Nearly There – Experiencing a Conference Online

Collage of twitter streams forming the letters "AHA" on a background of a photo of conference participants.

Just some of the thousands of tweets sent by participants of the recent American Historical Association conference. Credits at the end of this post.

Nearly a year ago I knew that this year’s conference organised by the American Historical Association would be exciting, but I also knew I would not be able to attend it.  In order to find out what had occurred at a conference like this in the past I would have had to rely on talking to people who had attended and for publication of papers and accounts arising from the conference.  Someone like me would have missed out on hearing about nearly everything that occurred or learned about it months after the event.  Not any more:  blogs and twitter allowed me to hear about what was happening as it occurred or pretty soon after.  During the course of last weekend I was glued to my computer screen when other responsibilities and sleep allowed it, reading the tweets and blog posts that were pouring out of Chicago.  Over the last few days I have been reflecting on my  online conference experience.

Is social media a good substitute for attending a conference?  My experience this weekend has not led me to change my mind on this question. If there are a lot of sessions that interest you and people who you would like to meet, it is still much better to attend the conference in question if you can.  Keeping abreast of proceedings through social media is better than being off-line during an interesting conference but it is still very much a second-best option. Continue reading