Disaster Planning for Conferences

Skype link and presentation stage

Disaster! Your key note speaker can’t make it due to a family crisis!!!

This is what happened on day 2 of this year’s International Digital Curation Conference, 5 – 7 December 2011, Marriott Royal Hotel, Bristol, UK. Unfortunately Professor Philip E Bourne from the Department of Pharmacology, University of California San Diego wasn’t able to fly over for the conference.

So what did we do?

Plan A was to have Philip connect through a Skype connection and provide the audio part of his presentation. His slides would be presented on the big screen at the conference and the chair (Professor Matthew G.Davidson, Associate Dean (Research) from the Faculty of Science, University of Bath) would move the slides for Philip. Luckily this worked perfectly and the audience (and remote audience) were treated to a seamless presentation.

Behind the scenes there were a couple of things going on that are worth noting. We connected up with Philip through Skype in reasonable time for the talk and made sure that he was kept up to date with what was going on using messaging e.g. “get ready to go, the sound is perfect etc.) We didn’t allow Philip to hear the audio till the end of his talk – primarily to avoid distracting him with our conversations but also because the last minute nature of the set up didn’t allow time for testing. At the end of Philips talk we managed to connect to the mixer desk and use the microphones in the room so he could hear questions. We didn’t use video for the talk. It was 1am in California where Philip was Skyping from so he was probably ready for bed! Not only this but there were concerns about using video over the wireless connection, which was all that we had. Big thanks to the AV team at the Marriott hotel for helping us with this.

We did have a Plan B. Philip’s slides were available on Slideshare and he had also pre-recorded his talk and shared in on SciVee (it would have been played in video and document mode). SciVee is a provider of internet video and rich media solutions for the scientific, technical, and medical market.

SciVee in video and document mode

Plan C was phoning Philip’s mobile up!!

So what’s your back up plan for when your speaker can’t make it?

Rich Pitkin on the streaming desk


The Quandary of Quality

Last Thursday I ran a seminar on The Benefits of Amplified Events as part of the Green Impact seminar series at the University of Bath. A full abstract with links to the resources (including a set of short videos created by Brian Kelly) is available. My slides are available from Slideshare and embedded below.

There is also and Adobe Connect recording of the seminar.

After the seminar one of the attendees admitted that he found it all very interesting but was slightly concerned about the quality of the resources (streamed video, video snippets, audio etc.) created. He explained that even a slight crackle in audio put him off entirely and that he felt he’d always rather be at an event then watching it streamed.

We then had a really interesting discussion about the quandary of quality and I wanted to post a few thoughts here.

  • The level of quality required is relative – There will be times when a high level of quality is necessary (for example if you are creating DVDs of talks), but there will also be times when a lower level is required (for example when putting on the Web). High quality video is resource intensive – it requires a good deal of effort to move about, store and edit. You will need to think about the context – what level of quality will your audience expect and are you willing to pay? Commercial outfits will produce excellent quality outputs but they cost – think about your business model.
  • Seamless technology is very important – If the audio isn’t working or the video is blurry people will not be able to watch. Make sure the technology works in advance, test it and test it again. Even if you are doing it yourself you can make every effort to crack this nut. However there are still times when technical difficulties can’t be avoided – it happens in all areas of work – we all just have to learn from it and move on.
  • Online/hybrid events are not the same as face-to-face events – They are different. Often they are an alternative because people cannot travel or attend. Some might argue that they are “better than nothing” but potentially they can be just as good, but different. Audiences need to be aware of this and event organisers need to manage expectations.
  • It just won’t work for some people – However it will work for many others. The face of events is changing and ‘trial and error’ is necessary to make things better. As and individual, and as an organisation, you can decide if you wish to embrace change, or not.

As an aside….I know that my husband and I have different levels of tolerance when it comes to quality of audio and video.

I still love the crackle of an LP and the feedback from an amp. High definition television is wasted on me and I’m just as happy watching fuzzy videos as I am staring up at the big screen in a multiplex cinema. Many things are ‘good enough’ for me.

My husband is a music purist with classical music training and an ear for electronic music. Bad sound quality makes him wince. He understands the physics of sound and the mechanics of video.

I often think that I’m the lucky one as I’m enjoying the AV a lot more of the time than he is! 😉

Business Models for Video Streaming

Many large-scale conferences now offer some form of streaming of talks or videos of the talks soon after the event. How they actually do this varies hugely.

I touched on possible business models in the post I wrote on Openness and Event Amplification last month. I wanted to take a more detailed look at this area and see if I could define a set of possible business models and also raise some of the challenges within each approach.

Do it Yourself

This is likely to be the cheapest option available to event organisers. On a fairly fundamental level the event team will need to assign roles and someone will then need to use a phone or camera to film talks. These can then be served up through a free streaming service (like LiveStream, Bambuser, blip.tv, Ustream etc.), a paid for streaming service or through a webinar service (like Adobe Connect, Collaborate etc.) The videos can also be shared using services like YouTube, Vimeo, Flickr, Yahoo Video etc. It is worth noting that some video sites have limitations on the length, file size and formats they will accept. Event organisers will also be wise to add good metadata to the videos as this will help their categorisation and enable others to find them. Some of the videos may need editing in some way and there are countless free and licenced services out there. It is more than likely that many of the decisions regarding tools and services may be dictated by what your institution already has a licence for.

There is a comprehensive list of video hosting services on Wikipedia

At the Institutional Web Management Workshop that I have chaired for several years we have tended to rely on the skills of the host institution in streaming talks, which is a slight variation on the DIY model. Last year we found that the host institution couldn’t provide this service so we did the work ourselves.

The biggest cost here is the resources needed to train staff and the time needed to actually carry out the actual work (for example video editing can be hugely time-consuming). This approach works best if you have staff members who are interested in learning the skills needed and if you are likely to be organising events on a regular basis.

Cost: $

Event Amplifier

I’ve mentioned Kirsty Pitkin many a time, she’s definitely my event amplifier of choice! Kirsty and the rest of her team have a set of skills (live blogging, tweeting, filming, video editing etc.) that are essential when amplifying events and they also own all the necessary equipment. Not only that but Kirsty has an excellent grasp of the academic sector. These days Kirsty is extremely busy and I’ve no doubt that there will be others joining her in this space in the not too distant future – if there aren’t already. I can see the role of event amplifiers developing into a sort of ‘wedding planner for event amplification’ where they lead you through all aspects of the amplification from pre-event, during event and through to post-event. Their role is likely to extend beyond that of just video streaming. They will help you with many of the choices available but are also likely to be fairly flexible and happy to use the tools and services your institution already has a licence for.

Cost: $$

Outsource to a Commercial Company

Taking this one step further event organisers can employ commercial video streaming companies who carry out all aspects of event amplification. Obviously cost is dependant on what you exactly you would like done and at what spec you require it. Services like SwitchNewMedia are experts at this in the HE sector. The likelihood is that services like this will have a set of tools that they use and there will be less flexibility in processes and approaches. There are an increasing number of commercial media streaming companies out there and it probably makes sense to go with one that has been recommended by others. This approach is likely to be the most costly and the one in which you have the least control over tools and services used. It is probably the most appropriate approach for large scale conferences where quality is key and there is no room for technical error.

Cost: $$$

Use a Commercial ‘Kit’

At the APA Conference I attended last week all the sessions were videoed and archived through the River Valley TV service. The service send someone along who records the sessions using a fairly low spec camera (not HD). The videos are then edited (in Kerala, India) and delivered up on the River Valley TV site asap. The cost is fairly minimal. I chatted to the River Valley TV guy at the conference and he explained that in the future they intend to offer a ‘take away kit’ for users. Users are delivered the cameras, film the event, return the cameras and then the videos are edited and distributed online. I can see this model really taking off.

Cost: $$

Other Questions to Consider:

  • Who is paying for this?
  • Will you charge for access to the recorded talks?
  • Will you charge for remote attendance of the live event?
  • Will the streaming costs be paid by upping the price for face-to-face attendees?
  • Will you allow advertising? Will the resources be freely available or not?
  • Do you have the right processes and policies in place to allow you to video talks?
  • Have you asked the presenters?
  • Have you asked the audience?
  • Have you decided on a licence?
  • What impact will streaming have on your attendance?
  • How much does quality matter?

The recent Streaming Media Europe Conference 2011 has some talks that might be of interest.

So are there any more potential models that I could list here? Or are there more questions that need consideration?

The Benefits of Amplified Events

In just under 2 weeks I will be giving a seminar on The Benefits of Amplified Events as part of the Green Impact seminar series at the University of Bath. The seminar will attempt to define an ‘amplified event’ and will discuss the benefits for both consumers and providers of such events. It will take place from 12.15-13.05 on Thursday 17th November 2011 in room 4E 2.4 on the University campus.

There will also be a live video stream of the seminar for those who are unable to physically attend. This will be provided by Julian Prior and Marie Salter (Division for Lifelong Learning) using the Adobe Connect service.

If you are interested in attending remotely sign up using the online booking form (no cost).

Brian Kelly cannot physically attend the event and has pre-recorded three video clips which will illustrate
certain aspects of amplified events:

A brief definition of an amplified event and its benefits (see YouTube video clip – 1 min 45 secs)

  • How to participate in an amplified event (see
    Bambuser video clip – 2 mins – show first 1 mins 30 secs).
  • Why pre-recording talks at conferences may be useful in case of problems
    (e.g. illness, volcanic ash, etc.) and provide additional benefits
    see Bambuser video clip – 1 min 48 secs long)

I’ll be putting up my slides after the event and will let you know how it goes.

The abstract for the seminar and an online booking form are available from the UKOLN Web site. Hope to ‘see’ you there!

Openness and Event Amplification

Tannoy by Solver1 (on Flickr)

Tannoy by Solver1 (on Flickr)

This week is Open Access week #OAWeek and I felt that it would be appropriate for me to post something about the open access aspects of event amplification.

I’m sure most of you are familiar with the concept of event amplification as I’ve blogged about it many a time but just to bring everyone up to speed…

Event amplification makes use of networked technologies to amplify an event beyond the physical location. It is a pattern of behaviours rather than a prescriptive term and one could consider the following approaches:

  • Amplification within an event – e.g. by use of Twitter between attendees
  • Amplification outwards during an event – e.g. by video streaming of talks
  • Amplification after an event – e.g. by sharing of slides or videos of presentations

I personally have always regarded event amplification in the academic sector as intrinsically open, though I realise that this isn’t actually the case. In the private/commercial sector there are many business models for event amplification and people often pay to view streaming or access resources. The streaming itself is often behind a firewall and people login and pay per view. It is likely, given the economic climate and changing face of online events, that these models could filter through to the academic sector. In efforts to test the water we have asked attendees of events we run (like IWMW) how they would feel about paying for content and this is an area we will continue to explore. Kirsty Pitkin (the Event Amplifier), with whom we have a good working relationship, designs custom event amplification and hybrid event plans, which can be open access or premium access. This way she enables event organisers to decide whether they want to simply spread their message and promote their event, or derive an additional revenue stream from making their event available online.

However having a business model in place should not prevent many aspects of event amplification from remaining free and open in the form of open content (such as slides on slideshare, documents and videos).

Staff Development

One key area facilitated by open access to events is staff development. Staff development it often one of the first areas to suffer when budgets are tight which is unfortunate given that there is clear indication that staff who are continually developed are happy, motivated staff. My colleague Brian Kelly is giving a presentation at this year’s Online Information Conference 2011 entitled Open Content and Open Events: Professional Development in an Amplified World. As Brian explains in his abstract:

In the current economic and political climate it is often difficult for organisations to provide funding for attendance at conferences, seminars, workshops and other activities by which information professionals update their skills and enhance their professional networks. In addition, concerns related to the environmental impact of travel add new challenges to those involved in providing such events. Technological developments, including the availability of WiFi networks at many venues, increased ownership of mobile devices with networked capabilities and the wide variety of communication and collaborative tools available, offer new opportunities for the provision and ‘amplification’ of events to enhance professional skills, whether hybrid or online only.

Using open content to support staff development has now become a fairly mainstream activity. I’m sure many of us have turned to YouTube or other online video services to work out how to fix our PC at some point or another. Screencasts are another excellent way in which we can use other people’s shared content to aid us in learning skills.

An interesting approach was taken by the Student Learning Centre at the University of Leicester in 2009. They decided to open-up their annual Learning and Teaching in the Sciences Conference (usually an internal event) in the form of a participant-driven ‘unconference‘, focused on the theme of assessment. Prior to the event they used many social networking tools to raise interest from both internal and external participants. They also created a Twitter hashtag for the day. On the day 20 participants watched plenaries and took part in group discussions. During the day Twitter messages containing the designated hashtag were projected on screen by a data projector via Twitterfall. Displaying these tweets allowed “the contributions of the participants in the room and the remote participants to be merged.” Not only this but “Twitterfall also allowed participants to see commentary from groups other than the one they were in, and to participate in multiple groups if they wished to.

After the event extensive analysis was carried out on the Tweets from the day using tools like Twittertag and AGNA network analysis software, a free social network analysis tool. The data showed a high level of network connectivity between both internal and extenal Twitter users. Attendees were also asked to give their thoughts on how it went. There was a lot of positive feedback. Much of it centres round the openess of the event and the involvement of other people. As one participant put it “The best part of the meeting was talking with people other than ‘the usual suspects’.

It is clear that opening out events brings in a new perspective that would probably have been missed by involving only those who have the time to physically attend. Not only this but it helps those who are physically there to see in new ways too. Openess brings an element of serendipity, as Marcel Proust once said “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.

Transparency and Impact

One other aspect of openess that is probably worth mentioning here is transparency. The move to transparency is something that is being driven very much by the government and I think is, on the whole, felt to be desirable by those working in academia. It brings with it a whole set of issues (I’m sure much will be written on open data during this week) but it allows people (and by people I mean both the public and those working in academia) to see more clearly what they are for their buck. Not only this but much more emphasis will be put upon impact and value for money. Kirsty Pitkin wrote an interesting blog post earlier this year on How Do We Measure Engagement?. In the post Kirsty reflects on a different blog post by Ann Priestley presenting a graph from Socious who use the high peak of activity during an event and sharp tapering of this activity after the event as part of their argument to sell their product. As both explain: Their implication is that unless your event has a long tail of post-event activity, it is not as successful at long-term engagement. Kirsty says that her concern is that it is easy to confuse “activity” and “engagement”. My concern is that you also need to add impact into the mix! As Kirsty concludes:

There is no way to get a complete picture, any more than there’s a way to judge the way a paper handout is used post-conference. The only difference is that no-one questions the value of the paper handout!

Her summary highlights the difficulties that lay ahead when trying to measure these areas:

How we define engagement and impact will affect the types of metrics we attempt to collect to demonstrate the success of an amplified event over time. However, accepting that engagement with the event will not necessarily lead to clearly definable, traceable digital objects may be the first step in rethinking not just how measure success, but what we are trying to achieve through the event in the first place.


There are many who say that open is always a good thing. I’d have to disagree, open raises a whole host of issues and many of them do not ultimately benefit the majority (I’m sure many of the positives and negatives will be explored in other posts during this week). That said open access to event amplification can be a positive thing and it brings with it a lot of pay back, so it will be a area that I will continue to explore.

One way in which I will be doing this is through my work on the Greening Events II Project funded by JISC Greening ICT Programme. We will be delviering a best practice report and guidelines on tools and approaches to event amplification.

MediaSite at JISCres11

Yesterday I watched the JISC Research Integrity Conference online. The conference was of interest to me because it took a look at the real issues being faced by institutions in the research data management arena. There is an increasing emphasis being placed on preserving research data for future re-use and safeguarding research integrity and this throws up a number of technical and strategic issues. UKOLN is involved in the Digital Curation Centre who have done a lot of work in this area and I’m always keen to hear about new developments.

Mediasite AllinOne version: Rebecca O'Brien Intro

Mediasite: A little Technical Background

For the event JISC used Sonic Foundry’s Mediasite suite to stream talks. Sonic Foundry have been kind enough to supply me with a few technical details:

Mediasite requires a Mediasite Recorder and the Mediasite EX Server Software.

  • The Mediasite recorder is a purpose built device that automatically captures, synchronises and compresses the audio, video and presentation material in a lecture/presentation.
  • The Mediasite recorder automatically uploads the synchronised/compressed content to the Mediasite EX server for streaming live/on-demand. Content is streamed without pre or post-production, and is available on-demand either immediately after the presentation has finished (an hour long live stream is available on-demand within minutes), or after you have edited the content.
  • The Mediasite EX server allows content to be managed, branded, cataloged, secured and automatically integrated in a website/LMS with existing Active Directory/LDAP.

The Mediasite player also comes in two player versions: Classic or Microsoft Silverlight. It can be streamed simultaneously in each. Currently Mediasite will not work on a mobile devices but version 6 (planned for winter this year) should be able to do this.

JISC’s Use of Mediasite

JISC are using a hosted version of the Mediasite EX Server and are clearly planning to use it for forthcoming online events. They have created a useful page on the JISC Web site describing Mediasite features and explaining the technical requirements. Some of the most interesting are the ability to switch between the presentation and the streaming video and reorganise the layout using the side buttons. There are also opportunities to use polls and ask questions.

The JISC team had put a lot of planning into making the JISCres11 online experience a good one. Online users had their own programme with extra sessions in the quiet time summarising missed parallels and breakout groups. This gives some elements of a ‘backstage room’. It’s an idea that James Clay has recently tried out at ALT-C 2011, he called his approach ALT Live Beta. As James explained:

So at ALT-C 2011 I am trying a new idea in order to capture, create and engage in that “silent” online time. Probably the best way to describe what ALT Live Beta is, is if you have ever watched Glastonbury or T4 on the Beach on the television, as well as the “front stage” stuff, they also have a room back stage where they chat, discuss and interview the people who have just been on stage. ALT Live Beta is a live internet video stream of the “back stage” of ALT-C 2011.

Details of the amplification of ALT-C are now available. James reflections on the event are available from his blog e-Learning stuff.

OK, back to JISCres11….Unfortunately despite the preparation the online side of the JISCres11 conference was plagued with technical difficulties, most of these relating to the viewing capacity. The amplification got off to a shaky start and even before the online viewing had begun there appeared a message stating that “The connection limit has been reached!“. At first it seemed like the technical issues had been overcome and we were treated to an introduction to the day by Rebecca O’Brien but the problems persisted throughout the morning.

JISC’s version of Mediasite seems to have 2 layout modes:

  • The Mediasite AllinOne version offered a Slide area with the presenter inset in a small box. There were also two twitter feeds – JISC Live stream and a #jiscres11 tag search. Unfortunately there seemed to be a problem with the Twitter search and tweets were delivered in reverse chronological order with some as old at 150 days being delivered!
  • The Mediasite Classic Player version (which apparently doesn’t require silverlight) offered a larger screen for the presenter and a smaller screen for presentations. This layout worked better for me.

Mediasite itself offers many ways to set up the layout and later in the day we were provided with a more out of the box layout in an attempt to sort out some of the technical problems. An example of the full screen standard version an be seen here.

The Mediasite player for embedding on a webpage: Panel session

The Mediasite player for embedding on a webpage: Panel session

When Mediasite worked the quality was excellent. The picture and sound were both clear and there were no delays or interference. The camera operator did a great job too of spanning out on the audience and focusing on the speaker. All in all it was as like being in the room. As the Twitter feed on the AllinOne layout wasn’t particularly helpful I did have to keep flicking back to TweetDeck to tweet so the “dedicated one-stop-shop online area combining the livestreamed video, twitter feeds and links” didn’t really work for me.

During the first plenary a lot of people had problems connecting. After a broadband problem I couldn’t get in again and it became clear that the event had reached it’s full capacity. Apparently 85 people tuned in for the opening plenary, which much have been a few more than they expected. Note to self – Event organisers should make efforts to anticipate the remote audience numbers and make provision accordingly. One way to have avoided the issue would have been to ask for expressions of interest in the streaming prior to the event. This way JISC could have gauged numbers better. Also when using a commercial provider it’s important that they are notified of the possible numbers too.

A few of the tweets summed up the situation:

@Jezcope - Well this is disappointing: was looking forward to watching #jiscres11 talks

@atreloar- Page refresh doesn't help. Problem visible in both Classic Mediasite and AllInOne. Grump. #jiscres11

The live tweeter on @JISClive put considerable effort into responding to the comments related to streaming and announced that all the presentations would be available asap and the those interested could email events@jisc.ac.uk and would then be emailed the links. They also explained that they’d reached maximum viewing figures and would increase capacity for the next session.

Hector Peebles from JISC shared images of the Mediasite setup

The afternoon’s plenarys were delivered on the whole in a smoother fashion but at times the video caused my browser to hang, I’m not sure if this was my fault with my flaky broadband, or due to other reasons. Unfortunately for me it interfered with viewing and I missed quite a bit of the plenaries. I’m planning to catch up by watching the archived recordings.

Nevertheless technical difficulties are part of life and the team put a lot of effort into contacting people and keeping them informed of the situation which really helped. I think Mediasite has the potential to work well, it might just take a little more practice ;-).

Event Amplifying With Adobe Connect

#iwmw11 At this year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop we live streamed all the plenary talks using Adobe Connect. We were supported with our efforts by Collaborate who support enterprise wide implementations of collaboration solutions. Although I’d had a look at Adobe Connect set up before this was very much a case of learning on the job. In this post I’d like to share what we did and the lessons learnt.

Running Adobe Connect from behind the scenes

Before the Big Day

In advance of the day we set up an Adobe Connect room for the event. We decided to have one room, with one set up and to use this for all the plenaries. This meant that we would only need to pass on one url to remote attendees and they could spend all day in this virtual room. In the room there were two layouts:

  • a start layout for when attendees arrived with a clock, a timetable, a chat facility suggesting people say where they were from, a screen showing a running video on how to use Adobe Connect and an IWMW slide saying “back soon”
  • a main layout for talks with a video feed of the speaker, the speakers slides, a twitter stream and a chat facility.

Using preparatory mode a moderator can flick between these layouts and alter them without attendees seeing. The start layout was used until the beginning of the first plenary and then again during breaks.

We also set up a video streaming page with details on how remote attendees could enter the IWMW room. All delegates had to enter as guests and would have no microphone privileges.

On the preceding day we tested all the AV equipment and the video feed. Everything looked fine, though there was a slight issue with using a guest account on the Reading University network. It was agreed that all moderators would need a wired connection. We also made sure that responsibilities were clearly assigned and moderators were given in log ins. Rich Pitkin, one of our event amplifiers, would be responsible for the video feed. Pauline Foley from Collaborate would be responsible for recording sessions and monitoring any attendee audio or visual problems. I would be responsible for all other aspects of the set up including uploading and replicating slide movement (all slides need to be progressed manually as it is too complicated to feed in from the speaker’s PC/laptop), monitoring remote attendees chat, monitoring the layouts etc. The moderators have a private area that allows them to see all the attendees and chat amongst themselves – this was really useful when there were AV problems.

On the Big Day

On the first morning I had responsibilities for opening the event, introducing the speakers and chairing. I wanted to get as much done in advance so made every effort to get hold of speaker slides in advance. Adobe Connect allows you to open up documents in advance, it then caches them, which saves time later on. PPTs and PDF seem to work best, we didn’t have a lot of luck with key note.

Moderator view of Adobe Connect

Just before the start I changed the layout screen to the main layout. During the talks I replicated the slide movement and kept my eye on how things were looking.

Some Tips

  • Have a laptop next to you that shows what the remote attendees can see. This is invaluable for checking that what you are doing is being shown correctly.
  • Write a methodical list of what you need to do before the start of each session – for example each of our plenaries had a different hash tag (e.g. #p1). This needed to be changed in the Twitter search box, occasionally I forgot to do it right at the start.
  • I should have hidden the chat after each talk, this would have made each session recording stand alone.
  • During one of the plenaries we had a few audio issues – we should have made more effort to test the set up in each break.
  • Some slides were slightly messed up during the conversion to an Adobe Connect friendly format. I probably should have checked each set before using them. Possibly converting a PPT to a PDF would have retained the formatting better.
  • I had to continually refresh the Twitter search – I am still unsure if there is a way to have this done manually.
  • A couple of the plenaries included live demos. Although there are ways to share your screen the moderator needs to be prepared for this so they can replicate the link clicking. If possible ask your speakers what they are planning. In the final session we actually gave up replicating what the speakers were doing and ended up removing the document box and just using the video stream.


We peaked at around 30 remote attendees and had over 20 at all the sessions. Aside of a few technical difficulties at the start of day 2 we managed to provide good quality streaming throughout the event. Pauline did a great job of turning around the recordings and we were able to offer these on the same day as the talks were given (see individual talks for the recordings). Overall I would thoroughly recommend Adobe Connect for any event amplification, it was slick, fully customisable and easy to use. Thumbs up all round!