It’s three weeks since the Questionmark European Users Conference and I’m still following up on some of the conversations that started there. The presenters really help shape the theme of the conference: each session provides the starting point for the discussion that happens in the breaks, in the bars and on into our community spaces and discussion forums after the event.
An increasing part of this conversation is something often referred to as the back-channel. For me, the back-channel is a way that participants in an event can contribute to a wider conversation around the event’s themes using their mobile devices. To help you grapple with the details of this concept, you might like to read this interesting blog post preparing participants for DevLearn 2011: “What exactly is a back-channel?” I particularly like the comment from a speaker encouraging audience members to use their mobile devices to engage.
So how would you tune into the Questionmark European Users Conference back-channel? If you were using Twitter (and that is the easiest way) you would just search for all tweets that include the special hash-tag #qmcon (‘hash’ is one of the many names for the # symbol on your keyboard). Most Twitter monitoring tools make it easy to monitor your search continuously so that you can see new comments appearing in near real time. To contribute to the conversation about this event, you would simply include the term #qmcon in your tweet.
Don’t be shy! Of course, when you tweet publicly it might be recorded and preserved for all time (especially if you make particularly witty and incisive contributions) but back-channel comments are short and conversational and usually ephemeral like any other comment or question you ask in a discussion session. Why not give it go? Next time you’re at a conference find out the back-channel hashtag and have a look. If you’ve got a burning comment or question you don’t need to wait until the end of the session anymore: tweet it and see what comes back.
I always like to monitor the back-channel at every conference I attend, and when I’m presenting I always check back afterwards to see if there are comments and questions I need to follow up on or ways I can improve my session next time. For example, here was a useful tip from someone in the audience of one of my sessions:
“#qmcon Acronym city in Integration session. developers have a language all of their own, no pun intended.”
Clearly I need to humanise that slide deck a bit for next time.
In my opinion, following hashtags is the way to use Twitter. And it isn’t just something people do at conferences either. Producers of live TV programmes monitor hashtags and provide feedback to the presenters in real time. You can also follow major trends and world events; try searching for something of interest and see what tags people are using to follow the conversation.
Still enjoying the Halloween spirit? Just follow #pumpkin for a constant stream of pumpkin-related tweets and pictures.