew from their online presence is much more fascinating than I expected; meeting so many at once overwhelming; liking both their online and real personas – priceless_

  20. Alejandro Correa says:

    They should give more coverage to this (ScienceOnline2010) at Nature Precedings:Nature Precedings:,almost like a work of reengineering or know it more strongly, I think so is really a powerful tool to advertising the work of talented scientists. Honestly I have read original scientific issues.

  21. Alejandro Correa says:

    They should give more coverage to this (ScienceOnline2010) at “Nature Precedings”:Nature Precedings:,almost like a work of reengineering or know it more strongly, I think so is really a powerful tool to advertising the work of talented scientists. Honestly I have read original scientific issues.

  22. Alejandro Correa says:

    Oh, merde. They should give more coverage to this (ScienceOnline2010) at “Nature Precedings”: almost like a work of reengineering or know it more strongly, I think so is really a powerful tool to advertising the work of talented scientists. Honestly I have read original scientific issues.

  23. Helene Andrews-Polymenis says:

    I missed you at #scio10 there! The article level metrics session was awesome- Peter Binfield gave a really nice talk with lots of links to PLoS raw data, and he has some stuff uploaded onto the conference wiki as well. If you are interested send me an email, and I’ll send you the links. He said that their ALM application is open source and that any journal can get it from PLoS- so it shouldn’t be long that other journals start using such stats (if they aren’t secretly already). (I blogged about scio10 here:, and the conference wiki (as I am sure you are aware has about a bazillion blog posts on it…)

  24. Martin Fenner says:

    Helene, we have come a long way of being graduate student/post-doc in Boston 15 years ago. I’ve followed the article-level metrics discussion, really interesting stuff and I hope it spreads to other journals.

  25. Helene Andrews-Polymenis says:

    Martin- SO true. David Kroll asked me about you- thought you were coming to Scio10… :-(. Anyway on the ALM thing, I’m following it too- and I’m going to take it to journals/professional societies that I’m involved with because they SHOULD be doing it!

  26. Graham Steel says:

    Interesting post Martin.
    _I’ll try to keep this as brief as possible_. That wasn’t possible, so here goes.
    From an general subjective Conference perspective *(namely focusing on the virtual atendee angle)* , I think one has to consider many variables such as:-
    A) What subjects are you going to cover?
    B) Who is your “target audience”?
    C) How will you make them aware of the event?
    D) Is it free or fee _(#scio10 was $175 – #solo09 – £10 in person or £10 for Second Life)_
    E) How interactive do you wish to make it be for virtual attendess?
    F) How does one tackle sessions that involve unpublished data?
    Now since we only appear to be able to use a max. of four url’s in the comments feed on NN _at the moment_, I’ll choose ’em sagaciously.
    On Jan 10th, I posted “this on my blog”: before virtually attending last weekend’s events in North Carolina. Based upon past experience(s) the thing that I was really looking forward to was the livestreaming/chatroom aspect of the Conference. Despite the much applauded wi-fi connection they had set up *(extremely important these days and secured internet access to all present)* c/o company SignalShare, it became clear fairly early on that there was -phlegm- a problem with the livestream. *++ACTION POINT++* Must find out what went wrong so that we can learn from this for the future.
    Each chunk _(hourly sessions)_ of the event was split into five parallel sessions *(Rooms A to E)* and the aim was to livestream content from all discussions in *D* & *E*. This meant that ahead of the event, virtual attendees could chose which sessions they wanted to attent. In the end alas, over the whole weekend, only about 1.5 hours worth was streamed and with very little notice.
    I found this rather dissapointing I have to say as discussed with Martin over the weekend _(can a DM Twitter discussion be classed as a “personal communication”?)_ so time to follow events in other ways. I was pretty much glued to the #scio10 Twitter feed all weekend and I very much agree with AJCann’s comments above.
    *I like Martin’s Twitter suggestions !!*

    Richard Grant & I covered various aspects of Conference event coverage during “a podcast we did”: in July 2008. _(relevant section starts at 19’30”)_ As a result of that discussion and with the permission of NPG’s Timo Hannay, Richard recorded audio of the *Wrap-Up Panel: Embracing change: Taking online science into the future* at Science Blogging 2008: London which was uploaded to web within a few hours. Cool….
    As discussed with a few NN staffers, even though all sessions were video recorded, due to technical issues, none of the NN files ever appeared on the web. That said, Cameron Neylon recorded and from memory livestreamed _(and also self archived)_ some of the sessions via his laptop. Also cool.

    An observation from “Science Blogging 2008, North Carolina”: is as follows. Similar to what Cameron did in London, that year, a couple of individuals, Wayne Sutton and to a lessor extent, Deepak Singh, livestreamed events from their laptops. Within the space of a week _(after that, little interest)_, their uploaded files had been viewed over *15,000 times* which I think was pretty impressive. Observation from Science Online London: 2009. Video footage of 7 sessions were uploaded c/o NN’s Joanna Scott 2 weeks after the event. Total views ~ 500.
    *My take on this from this data is that if you are going to attract the attention of virtual attendees using video format, it needs to be instant ideally, or delayed by a day or two at the most, before interest fades. The same I guess applies to audio.* _As to Second Life, I personally have limited experience of this platform so am unable to comment_. One for Lou & Jo to discuss as Lou has indicated earlier.
    As Cameron Neylon has mentioned elsewhere on teh interwebs, as matters stand, livestreaming using a wi-fi connection is still very _50/50_ in success terms. Whilst livestreaming from this years Science Online UK event shouldn’t be completely ruled out _(we should at least try a secure [not wi-fi] web connection, IMO)_ all things considered, I have to say that I’m pretty much with Martin as per the last para of his post.

    One final point. I really like the idea of Science Online 2010: London being a *two day* event, yay !! The meatspace socialising aspect of such events is a real draw and something that you miss by non physical presence. I can’t really add to Stephen’s comments above in this regard.
    Oh waits, I still have a link final up my sleeve. Whilst I was unable to attend the pre Science Online 2009: London party in person, I did manage to fling together the following montage. Apols for re-posting here but I thought it was rather cool and in doing something like this, it gives virtual attendess a flavour of the social aspect of events, which I think is not “essential” but of general interest.
    Oh bums, I appear to have have ran out of links so let’s see if I can post this without the “missing link”.

  27. Graham Steel says:

    Oh sh*te, we can’t embed stuff from Vimeo here, so “el missing linky is here.”:

  28. Martin Fenner says:

    Graham, thank you very much for the very thoughtful comment. More like a blog post, really. A lot of food for thought.
    Live streaming and openness is usually a good think, but the first session of Science Online London 2009 (*Legal and Ethical Aspects of Science Blogging*) was a good example of a wonderful session that nevertheless was not livestreamed, recorded or blogged about because it could be misunderstood as legal advice.
    Good point about posting session video as quickly as possible. And you raise the interesting question of whether livestreaming should be left to conference attendees or rather provided by the organizers. I would have to talk to someone with more experience in these matters.

  29. Heather Etchevers says:

    I’m in full concurrence with AJCann’s experience.
    I tried hard to use the Second Life platform, but I found the extraneous stuff distracting (assuming a persona, going to a “place”; I had hoped we could look at virtual PDF centralized “posters”, but it mostly presented unrealized potential from my POV). It was a good experience to find that out. The envelope of a human-looking visual avatar is really not necessary for interaction.
    Later, I participated from bed with an injured ligament, in a great conference on “stem cells”: that was “live broadcast”: and well, at that.
    I’ll try to find out what platform they used; nothing bugged and the audio quality was excellent. And you could see the speakers during Q&A, but the slides the rest of the time.
    My slight frustration was with the time it took to E-MAIL comments or questions to the speakers.
    The only place Twitter would have for me, is to have a reception person at the speaker’s end, and the questions could come in (using unique hashtags that are specified ahead of time), for a given session and be handed over or better, transferred to the screen, of the speaker. That would probably be much faster than e-mail. Second Life offered that option of immediacy at SOLO09, too, as the questions came up live on the (real-life) screen, but it wasn’t obvious ahead of time that’s what would happen; they came up in *truly* real time in front of the whole audience, which is not necessarily when the speaker wants to answer them.
    I really enjoyed the FriendFeed participation around Solo08 and -09. Will FF still be around for -10?

  30. Bob O'Hara says:

    I wanted to go, but organizing the travel and zoo keeping would have been a pain, thanks to our recent move. Grrl and I definitely want to get to solo10 (as well as CISB10).
    The travel is a big problem, but I wonder if there’s any mileage in organizing a secondary meeting, e.g. for solo10 having a meeting in the US, where the London sessions could be streamed, and they can then have their own jollies as well, when we’re all out drinking.

  31. Martin Fenner says:

    Heather, I don’t know whether people will really use FriendFeed at Science Online London 2010. I’m skeptical.
    Bob, I like your idea of several silmutaneous conferences. I can’t find the info right, but this has been done before.
    The company SignalShare did provide WiFi support for *ScienceOnline2010*. They wrote a “blog post about this”: The blog post “How to Present While People are Twittering”: also contains some interesting info.

  32. Blake Mitchell says:

    Wow! That twitter board is cool! It’s nice to know that meetings now are held in sync with technological advancement relating to the information age. I attended a meeting last week with my fellow company bloggers and it was held in a stylish meeting space Washington D. C. area. There were two high-tech Washington D. C. meeting rooms used since the group was divided during the morning session. Laterin the afternoon, our CEO addressed us via video conferencing since he was on vacation in Paris.