Monday, 16 July 2012

OR2012: Being there when you can't be there

This was my first real experience of 'attending' a conference without actually going to the event. In previous years I have been aware of the Open Repositories conference, but because it's always taken place in a foreign country attending it has never been a realisitic option. This year OR2012 took place in Edinburgh, so I was paying more attention to the build-up than in previous years. Initially I was planning to attend in person, but being 7 months pregnant meant I was less than keen to spend a week at the other end of the country.

So whilst a colleague went for a couple of days in my place, I still wanted to know what was happening. Which inspired me to look online to see what was going on. During the week, the best ways to keep abreast of what was happening (at least for me personally) were to keep up with the Twitter feed and read the live blog posts. These are both social media platforms I'm used to using, and not having to learn a new platform was a big bonus! I have to say a big kudos here to the conference organisers for putting all this together, along with a bunch of other social media options. Not all conference organisers are so proactive.

I was amazed, and quite pleased, to find that doing a search for #OR2012 on Twitter, and following the comments as they appeared, turned out to be my preferred way to follow the conference. Because it works like a conversation, you get access to the parts of a conference that you'd usually miss out on by not being there - namely the conversations around the talks, rather than the talks themselves. You can usually catch up with the talks themselves via e-mails or future blog posts after the conference has taken place, but not attending conferences means you miss the immediate reactions from attendees. With Twitter, this doesn't happen on quite so significant a scale. You can even ask questions of the attendees, and get immediate answers (I have to admit that, for me, this was a step too far for my first experience like this, but I like that you can. I did retweet some of my favourite tweets though)!

Interestingly, it was the live blog posts that I found least useful. I'm a relatively avid blog reader, and tend to find posts helpful and a good way of keeping very up-to-date with the latest developments. But live blog posts take away the element of reflection, and/ or explanations of how people have put certain things to use, that I find to be their most useful qualities.

Of all the OR2012 live blog posts I've read so far (there are a lot and I still have 5 or 6 to read from the last couple of days), I did find the one on Name and Data identifiers (a Weds 11 July session) most useful. I think this was primarily due to the fact that I already knew most of the information, having read about it previously - and, in one case, participated in one of the projects (if nothing else, the post acted as a reminder that I need to chase that particular project and see where things have got to, because I've heard nothing since March...). But when it came to the final talk on creating citable data identifiers, which I have less knowledge of, I still got a little lost. I found a more reflective post, written by a UKCoRR member after he left the conference on the Wednesday, much more readable and meaningful.

One final thought on keeping up with conferences in this way - make sure you give yourself the time to do it. My decision to keep up with this conference online was pretty last minute, and it took up a lot of my working week. Luckily I was able to do this as it wasn't a particularly busy week at work, but if something major had come up I would easily have fallen behind with what was happening. Just because you're not travelling away from the office, this doesn't mean you don't need to ensure you have the time to 'attend' it. Obviously this is less of an issue for a day-long event, but OR2012 is a big, week-long conference - the biggest annual one for repository folk that there is. Because of that, there's a lot of information to take on board. Just keeping up with tweets alone took up a significant part of my day, especially mid-week (when the majority of the talks happened). All this is proven by the fact that I still haven't finished reading all those blog posts yet!

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