TEDxUofM: Second Life Viewing Party


The new Second Life viewer makes shared live media pretty simple to do, which is why, as a last minute effort, I offered to host a viewing party in Second Life for people to watch the TEDxUofM livestream. I’d like to say many thanks to Britain Woodman for both his work on the stream and his informational support of the SL viewing party. Here is a picture from our event.

SL: TEDxUofM 2010

The event had been coordinated as a volunteer effort with most of the labor and planning provided by a student committee. This was our first (but not last!!) local TEDx event to be held here in Ann Arbor. There had been an earlier event in the region last October (TEDxDetroit).

The speaker lineup included a lot of incredible talks with wonderful slides and videos. I can hardly wait until some of these are available online. My personal favorites were:

  • John Holland- Father of Genetic Algorithms, Professor, “Building Blocks and Innovation”
  • Sam Valenti IV- CEO, Ghostly International, “The Ecstatic Fringe”
  • Anca Trandafirescu- Professor, School of Architecture, “Inflated Aspirations”
  • Daniel Ferris- Associate Dean of Research, School of Kinesiology, “Science and Engineering of Iron Man”
  • Matt Shlian- Paper Engineer, “Implications of Paper Folding”
  • Subaram Raman- Masters Student, School of Music, “Music in Unlikely Places”

You can see the full list of presenters at the main TEDxUofM homepage.

TEDxUofM: http://tedxuofm.com/

The homepage reports that 2,500 people tuned in for the livestream. I was watching all day and the largest number I saw at any one time was in the mid-80s on the one stream we were watching, so I am assuming this number is a combination of the three streams and people dipping in and out, which matches what happened with our Second Life viewing party. People sort of wandered in and out throughout the day. For the most part, people did not tend to come and sit and stay, although a couple of us did. In this image, you see me, a UM faculty member who was near Detroit, and an alumni who was in Montana. Because of the focus on this being a “local” TED event, we held this on Wolverine Island, which is restricted to University of Michigan people. Based on the response to a similar earlier event I hosted for TEDxOntario, I suspect we would have gotten a much larger audience throughout the day if this had been held in an open location.

That is one lesson learned. Another is that the SL2 viewer doesn’t support the option to push a web-video to full screen, although the audience can use their “camera” to zoom in to a closer view.

What I did to promote this event was a two-fold approach. First, I sent an announcement out in advance (the night before, which was when we decided to try this). That was sent both by email and to all the main UM groups in Second Life. Then, during the event, as I received notice via Twitter of who was speaking, I would forward that to the group chat for the Wolverine Island community. The problem with that was that the program was not posted on the website, and the announcements coming via Twitter of who the speaker was tended to come through anywhere from 3 to five minutes after the speaker started, making it difficult to send an announcement and get people there only for the middle of the presentation. Unfortunately, after lunch they quit twittering who the speakers were, making it impossible to send announcements to the Second Life groups.

The planning team for TEDxUofM did an amazing wonderful job of pulling things together fast. Just getting the stream together was a very useful resource. More and more of these local events like this are happening in various places. I started thinking there really ought to be a planning kit for doing a local TEDx available from the main TED organization. I just bet there are lessons learned for best practices, tips for timing of announcements or set-up, ideas for marketing and promotion, and in general ways to make these events the best possible one for your community. There was a lot of discussion about this in the event Twitter stream from those who were not able to come in person. I thought it might be helpful for planning future events to collect some of these. Here are some of the ideas that were discussed in either the Twitter stream, Facebook, private communications or the Second Life viewing party.

  • Communicate more clearly and sooner about who are or are not attendees.
  • Increase transparency about how the presenter selection process, perhaps crowdsource portions of this process.
  • The program should have been available online, if not in advance at least on the day of the event.
  • If the program wasn’t available online, they should have had timely communications to the streaming audiences. They tweeted who was talking next a couple minutes before they started, and should have kept up the announcements of speakers through ought the entire day! They stopped after lunch. Because of delays with the Twitter API, the announcements of who was talking usually reached me 2-5 minutes after the person started, which made it impossible for me to send announcements to the SL viewing party.
  • The video stream was steady, but low resolution, meaning the streaming audience really couldn’t see the slides or videos. Expected, but there are things that could have been done to provide slides and video in alternate streams that are higher resolution. Some of our SL audience tried going to the streaming web in frustration, but found that was no better. One idea for a solution would be to have the slides deposited to Slideshare in advance of the presentations, making it possible for the streaming audience to listen and page through a readable version of the slides.
  • The audio for the speakers was not directional, and while it was good to hear the audience engagement, it was bad to have to struggle so hard to hear what was said. I could not make out most of it, and this made me very sad. I tried so hard. The audio levels also changed drastically from speaker to speaker. I needed to turn the volume ALL the way up for the presenters, and all the way to one click above off for the moderators, and this was painful, literally.
  • It would have been very helpful to have a transcriber for both the streaming audience and any attendees with hearing problems.
  • There was diversity of academic expertise in the presenter group, and I liked seeing both faculty and students represented, but the lack of women was HUGE. There was a comment I heard a couple places that the topics selected also focused so heavily on tech aspects, the E and D portions of TED were underserved (but utterly delightful). Personally, I have trouble understanding this, but I am guessing that the folks who reported this had something or someone specific in mind who they hoped to hear.

Here is hoping that TED will think about collecting best practices into a useful DIY planning resource! I am eagerly looking forward to next year’s event.

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