I didn’t go to TAM this year. In fact, I’ve never been. Not that I didn’t want to attend, but I’ve recently made it a rule to only attend conferences where I have been invited to speak. Makes it much easier on my pocketbook, and I don’t end up regretting my decisions to not attend any of the bazillion conferences I could attend each year. But, why do I bring this up… the conference?
Conferences are a brilliant way to bring people together in order to foster communication. Certainly, if you are attending a conference, you are most likely interested in the topics to be covered. But, there is always the session that you didn’t expect to be interesting that turns out to be thought-provoking. Not to mention the mixers where you most certainly bump into people of all types, and have conversations you could never expect. The environment (or, it might be the alcohol) pushes people out of their shells, making them more social than normal, more interested than normal, and allowing maximum information transfer to take place.
How can the conference vibe be transferred elsewhere? How can we get people out of their mental caves and interested in communication… or, even learning, dare I say it?
First, the environment needs to have ease of entry. People need to find what they are interested in easily. The minute search takes too long, people lose patience and move on to something else. The internet is a great place to foster mass communication and information transfer, and social and new media are getting to a point that the barrier to entry into any conversation topic is incredibly low.
Second, the content needs to be engaging. Just like college lectures, the less interesting a video, blog, or slide-show are, the less people connect to the material. People judge novel content just like they judge people… subconsciously. Whether they are aware of it or not, they have decided their level of interest within 2 seconds. If the approach to getting information across is not able to make a good first impression, the opportunity for engagement is already lost.
Third and finally, the environment needs to allow free exchange of ideas and responses. This is crucial to the basic idea of communication as communication can never be one-sided.
The social web is getting closer and closer to putting all of these pieces together, and I am constantly on the lookout for interesting projects that are on the verge of making science communication better. In my recent web jaunts I came across the Imagine Science Film Festival, which will take place in New York in October. I think this festival is starting in the right place.
The festival is organized by Imagine Science Films and sponsored by AAAS and Science Magazine. But, rather than just getting film-makers to submit films and holding a physical festival, the organizers have partnered with the well-known video sharing site, Vimeo. In doing so, they have enabled the submission process to become a social one. People can upload and comment on each others videos. And, the hope is that the films run the gamut from artistic to educational to fun. This brings together film-makers from all different backgrounds into one conversation about what science in film actually is or even what it can be.
Also, Vimeo is featuring a different video each week from the group of submissions, which has the effect of bringing people from outside the circle of science enthusiasts or interested film-makers into the conversation. The barrier to entry is low due to Vimeo’s involvement. Add to this the fact that the content is video, which can be quite engaging if done well. And, the forum allows for the exchange of ideas through the video format and comment system.
In all, this has all the pieces to enable the successful fostering of communication about science in a much broader forum than that offered by a conference setting.
Oh, and if you’d like to submit a video, the contest entry ends July 31. So, get on it.