Earlier this week I attended at the Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco, CA. As a technologist, I attend several conferences a year (in the past 6 months, I’ve attended the Thin Air Summit, Web Directions North, WordCamp Denver, South By Southwest, and now NTC.)
The use of social media and technology at these conferences (as well as others), is becoming as much a part of the event as the formal program itself. South By Southwest is commonly seen as the preeminent “tech-conference”, so it makes sense that it offers a mobile scheduling program and ways to ask presenters questions via twitter.
Yet for all the hype about SxSW, I have to say that the technology at NTC blew me out of the water.
This was my first exposure to Google Moderator, where session attendees could post questions related to the session online, and others could vote on the questions. Then the most popular questions were asked of the speaker. This helps to overcome several problems at conferences: the lines of people standing in line to ask questions at a microphone, and the relative value of those questions themselves. This way the audience can decide on which questions they really want to see answers, and also gain some insight into what others are thinking. It also opens it up to people who are not on twitter.
Each session also allowed attendees to text their evaluations in, thanks to a service by Mobile Commons. Each session had a particular code (ntc189) that was texted to a shortcode. The attendee then answered three questions using a numerical ranking system, and then was invited to type in comments. The evaluation was simple to complete and eliminated the logistics of gathering and entering the feedback into an electronic system.
The hashtags associated with different sessions were promoted aggressively, and the use of multiple shortags per session (“use #09ntc AND #cool) helped to make the information streams manageable.
At one point we worried that technology would replace face-to-face communication and eliminate such in-person events. Yet it is increasingly apparent that the use of technology is actually augmenting the value of such events, for those in attendance as well as those who are not.