research design laboratory


We recently provided some strategic support for an upcoming conference Differential Mobilities: Movement and Mediation in Networked Societies hosted by Concordia University's Mobile Media Lab. Working on this website has exposed us to a few realities about conference websites - namely, they could be much better. The nature of a conference's online presence is generally one of temporary utility. Generally, they become a gathering point for call for papers, a place to register, a reference point for scheduling, and in some instances a place to provide a brief conference eulogy. In most cases, these websites live a brief existence as they are soon usurped by details of its next iteration. 

Supposing that the functional purpose of a conference is to provide an in-person forum for engagement on common interests--where experts present their work for feedback-- the outcome would be to establish a current collective status on the subject of common interest, and to establish a roadmap for subsequent research and gatherings. It seems surprising that greater efforts aren't made to document this collective engagement (presumably scholars hang on to their papers for peer reviewed publication).

Perhaps it would be valuable to reconsider the role of a conference's online presence as an archive. While still serving logistical utility as a hub of information for the conference, the website could also document the many conversations, debates, and ideas exchanged. Ideally this documentation would take place in real-time allowing for an engagement with "virtual attendees". Merely piping existing twitter feeds (an often used tool of conferences), papers, images, and video through the website would accomplish much of this. Allowing the content itself to represent the conference would relieve pressures to accurately summarize its outcomes, allow discussion to begin before, and continue after the conference's limited timeline, and further promote the value future gatherings. Indeed, a conference must sustain itself by encouraging paid attendance, but it seems to me that placing more value upon the outcomes of a gathering of common interests by ensuring they are documented, adds value to the conference as a whole.