Watching the stream of tweets from this week’s EduWeb Conference (hashtag: #eduweb) brought back a debate I see percolate from time to time in social media: When everyone live-tweets and blogs the details from a conference, does that take away the appeal of attending in person? Or do 140-character summations only provide a tiny peek at a bigger picture?
The debate gets downright heated sometimes, as some folks on Twitter and in the blogosphere have declared the live-tweeting of sessions foretell The End of Conferences. If you can save hundreds or thousands of dollars on travel, registration and hotel and still read the most important lessons, they argue, why go?
And while this is an acute observation, it’s a chicken-and-egg argument: If conferences ended, how could people live-tweet from them? Then how would new information be disseminated from experts and studies? And would that come free? Not likely. Sure, Webinars could still exist, but they come with a fee, and ultimately the collective cost could still mount to conference level.
I would also argue that not only do live-tweets fall short of telling the full story of any individual session, but they only represent one piece of the puzzle. Conferences are, as much as anything, a social function. Sure, we can network on Twitter, sharing ideas and commiserating, but only 140 characters at a time. Is tweeting back and forth with a friend the same as having dinner and a conversation with them? Absolutely not. Same goes with conferences: Meeting face to face with people in the same line of work, sharing questions, frustrations and solutions IRL and in real time makes even the best Twitter interactions pale by comparison.
While others may fret the end of the conference as we know it, I feel fine. I’ll go out on a not-so-fragile limb and declare that while conferences may evolve, they are not at all headed for the ashbin of history. I’ll book my calendar if you invite me to discuss a historical perspective on the Era of Conference Concern at any conference in 10 years. I’m confident the worrying over the end of conferences, as a meme, will pass. Conferences themselves will remain.