UK Web Focus (Brian Kelly)

Innovation and best practices for the Web

The ‘Quiet Zone’ At Conferences

Posted by Brian Kelly on 10 Mar 2010

Earlier today I booked a place on the Eduserv Symposium 2010: The Mobile University which will be held at the Royal College of Physicians in London on 13 May 2010.

The online booking for the event uses the Eventbrite service – and as this Cloud service is free for free events it is ideal for events such as the Eduserv Symposium. I should also add that UKOLN also uses the service for its workshops for the cultural heritage service.

When completing the online registration I was interested to read how the event organisers (including my former UKOLN colleague Andy Powell) are addressing the use of social media tools (with technologies such as Twitter likely to be widely used on the day) including the implications for those who may, for whatever reason, not be users of or fans of use of such technologies at events:

We will be live streaming sessions from the Symposium and encouraging attendees to make use of social media throughout the day. By attending, you accept that your image may appear in photographs or videos made during the course of the event. There will be a limited Quiet Area where the use of social media is limited and where no photography or filming will take place. You can indicate your preference for being seated in this area below.

At last year’s Institutional Web Management Workshop (IWMW 2009)  we introduced a Quiet Area which was intended for “those not so keen to participate in use of mobile devices and networked technologies“.  We went on to add that “This area will also be appropriate for those who would like to avoid being filmed during the video streaming“.

Quiet zone at IWMW 2009The quiet zone was physically located in the back five rows of the conference auditorium and, as can be seen from the accompanying photograph, was clearly differentiated form the main row of seats.

We alerted IWMW 2009 delegates of this new aspect to our IWMW annual series of events (which has been an ‘amplified event’ since we first made use of WiFi technologies in 2005) in advance of the event and provided an Acceptable Use Policy which, rather than providing a list of what was or was not permissible, we summarised as “Don’t be stupid“.

The background to the provision of the Quiet Are was provided in a post entitled “How Rude! Use Of WiFi Networks At Conferences” which I wrote in May 2008. In my post I reported on experiences at an internal Open University conference during which an official live blogger “was told by three different people in separate sessions to stop as his typing was offputting”.

At many UKOLN events many participants are keen to exploit innovative approaches; for example a survey of the use of networked technologies at IWMW 2005 showed that “majority (of 26 to 3) felt that use of networked technologies should be encouraged at future events“.

But how should one address the preferences of the minority who do feel that people using laptops, netbooks or mobile devices during conferences can be intrusive and distracting? The approach taken at IWMW 2009 was to allow delegates to chose to sit in an area free from use of such devices.  The quiet zone also provided an areas for those who did not wish to appear on photographs taken during the event or on the live video stream – we instructed the official camera crew to avoid pointing the camera at the back of the lecture theatre  and asked the official photographer not to take photographs of people sat in that area. We also made a similar request to the event delegates, many of whom would also be taking photographs during the presentations.

I got the impression that our provision of the Quiet Area at IWMW 2009 was appreciated by the delegates as a pragmatic approach to reconciling the tensions between those who were appreciative of the benefits which event amplification can provide and those who have concerns.

I’m therefore pleased to see that this approach is being adopted at this year’s Eduserv Symposium.  I’ll be interested to see how effective it is – I should add, though, that on the booking form I have stated that I do not intend to sit in the Quiet Zone. It will also be interesting to see if this approach becomes used at other events – such as the JISC 2010 conference and the ALT-C 2010 conference. There’s a need, I feel, to observe emerging patterns of best practices for the provision of amplified events.

Note: This blog posts was initially published with the misleading title “The ‘Quiet Room At Conferences”. It has been retitled with the more appropriate “The ‘Quiet Zone’ At Conferences”.


11 Responses to “The ‘Quiet Zone’ At Conferences”

  1. Very interesting post, Brian. Makes me wonder though about managing possible conflicts with accessibility needs – how do we meet privacy requests of people who need to be near a speaker to be able to e.g. lip read, hear or see them?

    Would also be interesting to hear an architect’s perspective on how social networking technology might influence the future design of social spaces like lecture theatres and conference halls…

  2. PeteJ said

    I find being filmed/photographed much more intrusive/”rude” than sitting next to someone with a laptop or smart phone (as long as the latter isn’t actually ringing, obviously). As far as I’m concerned, a shot of me in the audience staring at the speaker or scratching my nose, or at lunchtime precariously balancing a plate and a drink and a shoulder bag because I can’t find a seat contributes little to the “amplification” of the actual event, but does contribute substantially to my irritation :-)

    But I do tend to use a laptop during events, either to read/post on Twitter or elsewhere, to follow up links to resources mentioned by speakers – or indeed just to keep up with email/other work, which I am rarely in the position to ignore for a full day.

    The “quiet zone” for this event allows opt-out from both being filmed and using networked devices, but that doesn’t really meet my requirements. But, yes, I do fully appreciate that trying to cater for every permutation of individual preferences and whims is pretty much impossible, so I’m not complaining: I am glad that the choice offered is available.

    I haven’t yet decided what to do for this event. I may sit in the “quiet area” and foresake Web access until coffee/lunch breaks, or more likely I’ll sit in the other area and try to keep out of the way of cameras!

  3. I think the quiet area is a really good idea – although we have found that the geography of the conference room can sometimes mean that this is not really practical. We have also been producing online conferences spaces, which include live video streams, for commercial events – particularly in the financial services sector, where delegates are inherently less comfortable or familiar with this kind of activity, which makes it a more sensitive and alien issue to explain.

    Our approach has been to position the camera equipment so that they audience is not in shot for the live stream at all, so we are only focussing on the people on the stage – who have given explicit permission to be filmed, and by virtue of standing on a public platform are expecting to be watched. We work with the conference chair to make sure that questions from the audience come through a microphone and therefore are audible on the live stream, but we certainly don’t swivel round to look at the audience during the questions. After all, there is virtually no content benefit from doing so, as PeteJ says above.

    We have found that this approach avoids a lot of concerns for the audience – particularly if the first they know about any filming is when the chair stands up to do the house keeping, and they then have to stew over it until the coffee break, when they can move! Keeping it simple i.e. “sessions are being filmed, but the audience will be visible at any time” just seems to be more reassuring for the audiences we have worked with, causing less stress and confusion over the issue.

  4. AJ Cann said

    It’s an interesting idea, and using the back rows is obvious from the point of view (or not) of being filmed, but in practice, location of power sockets in the conference venue will probably dictate where the quiet area can be.

    I wonder if conflating the idea of “quiet” with not being filmed is entirely helpful?

  5. As one who enjoys the hurly-burly of social networking at conferences I have to say that to sit in a “quiet area” would spoil half the fun – but I respect the rights of those who don’t look at it this way.

    At UCL for general recording and streaming we just make sure not to include the audience. The secure the release of the speaker(s) for the purpose, but we don’t do so for audiences (hence leaving them out). Nonetheless we always make it clear that sessions are being recorded/photographed.

  6. Thanks for the various comments.

    David is correct to flag accessibility concerns. My view is that we need to start with small steps to address the issues raised in my post and to share experiences.

    PeteJ and AJ Cann both raised the issue that the quiet zone is attempting to address two different issues (noise and being filmed). I was aware of this when we established the quiet area last year. My feeling is that this is not dissimilar to the quiet carriage in trains which inspired the quiet zone approach – gadgets can be quiet whilst people talking can be noisy. However the quiet zone, like the quiet carriage, demonstrates an awareness that there is a legitimate issues which does need to be addressed and provides a means of addressing such issues.

    I’m therefore inclined, at this stage at least, to stick with the broad approach and to avoid the complexities of Zone A (for those who wish to avoid gadgets – whether noisy or not); Zone B (for those who wish to avoid being limed); Zone C (for those who wish to avoid gadgets and being filmed); Zone D (for those who wish to avoid gadgets but need to be need the screen in order to see slides clearly); …

  7. Mia said

    It’s interesting watching these social norms develop. Out of curiosity, what do you do if you want to type (for your own notes or to blog or tweet the session) but don’t particularly want to be photographed?

  8. Those who are uncomfortable about being filmed or photographed might like to reflect on the fact that the UK has more CCTV cameras than any other nation. Thus we are all being filmed on a daily basis, often without being aware of it. In that context, an amplified conference seems small beer to me. Also, isn’t a conference within the public sphere anyway?

    • PeteJ said

      Hi Peter,

      Oh, sure, I’m very well aware of the widespread use of CCTV in the UK, and the rights I sacrifice willy nilly on a daily basis in the small print I contract to when I buy tickets for entertainment venues, use public transport etc etc etc.

      However, while I suspect many CCTV images are indeed used for various purposes I would not approve of, for the most part at least, they aren’t usually intended for “publication”. They don’t get posted in contexts like Flickr where people attach labels publicly identifying individuals, where they may be subject to “humorous” comments (or worse), or where they may be taken for reuse in quite different contexts, for example.

      And because I reluctantly consent to being filmed each time I buy a new pair of underpants in a High Street store – a context where as one low-spending customer I have little control or influence – , it doesn’t mean I agree with the practice.

      And I don’t think it follows that we as event participants and event organisers should routinely assume that the principles of High Street CCTV should be translated unquestioningly into the contexts of our events. These are contexts where we do have some element of control and choice (at least the sort of events I attend – I’m unlikely to attend any of the mega commercial tech conferences). Quite the opposite, it seems to me: here, we have an opportunity to claim these spaces as “ours”, to question the approaches taken elsewhere, and to try to develop/nurture social norms (ty, Mia) on our own terms, and maybe to try to take into account individual preferences in a way that a High Street store can not (or will not).

      So I’m grateful to Brian and Andy for recognising that and offering the sort of “opt-outs” they have done in their events.

  9. I agree with AJ that conflating ‘quiet’ and ‘no photography’ is not entirely helpful. For this year’s Eduserv Symposium we did it like that because we wanted to do something (anything!?) but we didn’t want to add too much complexity to the registration form.

    Looking at Brian’s conference photo above… that certainly does look like a quiet zone! :-)

  10. […] participation in the discussions around the plenary talks.  Last year we introduced a ‘quiet zone‘ (located in the balcony of the auditorium) for those who wished to avoid the possible […]

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