I’ve spent the last few days attending – virtually – the SAP Influencer Summit and the Le Web conference in Paris. The two events were very different, but I think there’s some interesting comparisons that can be drawn that point to the future direction of conferences.
SAP Influencer Summit
Let’s start with the SAP Influencer Summit. You can see the full list of recorded keynote sessions here (registration required). If you’re interested in SAP Web 2.0 technology, you’ll find examples in the presentations by Jim Snabe, Visha’l Sikka, Marge Breya and John Wookey.
Several hundred people attended the event in Boston, and there’s been lots of coverage, from the analysts and bloggers who attended – here’s a small sample:
- InformationWeek: SAP Outlines Five-Year Enterprise Plan
- ITBusiness.ca: SAP Wants to Transform its ERP Image
- SearchSAP: SAP: We’re Serious about SAP On-Demand
- InfoWorld: SAP plans to open up on-demand development platform
- Ray Wang: Event Report: 2009 SAP Influencer Summit – SAP Must Put Strategy To Execution In Order To Prove Clarity Of Vision
- Oliver Marks: The Clear Path Forward for the SAP SuperTanker
- Merv Adrian: SAP Promises Acceleration on a “Clear Path” – Will it Be Enough?
- Mark Smith: SAP Broadcasts New Enterprise Software and Applications Strategy
- Michael Krigsman: SAP ByDesign: Taming the Multi-Tenant Beast
- James Governor (@monkchips)’s post SAP: Out with the Old, Shrugging Off The Tag
- And a whole collection of articles from the Enterprise Irregulars and other bloggers
There was also a full virtual conference set up using the inXpo platform. I’ve used this platform several times in the past, when it has been used to recreate a “virtual show floor experience”, and I’ve found it to be a frustrating experience.
On this occasion, I think it was used much more successfully, to show the keynote presentations live and to host “ask an expert” sessions.
But crucially, there wasn’t any attempt to use the platforms closed communication tools – the backchannel was kept firmly in the open, where everybody could see it. There was a clear hashtag announced in advance (#sapsummit), and attendees were encouraged to use it.
It was clear in advance that Twitter would be the key backchannel for the event. The Enterprise Geeks did put together a public Google Wave for the event and encouraged others to help summarize content. But as Mark Madsen remarked:
“Tried to use Google Wave at #sapsummit, found that the UI is terrible, abandoned quickly”.
And — at least at the time of writing this — the resulting Wave is a lot closer to a messy email thread than a tidy wiki page.
Many of the invited attendees were Twitter users – in the Web 2.0 world, an active stream of Tweets is rapidly becoming considered essential part of doing business (at Le Web, technology evangelist Robert Scoble got very angry when he heard French Tech CEOs were too busy to have a Twitter account).
The #sapsummit conversation opened as people announced their travel plans, and quickly accelerated as the sessions opened on the first day. If you’re interested, you can see all of the tweets here in an 8Mb pdf document, from http://wthashtag.com/sapsummit.
Rather than just being a discussion forum for the audience, SAP employees used Twitter to clarify points made by the presenters, monitor feedback, and reacting it. And as the presenters came on stage, several of them mentioned that they had been watching the feed, and then addressed any points that had come up. As I tweeted early on:
“Looking at twitter feed from #sapsummit, I get the impression the “backchannel” is becoming almost the front channel…”
“When I was asked to be the “official” blogger for the SAP Influencer Summit, I assumed that it would end up following a similar flow as I used for SAPPHIRE 09 earlier this year. That is, I would write up some short observations after each of the morning’s keynotes and post them throughout the day. Later in the evening, I would provide some more general observations about the event, with perhaps some on-site tidbits to share with those that couldn’t attend in person.
It didn’t turn out that way at all.
I wrote the initial post [about the Summit] during the relative calm of the night before the Influencer Summit. I planned to write my second post during the break after Jim Snabe’s and Vishal Sikka’s morning keynotes. Since we expected that the influencers to be very active on twitter, I also decided to monitor the #sapsummit hashtag live during the morning keynotes. If specific issues came up, I could respond to them myself and, if anyone made any relevant comments, I could refer to them during my slots between the other presentations.
I knew that I was going to be busy but I wasn’t quite prepared for the firestorm of tweets… [not] just from the attendees in the room but also from those attending virtually. All of this meant I had no time to write the second blog entry…”
During the Q&A session with John Schwarz (left in the photo above), Jonathan also had an earphone and an audio feed that could give him feedback of audience reactions.
As I remarked on Twitter,
“#sapsummit is the first I’ve seen that comes close to using the possibilities of real-time Twitter”
#sapsummit wondering if SAP or someone else is mining the huge tweet stream – lots of instant reaction from so many watchers
And he went on to hope that SAP would summarize the feedback as a follow up to the summit. One of the interesting opportunities in this area is sentiment analysis on top of Twitter, using SAP BusinessObjects Text Analytics – here’s a taste of what that could look like (demo data).
And a couple of days after the event, Jonathan Becher tweeted on progress:
Working on sentiment analysis for #sapsummit: OnDemand & ByD top mentioned terms, keyword with most positive mentions: BusinessObjects
The annual Le Web conference in Paris is a much larger, general conference, focused mainly on consumer web technology. It also featured (excellent) live video-streaming of presentations (using USStream), and also had a very active Twitter channel (#leweb), with over 15,000 tweets from over 5,000 different people.
But interestingly enough, there was a much clearer separation of the presenters and the audience. I didn’t watch all the sessions, but the backchannel – although very active – seemed to stay firmly in the background. There was no obvious interaction between the people on stage and the people watching and tweeting – the closest I saw was the tweets that both Queen Rania, and Nathalie Kosciusko Morizet sent just before going on stage.
Even sessions all about Twitter, such as the Twitter Apps Panel didn’t actually use Twitter in any way as part of the presentation – when it came to Q&A, they used an open microphone in the session room.
The Future of Conferences
There’s been a lot of interest recently in Open Space meetings, Bar Camps, and other types of Unconference, where the audience takes a much larger role in the planning and delivery of conference materials. I suspect it’s going to be quite a long time before these take over from the more traditional conferences, at least enterprise software.
Both conferences included lots of real-time Twitter, and live video streaming. Attending conferences virtually becomes a real possibility – certainly compared to the hassle and expenses of actually being physically present. As Utku Can put it:
“Hello we’re the #leweb attendees. We’ve paid €1500 to sit together and check Twitter.”
Although, of course, it can never completely replace the real thing. As Andy Bitterer put it:
“Attending an event virtually like this week’s #SAPsummit still not the same thing as being there. Miss the live interaction.”
I believe that in the future, more conferences will start to look like the SAP Summit, which is just part of a much longer ongoing dialog with a group of “stakeholders”, that also plays out through SAP’s Developer Network, and other regular meetings and communication, including platforms like Twitter.
Audiences are going to find it increasingly easy to get information before the event, and less patient with the rephrasing of messaging they’ve already heard before. The sessions are going to get more interactive. The audiences will want to ask more questions, earlier, and will expect their comments on Twitter or other channels to be included. Presenters will have to be more flexible, adapting their contents in real time to the audience.
- The PowerPoint twitter tools allow you to see live tweets embedded in your presentation, and let you “auto tweet” out your key points.