Thursday, September 29, 2005

Conference webcast

Year after year, I have heard that e-mail and internet would diminish business travel. I have never really believed in that. People like to meet people and network with one another.

But yesterday I made a decision not to travel to a mini conference in The Hague, despite the fact that I had registered (apologies to the organisation, but the experiment had a strange attraction). The municipality had its annual Telecom conference. It is an annual event and one of the few events where you can leave your mobile on or keep your laptop going; sms messages are in fact encouraged and presented on screen.

The conference ticket in my name

The Hague Telecom Conference is one of the happenings in the framework of The Hague Telecomcity, a program started in the late eighties of last century. The Hague was and still is the base of KPN, the incumbent Dutch telco. So on the one hand the campaign was city promotion to attract high tech companies and on the other hand to keep qualified people at work in the city. The campaign started out with projects like videotext at home through Infothuis and a press database. These projects were run by a crazy city official who did not understand technology nor content or copyright; so the impact of the projects was not impressive. The press database changed hands several times since and is no longer an independent service. The consumer service is still alive and in fact facilitated the webcast yesterday.

The free event was heavily overbooked. E-mails arrived saying that you had to be in time in order to have guaranteed seat; otherwise you would have to follow the sessions from the basement. These e-mails added another hour to the travelling. So it would take me something like 3 to 4 hours to be present at a conference of four hours.

So it was interesting to receive a press release telling that the conference would be webcasted. No travelling, while you could follow the presentations from the office. I took the decision not to go, although I had registered. And somewhere in the back of my mind there was a hesitation. Would you see everything about the presentations and would you miss the networking? But as the presentations were going to be up on the site some days after the event, that was no reason to go. And for the networking, the whole list of participants had been published.

The webcast started in time with a beautiful shot of the candelabra of the church, where the conference was held. The quality of the pictures was very good. And when the opening was made, I knew that this conference was going to be a one-lane event: the presenters would be webcasted, but their Powerpoint presentations not. So you saw the presenters doing their nervous ice bear walk and their gesticulations, but you did not see the presentations they referred to. The cameraman did not take a wide angle shot either so that you still could read something of the sheets. In short the webcast organisation was in need of real conference webcast software like that of Noterik Multimedia, a company that presents municipal meetings of mayor, the alderman and the deputies or EU conferences.

Was the experiment to skip the physical meeting worth to stay home for? I think that having the back-up of the PowerPoint presentation will make it possible to check them over. One presentation I would like to see back. The other ones by KPN, UPC and Versatel were the usual presentation on triple or multi play; not too much detail as these companies are quoted on the Stock Exchange (Versatel still is for another two months or so).

For the networking the moderator had promised a beer. With a webcast you miss that offer and of course the contact with the delegates as no Internet forum for discussion and contact is offered.

So weighing up the pro’s and con’s of the decision, I did not feel like I was playing truant. I can say that I will stay in the office more often whenever a webcast is transmitted. As The Hague Telecom Conference is annual happening, the organisation might look at a three-lane webcast (presenters, presentations and messages) and a discussion forum on Internet. In this way they can also limit the number of delegates to comfort standards.

BTW That the city promotion works in the field of telecom was clear from the (almost shameless) closing act when the alderman for economic affairs presented the latest catch, the Chinese telecom company ZTE, which will have its European HQ in The Hague.

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