I had a meeting with my Podcamp Philly organizing team today, and we talked about the wifi problem we battle every year. We tend to put Podcamps at Universities and colleges, in part because the facilities are perfect for an unconferences- a great mix of larger and smaller rooms, along with spaces designed for informal gathering and talking.
Yet many universities are particular about who they let on to their network, and getting even temporary passes for 250 plus “strangers” for a weekend tends to be a difficult process. Even in the years we’ve been able to get wifi access, there’s always been a problem about ensuring a robust connection, because so many people wanting to stream, upload and communicate in one small area tends to overload and slow down connection speeds. There are several solutions we are looking at, including trying to find a sponsor willing to help us out with the constant issue. But I still worry that no matter how well we do, the folks will still find a way to crash the system with volume alone.
Recently at the Web 2.0 Expo in New York, I found that wifi access on my laptop was pretty good, but because of the general iphone problem in NYC, any access through mobile was just not worth the trouble. And it makes me think that even if big tech conferences run into this problem, will small unconferences be able to crack the wifi access issue?
And moreover, do we want to?
Unconferences by nature, provide much of their value by getting people together from different verticals and promoting conversation face to face. If we spend too much time with virtual lifelines to those not in attendance, are we missing out on the most valuable part of the experience in the first place? Do we need to spend more time mindful of where we are and with whom rather than trying to let everyone else know what we are doing?
For the forseeable future, we’ll continue to struggle to provide reliable wifi at conferences. But personally, I’ve gone to another strategy all together. I bring a pad and my pulse smart pen. I can record whatever I need; I tend to stay more engaged in presentations than when I have twitter or other social media sites competing for my attention during a session, and if I need a back channel, I can still pray my iphone works.
I’m quite happy going “analog” this way- what about you? Why is wifi critical at conferences? What would you do if you didn’t have it? Would it change whether you attended a conference or not? How do you feel if the connection is unreliable? Would it be better to have no connection at all rather than a poor one?
Inquiring minds would love to know!