July 8, 2021•546 words
I imagine that a lot of people have experienced much more online events in the past year. Now, alongside the wide variety that events offer by their very diverse nature, there are also a lot of different tech solutions that people reach for when putting their event together. I've seen online events that are very e-mail driven while others rely on live chat. Some are pretty much just a video playlist published at a specific time while others focus on interacting with the audience at the lowest stream latency they can broadcast. Some events leverage all they can from the open web while others close themselves off inside this or that social network.
There's also an important balance between offering a cohesive experience that can be seen as a true meeting point in people's minds and the need to have all the features expected of your online event. This landscape stretches out according to your familiarity with different technologies and how easily your audience can move between them. However, even if everyone has no problem jumping between platforms, each jump can jeopardise that feeling of a common digital space. I've experienced events in which the only thing reminding me of "where" they took place was the graphics and the music between speaker presentations. Otherwise, it can be easy to feel lost between something like a wall of e-mails, a landing page with a schedule hammered between sections, a couple of streams on some free video platform, a chat server on yet another platform, plus questionnaires in some other site, video-on-demand in another... events like these are just a blur. If they don't strive for some unique unifying context, online events can become quite forgettable. The one thing that can always shine through is the quality of each speaker, but event organisers probably want to generate some synergy beyond that, whether they're selling tickets, exchanging knowledge and/or rallying a community under one vision.
Fortunately, I've also experienced online events that had some nice balance between providing context and providing features. You can check out my article about my first FOSDEM here, for example. I believe you can get away with stepping outside your branded platform once or twice when you've established at least one satisfying core loop, one simple story in which the attendee is the hero. For example, in FOSDEM, you could watch every session live in a chat room dedicated to that track and then the speaker would answer questions or comments from that chat. Another helpful sequence can be bookmarking a session on the schedule and receiving a notification when it is about to start which links you back to that session where you can start watching it. Or it can be just about a sponsored session that reminds you to check out that sponsor's page inside the platform while the stream keeps playing in the corner of the screen. Indeed, it's this feeling of movement across digital space or time while still inside the context of an event that provides meaningful engagement. I'm sure that, as we move back to physical venues, online events will also learn to do better.