Most technical conferences use a "back-channel" for attendees to message each other during the conference. If the speaker makes a reference to a company, someone will post the URL; if an attendee doesn't like one of the speaker's arguments he can say so. I expect some people find this disconcerting, but smart conference organizers monitor the back-channel to see what's been said to take the pulse of the audience.
At the recent Emerging Communications Conference (eComm), for example, a stream of comments in the back-channel prompted the conference organizer to stand up and demand that the attendees who disagreed with the speaker give the speaker a chance to respond by asking their questions publically.
The most common tool for a back-channel used to be IRC: simple and cheap, with some bells and whistles for advanced users — IRC is in fact designed for discussions. Instead, eComm asked us to use Twitter, and we did, with the "#eComm" tag (you can still find the entire conference and post-conference discussion if you like). This meant our back-channel was public; no great worry. It also meant that eComm rapidly became one of the most ten popular topics on Twitter during the span of the conference.
But it also meant that we carried on a two-way conversation via a micro-blogging service that's meant for short broadcasts to the world. Twitter simply doesn't support that very well, and at least one of my subscribers temporarily unsubscribed from my feed because of the number of tweets I made. One fellow attendee solved this "flooding" problem by creating a temporary Twitter account just for duration of the conference.
My conclusion: eComm certainly received decent publicity for the conference; as for myself, I found a number of new people to follow on Twitter and they found me. The public at large learned some interesting facts. But in practice Twitter isn't really meant for conversations, and the disadvantages outweigh the advantages. We need to figure out how to combine IRC's conversational nature with Twitter's public presence.
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