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Defining An “Amplified Conference”

Posted by Brian Kelly on 28 August 2008

The term ‘amplified conference’ was, I believe coined in a blog post by Lorcan Dempsey in which he observed that ” It is interesting to watch how more conferences are amplifying their effect through a variety of network tools and collateral communication“.

It will be noted that Lorcan didn’t seek to define what he meant by the term, but was merely observing a pattern of uses of networked technologies at events being made, in Lorcan’s example, at a number of JISC events, although such uses predate this as I described in a paper on “Using Networked Technologies To Support Conferences” published in June 2005.

But we don’t seem to have an agreed definition of the term. And this can be problematic, especially if we decide that we want to host an ‘amplified conference’.

So I thought I’d set the ball rolling by describing what I mean by an amplified conference.


The term amplified conference describes a conference or similar event in which the talks and discussions at the conference are ‘amplified’ through use of networked technologies in order to extend the reach of the conference deliberations.

The term is not a prescriptive one, but rather describes a pattern of behaviors which initially took place at IT and Web-oriented conferences once WiFi networks started to become available at conference venues and delegates started to bring with them networked devices such as laptops and, more recently, PDAs and mobile phones.

We can observe a number of ways in which conferences can be amplified through use of networked technologies:

Amplification of the audiences’ voice: Prior to the availability of real time chat technologies at events (whether use of IRC, Twitter, instant messaging clients, etc.) it was only feasible to discuss talks with immediate neighbours, and even then this may be considered rude.

Amplification of the speaker’s talk: The availability of video and audio-conferencing technologies make it possible for a speaker to be heard by an audience which isn’t physically present at the conference. Although use of video technologies has been available to support conferences for some time, this has normally been expensive and require use of dedicated video-conferencing tecnologies. However the availability of of lightweight desktop tools make it much easier to deploy such technologies, without even, requiring the involvement of conference organisers.

Amplification across time: Video and audio technologies can also be used to allow a speaker’s talk to be made available after the event, with use of podcasting or videocasting technologies allowing the talks to be easily syndicated to mobile devices as well as accessed on desktop computers.

Amplification of the speaker’s slides: The popularity of global repository services for slides, such as Slideshare, enable the slies used by a speaker to be more easily found, embedded on other Web sites and commented upon, in ways that were not possible when the slides, if made available at all, were only available on a conference Web site.

Amplification of feedback to the speaker: Micro-blogging technologies, such as Twitter, are being used not only as a discussion channel for conference participants but also as a way of providing real-time feedback to a speaker during a talk. We are also now seeing dedicated microblogging technologies, such as Coveritlive and Scribblelive, being developed which aim to provide more sophisticated ‘back channels’ for use at conferences.

Amplification of a conference’s collective memory: The popularity of digital cameras and the photographic capabilities of many mobile phones is leading to many photographs being taken at conferences. With such photographs often being uploaded to popular photographic sharing services, such as Flickr, and such collections being made more easy to discovered through agreed use of tags, we are seeing amplification of the memories of an event though the sharing of such resources. The ability of such photographic resources to be ‘mashed up’ with, say, accompanying music, can similarly help to enrich such collective experiences (such as the Animoto clips of IWMW 2007 and UKOLN’s Exploiting The Potential Of Blogs and Social Networks Workshop).

Amplification of the learning: The ability to be able to follow links to resources and discuss the points made by a speaker during a talk can enrich the learning which takes place at an event, as described by Shabajee’s article on “‘Hot’ or Not? Welcome to real-time peer review” published in the Times Higher Educational Supplement in May 2003.

Long term amplification of conference outputs: The availability in a digital format of conference resources, including ‘official’ resources such as  slides,  video and audio recordings, etc. which have been made by the conference organisers with the approval of speakers, together with more nebulous resources such as archives of conference back channels, and photographs and unofficial recordings taken at the event may help to provide a more authentic record of an event, which could potentially provide a valuable historical record.

Well that’s my initial attempt at trying to define what I understand by the term ‘amplified conference’.   I should add that in this post I’m not discussing any of the  limitations of amplified conferences (which I’ve commented on previously). My final comment is to point out that I actually organise ‘amplified workshops’ and ‘amplified seminars’ but neither of these terms seem to have the resonance of ‘amplified conference’.  So I suspect we should probably stick with this term to refer to a range of events.

Does this definition work for you?

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2 Responses to “Defining An “Amplified Conference””

  1. Zak said

    This term would been useful yesterday when I was discussing the use of videocasting as it gives a rough definition that i could house videocasting/podcasting/streaming into for a small project i am working on. However in a weeks time i will forget what it means, and my peers will have no clue what im taking about. I find it difficult to find terms that mean something relevant and that are memorable. I will have to bookmark this post in the meantime in delicious and hope i use enough tags to find it again. Thanks for at least grouping it together.. i will say it 5 times and hope it sticks.

  2. [...] Defining an “amplified conference”. Brian Kelly. [...]

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