Virtual Conferences

I've left this page up in case anyone linked to it. However, this content is superseded by the report of the ACM Presidential Task Force on Virtual Conferences.

This is a collection of links and information I've put together about virtual conferences. Amusingly, I wrote a paper about experiences with videoconferencing in 1994.


  • To deal with viral pandemics



In more detail

Here are some ideas that I came up with some time back with considerable input from Robbert van Renesse

Interaction modes

Conferences support multiple interaction modes, which may need different solutions depending on the conference size. Generally speaking, this is a cross product of {1-1, 1-many, many-many} X {synchronous, asynchronous}.

  • 1-1 asynchronous
    • Not relevant in a conference setting
  • 1-1 synchronous
    • This is similar to an informal hallway conversation between people who know each other already, or not
  • 1-many asynchronous
    • This is essentially an archival conference record
    • In some cases, comments can be added over time
  • 1-many synchronous
    • This is a typical conference presentation
    • Generally live video in parallel with many-many text-oriented discussions
    • To deal with time zones, a speaker could give the same presentation multiple times, or at least have multiple interaction sessions
  • Many-many asynchronous
    • Not relevant in a conference setting
  • Many-many synchronous small group interactions
    • This is typical of a demo/poster session
    • Ability to hop around, like a poster session
    • Ability to see demos being done
    • Find out which demo is popular
    • Need a whiteboard, leave a message for others
    • Schedule presentations of the poster at a particular time

Tools/Resources available today

  • 1-1 synchronous
    • Existing tools such as Skype, Google Hangouts, Zoom, Openvidu provide audio/video communication
    • An interesting alternative is browser-based Virtual Reality from Mozilla
    • You can also use a free shared whiteboard - Whiteboard Fox
    • Some conferences have tried remote participation robots, for example at CHI, but with limited success and great cost
    • Herring, Susan C. "Telepresence robots for academics." Proceedings of the American Society for Information Science and Technology 50.1 (2013): 1-4.
  • 1-many asynchronous
    • Ed X and ACM DL can store audio/video from conferences for replay
  • Many-many synchronous
    • The 1-1 synchronous tools also support many-many interaction
    • We can also use VNC for remote demos

Technical and sociological issues that need to be addressed by research

  • How to achieve high quality of the video/audio?
  • How to re-create informality?
    • Can walk up to someone in a hallway, but can’t do that on skype
    • The barrier to entry to interrupt someone is high because people are diffident about an interruption
    • Conferences reduce options and hence force interaction
  • How to create conditions that support attendance? In a real conference, there is no need to worry about food, where to rest
    • Make a commitment, perhaps in writing
    • Need to create a social headroom
  • How to convey body language and non-verbal cues?
  • How to integrate components properly?

An alternative