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What's Lost When a Meeting Goes Virtual

samzenpus posted about a year ago | from the from-the-comfort-of-your-own-house dept.

Businesses 96

nbauman writes "This summer, NASA's Lunar Science Forum became the largest scientific gathering to embrace the new world of cyber meetings. The experience drew mixed reviews, according to a report in Science magazine. Mihály Horányi, who has been a regular, sat down at his computer at 1:45 p.m. on the first day of the conference and began talking into a webcam perched above the screen. 'Last year it was a performance. This year it meant staring at myself, being annoyed that I kept leaning in and out of the picture, and thinking, "Boy, am I getting old."' He and other participants say the virtual conference was a pale imitation of the real thing. At previous forums, 'You see your friends, you ask about their kids, and then the discussion flows into the science.' He participated much less this year, 2 hours a day. In addition to the physical challenge of sitting at one's computer for hours on end, participants say that their day jobs competed for their attention. 150 to 200 people "attended" at any one time. Even without distractions, the quality of the interaction was much lower than in person. 'I received a handful of short comments [from my talk] and had maybe one e-mail exchange,' Horányi recalls. One scientist who didn't present this year—and who listened to only one talk after the fact—said that he much prefers an in-person meeting because 'you get a much better sense of how the audience is reacting to what you're saying, especially any negative feedback.'"

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There was one perk (5, Insightful)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45122857)

After the second day's talks were over we got to watch Georges Méliès's A Trip to the Moon.

The griping about gossip being more important than the presentation is very real: a lot of science is the result of serendipitous conversations and meetings at conferences.

Re:There was one perk (0)

blue trane (110704) | about a year ago | (#45123149)

So Nietzsche was right about "The Gay Science".

Re:There was one perk (2)

gl4ss (559668) | about a year ago | (#45129863)

you mean you got to link on this link http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7JDaOOw0MEE [youtube.com] ?

if you were at home you could watch anything from the net. so what kind of a perk is that?

Not surprised (1)

beschra (1424727) | about a year ago | (#45122875)

The same thing happens with conference calls. Adding video doesn't change the fact that you aren't in the same room as the other people. I don't see this working all that well until we get holodecks or something like that.

Re:Not surprised (4, Insightful)

bob_super (3391281) | about a year ago | (#45123045)

A lot of real issues at tech standard meetings get solved in the corridor. It's really hard to get a real-time compromise that way in a virtual setting.

--
I call dead presidents by their first names, before they get into my pants

Re:Not surprised (4, Insightful)

Trepidity (597) | about a year ago | (#45123315)

If you're trying to recreate a physical meeting, I agree. But it's quite possible to have productive virtual meetings if people adapt to working in a manner suited to the medium. I have a regular group of collaborators who I sometimes meet with in person, and sometimes meet with on IRC. The two kinds of meetings are both productive, real meetings, but with different strengths and weaknesses. However it works because we're all familiar with IRC and how to use it productively, rather than trying to shoehorn some other communication style into it.

Re:Not surprised (2)

GNious (953874) | about a year ago | (#45129487)

I think I can confirm this.

We have some team-members, who can collaborate quite well via text, exchange ideas and make suggestions, but we also have 1 team-member who cannot work via text at all, and 1 who has issues when working via phone/concalls. Personally, I prefer face-2-face, but also painfully aware that I fail at interacting socially at these types of events.
It is very much about the people's ability to use the medium, whether that medium is IRC/Chat, Phone, webcams or in-person attendance.

Re:Not surprised (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45123993)

There is no fucking way this should be marked down. Get a fucking grip moderators.

This is my experience too (4, Insightful)

mbone (558574) | about a year ago | (#45122931)

I have done a number of meetings remotely, and it is just not the same (nor is it better).

Of course, it is cheaper, and if it is a question of attending remotely, or not at all, I go remotely.

It is a much better experience with immersive full room telepresence, but part of the reason for that is that you actually have to go to a telepresence unit so that, even if you are just down the hall, you are much more focused on the meeting.

Re:This is my experience too (1)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about a year ago | (#45123701)

I do such meetings all the time. 1-4 1 hour meetings per day, on LiveMeeting, each with a specific agenda.

1) They get the job done
2) They are not a replacement for face to face meetings

The point is that they are cheap and easy to set up. No one has to get on a plane.

What online meetings are not is conferences. You can't go to 1-4 conferences a day.

Re:This is my experience too (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45124085)

I'd take online meetings with a point over face-to-face meetings where the boss just wants to hear himself think for an hour any day of the week. Sadly, I feel like I get the latter pretty much every day, and after the talk I ask, "so what was decided? are we doing x?" and the response is invariably "nothing's decided, I just wanted everyone to think about x and whether it fits in with our long term goals."

Re:This is my experience too (1)

TechyImmigrant (175943) | about a year ago | (#45124291)

My boss could expect a 'frank' response if he tried that.

I've given up on telecons (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45128343)

I have an opinionated engineer or an admin listen instead of participating in telecons. The same people continue their same refusal to make a decision, and I can't hear what they're saying when they're mumbling 6 feet from the microphone. I'm not far from throwing the "reasonable accomodation" card; I've got a bit of hearing loss, and it's stupid to do a telecon when the people talking don't care and the people who care can't hear.

What's missing? (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45122991)

High fives and after lunch farts.

Re:What's missing? (1)

gewalker (57809) | about a year ago | (#45123935)

I won't be missing High fices and after lunch farts, but the occasional doughnut was ok by me.

awesome (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45123015)

Welcome to the future of working. You must be crammed into an open office every day to "enhance collaboration" but an annual conference you must attend virtually. I think someone has earned a bonus with all the money the company saved.

Re:awesome (2)

Grishnakh (216268) | about a year ago | (#45123905)

This is exactly correct. And as for that "asking about the kids" thing, scientists and engineers aren't supposed to be having kids in the first place (or getting married for that matter). They're supposed to dedicate their lives and all their waking hours to their jobs. Only managers and other people-people are supposed to have kids and family lives.

The bar meetings (3, Interesting)

i.r.id10t (595143) | about a year ago | (#45123029)

The bar meetings and such are very important parts of conferences or any gathering of folks who only know each other thru publishing, mailing lists, etc. or even various forums like slashdot and fark.

Aside from the obvious, it is great to put faces to names you only know from mailing lists, etc. as well as having real time discussions. The value of a meat space meet up is very high, and to have your employer cover part or all of the costs is even better.

Re:The bar meetings (3, Insightful)

blue trane (110704) | about a year ago | (#45123159)

I think these scientists lack imagination. You can interact with people through forums, where there are no time constraints on gathering together at one time. And you can still ask about kids, only it looks more stupid in print. Because it is.

Re:The bar meetings (3, Insightful)

mrsquid0 (1335303) | about a year ago | (#45123305)

Real life does not work that way. In the real world social cues and conventions are important. A face-to-face conversation follows a very different arc than a similar online chat does. Both have their uses, but one cannot replace the other.

Re:The bar meetings (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45123415)

Social cues are important to penises and vaginas.

Re:The bar meetings (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about a year ago | (#45123923)

This is supposed to be a meeting for scientists; there's very few women there to begin with, and the men aren't supposed to have any kind of sexual relationships with the women, as that detracts from their work and decreases profitability for the corporation.

Re:The bar meetings (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45124223)

But not to Asperger's victims like you.

Re:The bar meetings (1)

turkeydance (1266624) | about a year ago | (#45123643)

"Never write if you can speak; never speak if you can nod; never nod if you can wink."

Re:The bar meetings (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45125449)

"Never quote someone without giving them credit." - Ms. Simmons, my fifth-grade English teacher.

Re:The bar meetings (1)

Trepidity (597) | about a year ago | (#45123357)

I could be imagining things, but I think there's actually a slight decrease in ability to carry on these kinds of discussions than there was a half-generation ago. You could assume that most computer scientists in the '80s and '90s had basic ability to use a listserv and carry on a conversation suited to the medium. I think that is less true now: many computer scientists in 2013 have absolutely no idea how to carry on a productive text-based discussion.

Re:The bar meetings (1)

GrumpySteen (1250194) | about a year ago | (#45123715)

Whatevs. Ur just jelly @ my paper getting mad grants while urs just got LOLs

Re:The bar meetings (1)

plover (150551) | about a year ago | (#45123989)

++++++1! Would LOL again.

Re:The bar meetings (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45123655)

Written communication and in person communication complement each other, but are far from perfect substitutes from each other. Written communication via a system like forums is great for when you want to take time to spell things out in detail and take your time to think and research an answer. Communicating in person can be a lot easier and quicker when trying to answer some questions and filling in some holes in your understanding. You can interrupt someone or let them otherwise know they are not answering what you asked (regardless if the question was badly worded or the answerer didn't understand), and ask for clarification, instead of letting them waste a bunch of time typing out a whole bunch of stuff that was not relevant.

Re:The bar meetings (1)

theshowmecanuck (703852) | about a year ago | (#45124295)

I personally don't think cyber anything is as effective as face to face or in person presence. However where appropriate, sure they can fill a gap. Like when constantly sending employees to meetings all over the country/world is not practical. But if you have people doing that all the time you are doing something wrong... i.e. why are you locating team members or people who interact a lot in different cities?

Anyway, virtual conferences (and TFA is about a conference not a meeting) might end up being the only way people can afford to go to a conference (And even this will only last until organizers start financially raping people for virtual attendance too). Hell, from TFA this is the reason this conference went virtual in the first place. Most/many conferences seem to be treated as a money making event by the companies and institutions involved, and are too overpriced for the average person to attend. That is, unless the person makes a pile of money and has no other financial obligations (like family), or the company they work for pays for it. And as for the latter, most companies won't pay to send people to conferences (or not often, or only a lucky few). If your company sends you to them then bully for you, you are in a minority... the conference may be full of paid for attendees, but compared to the number of others out there who aren't attending because they can't afford to go, you are in a minority. I think given the choice, most people don't 'not attend' because they're not interested, it is because they can't afford the time off work and/or the cost of the conference and transportation there. Then as sad as it is, the virtual conference might be the only way to attend.

Stupid title (1)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45123037)

The story title talks about meetings.
The story is about some kind of conference.
At work we use Video rooms for meetings all the time and it works perfectly fine.
You don't sit behind your shitty web cam.
You have a giant screen, and a good view of everyone in the other room.
The point of a conference is never the content.
Never. Never.
The entire point of conferences is meeting people, networking, and discussing things face to face with your peers.
The content of the presentations is just there to give you something to think and talk about with the other participants.

Re:Stupid title (5, Insightful)

Antipater (2053064) | about a year ago | (#45123219)

Came here to post exactly this.

I have a cyber-meeting every Wednesday morning with folks across the pond. Attendance is 4-12 people. There is no lack of idle chitchat or constructive feedback, or any of the other problems mentioned here.

TFA takes a forum, conference, seminar, or something like that, calls it a "meeting" when it's clearly not, and tries to shoehorn all cyber-meetings into having the same problems that the conference did. Overall, just shitty reporting trying to make a point that doesn't mesh with reality.

Re:Stupid title (1)

houghi (78078) | about a year ago | (#45123831)

I have seen a lot of shitty meetings where there was no follow up, no agenda, no minutes.
I have seen people trown out of meetings, because they could not say what they were doing there.
I have seen meeting that were extremely functional in duration and information and outcome. I have seen ones that were extremely non-functional in that nobody understood what just happened.

It always depended on who was leading the meeting in what manner.

I think most companies to do invest enough in how to hold meetings. What to do and what NOT to do. How to lead a meeting and how to follow up on meetings.

If it is lead by somebody who is incapable of doing so, it will be bad. The same happens with cyber meetings where often the rules have to be applied even stricter.

Re:Stupid title (1)

Yakasha (42321) | about a year ago | (#45123925)

TFA takes a forum, conference, seminar, or something like that, calls it a "meeting" when it's clearly not, and tries to shoehorn all cyber-meetings into having the same problems that the conference did. Overall, just shitty reporting trying to make a point that doesn't mesh with reality.

Did you miss this part?

Institute officials tried to cushion the shock by preserving the forum's usual format. But instead of welcoming some 500 scientists to the Ames campus, the hosts invited participants to log on each day, from 8:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Pacific time. In addition to the scientific talks, the forum included virtual poster sessions with an introductory video or audio from the author and a chat window to submit questions and get feedback. Participants were also encouraged to create virtual "hubs" at home to facilitate interactions. The forum even offered a virtual version of its traditional 1-day mini meeting for graduate students and postdocs.

The seminar included numerous smaller meetings, presumably some of those with even few people than you normally have in yours. While this all stemmed from the conference of 500 individuals, can't you see the similarity to a 500-person company where near everybody works from home?

One of the quotes from the article

you get a much better sense of how the audience is reacting to what you're saying, especially any negative feedback

falls perfectly in line with what I remember from my sociology studies and the lack of emotion inspired inflection in most online writing. Personal connections with people enhance the quality of discussions between them. Online media do not currently allow the same level of connectedness that in-person meetings provide. Subtle actions such as unconsciously leaning in towards the speaker when you're interested in what they have to say are often lost even in dedicated virtual meeting rooms with top-of-the-line technology.

Nothing here is definitive, but it does suggest support to recent decisions by Yahoo, HP, and others (including my own employer) to limit their remote workforce.

Previous /. article on congress telecommuting (1)

schneidafunk (795759) | about a year ago | (#45123051)

This reminds me of a previous discussion [slashdot.org] on slashdot about congress telecommuting.

Re:Previous /. article on congress telecommuting (3, Funny)

sconeu (64226) | about a year ago | (#45123211)

Can we have Congress telecommute, and then cut off their internet?

Re:Previous /. article on congress telecommuting (1)

nine-times (778537) | about a year ago | (#45123481)

I think Congress should have to telecommute over Internet connections that represent the country's median connection speed for people who make minimum wage.

Re:Previous /. article on congress telecommuting (2)

AbrasiveCat (999190) | about a year ago | (#45123769)

Can we have Congress telecommute, and then cut off their internet?

They are already not communicating, I don't think we want to make it worse. I think a better solution is to put them in a room, no phones, no internet, no TV cameras and tell them they get out after a solution is agreed on.

Re:Previous /. article on congress telecommuting (1)

Grishnakh (216268) | about a year ago | (#45123945)

I think a better solution is to put them in a room, no phones, no internet, no TV cameras and tell them they get out after a solution is agreed on.

Even better would be to make sure there's no food or water in the room either, and no bathrooms to boot. Finally, the room should be sealed airtight, with no ventilation system at all.

Re:Previous /. article on congress telecommuting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45124041)

Amazingly this is why the Catholic Pope is now elected by a group of people who are locked in until they come up with a solution.
Originally they met in a Congress-like manner and wasted years not coming up with a pope. So the people got bored with supporting them while they dithered away and locked them up until they came up with a completed election.
So I for one am all for it. Lets throw them all into the Capital building and block all the exits (including the ones to the subway trains that take them back to their offices.) Three times a day we send in bad fast food and we don't let them out until they come up with a solution.

facebook effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45123081)

The Facebook Effect: Where you might think you are interacting with other humans, but you find you are really just interacting with a machine that is trying to reflect back yourself to you in order to fool you (in facebook's case to get you to linger your eyeballs longer). Rather than be actually a part of other people's lives, you are instead a passive observer of a manufactured reality. It's exciting in the same way that voyerism is exciting at first, but it is ultimatly unsatisfying to the soul.

Of course if you are an extroverted narcissist, this is the ultimate stage for you. Some of us hark back to the times when you could actually dread being invited to someone else's house only to have the host drag out the pictures of their life to show to a captive audience. With a virtual existance, the exhibitionist gets to *think* they are showing pictures and the audience gets to either satisfy their voyeristic subconscious habits or they get to ignore w/o offending. Maybe this is how it's meant to be?

A virtual conference is really the the same thing, only intersecting the professional part of your life. Kind of like phoning your friend to touch base instead of actually going to lunch because that would be too much of commitment.

Re:facebook effect (2, Insightful)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year ago | (#45123169)

The Facebook Effect: Where you might think you are interacting with other humans, but you find you are really just interacting with a machine that is trying to reflect back yourself to you in order to fool you (in facebook's case to get you to linger your eyeballs longer).

What the hell are you talking about?

Re:facebook effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45123741)

He's talking about things like Facebook hiring behavioral psychologists, to study videos of eye movements during A/B testing product changes,

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A/B_testing

...and also the use of A.I. bots not unlike Cleverbot (mostly by dating sites), which fake interactions, so that you feel like you're interacting with a human, to keep you engaged on the site so they can charge more for ad impressions. Bots like this are also employed by front-line customer-service "chats" which prep a chat request by attempting to gather default information if possible, which is then forwarded to real humans, as appropriate.

http://www.cleverbot.com/

Re:facebook effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45123761)

That people will take the time to read and comment on something they don't understand or can't comprehend.

Re:facebook effect (1)

nine-times (778537) | about a year ago | (#45123909)

Well I think it's probably a comment on the fact that what you see on Facebook is filtered on at least 3 levels. First, you choose your friends on Facebook. Second, your friends filter what they post. Third, Facebook will prioritize items in your feed based on an algorithm designed to highlight information it thinks you're interested in.

I don't know that it's called "The Facebook Effect" more generally, but it's been observed in Facebook and Twitter that people end up seeing news stories and opinions that match up with what they already believe and what they would like to believe, which reenforces existing opinions and rarely challenges them. So if you're a staunch Republican, you end up only seeing posts by other Republicans and you think that Republican opinions have become widely accepted. If you're a Democrat, then you only see what other Democrats are posting.

So I think the AC was relating that kind of blindness to virtual interaction in general, and saying that in "virtual meetings" you miss out on some of the ugliness of real-world interaction by having a greater ability to remove yourself from social unpleasantness. While this might sound good, that 'ugliness' can actually be a beneficial force by providing negative feedback which might help to regulate unhealthy behaviors.

Re:facebook effect (1)

X0563511 (793323) | about a year ago | (#45124335)

Well, for what it's worth I force my timeline to "most recent" - whoever came up with that algorithm can go to hell. The other two levels of "filtering" apply in person as well.

Re:facebook effect (1)

nine-times (778537) | about a year ago | (#45125705)

The other two levels of "filtering" apply in person as well.

Not really, or at least not to the same extent. If I meet you in a coffee shop and we talk, or if we have a meeting at your workplace, I will be exposed to a lot of people in addition to you. That's the first level of filtering. In Facebook and email and other online "virtual" environments, you can minimize accidental/incidental interactions.

Second, in either email or in a "virtual meeting", or even in writing this post, I can take more time to compose myself and control the information flow. If we were having an extemporaneous conversation in real life, you'd get get a different tone, a different sense of my personality, and I'd be more likely to expose my real thoughts accidentally.

Re:facebook effect (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45123959)

The Facebook Effect: Where you might think you are interacting with other humans, but you find you are really just interacting with a machine that is trying to reflect back yourself to you in order to fool you (in facebook's case to get you to linger your eyeballs longer).

What the hell are you talking about?

The proposition put forth by FaceBook is that you are interacting with other humans. Original AC (not me) posits that it actually causes you to spend more time simply reading what you yourself wrote, and reading content produced by machines. This is actually a somewhat testable hypothesis. I don't use FaceBook; but it has some ability to message people directly, right? If you message somebody directly and they message you back that's a real interraction. OTOH, if you simply post on your wall, and they simply post on their wall, *and* you both assume that the other person is looking at your wall even when they aren't, then no human interaction actually occurred.

Anyway, it made sense to me. HTH.

Always thought Second Life was a good alt (1)

gmezero (4448) | about a year ago | (#45123101)

I know it's not fashionable these days, but I found many of the conferences in Second Life to be almost as productive as RL versions and way more productive than video chat, etc... It's too bad that that platform lost focus and didn't continue to evolve. :(

Re:Always thought Second Life was a good alt (1)

deathcloset (626704) | about a year ago | (#45123359)

I think you are making the point that a richer Virtual Reality environment can bring one closer to, or perhaps even exceed, the experience and benefits of real-life meetings. I agree in theory.

At this time it seems that the number of things that a virtual meeting has over a person-to-person or physical meeting are limited, and apparently less in quantity or quality than physical meetings (I will not enumerate them #TODO two-column pro-con list of current virtual vs. physical meetings).

I think there is theoretically more things that a virtual meeting COULD offer, but the technology is not yet there.

A very weak, but simple analogy: It took a while before the majority of overseas travel was done by aircraft.

(lazy users love AC)

Re:Always thought Second Life was a good alt (1)

pmontra (738736) | about a year ago | (#45123557)

SL was basically a 3D chat where makers could build stuff to make the environment beautiful. Unfortunately for them Facebook got really big worldwide the year after SL go on the media and took over all the mindshare. Fb is much more easier and convenient than SL for chatting and gossiping. Most people moved on and SL slowly became an empty shell. I read somewhere that it did 1 million unique logins per month in 2012 but that's nothing compared to fb, where people spend their time now.

That said, SL was able to convey more bandwidth than just a voice call. Maybe not as much as a video call but the background environment could fool people into believing they were not at their desk or on the couch at home and keep the attention high. So for a hundreds people conference it could have been a better choice than what they did at NASA, but not as much as the real thing.

In my experience Hangouts and the like kill recurrent meetings after a few iterations. They become yet another thing to see, very similar to a Youtube video, without the convenience of being 2 minutes long and with the trouble of being live and uninterruptible. I think that this kind of stuff must be either done in person or recorded and played back on demand. The first one if you care about interacting with other people.

For focused business meetings between people that know each other a video call works well and is a great time saver.

Sounds like a culture problem. (1)

intermodal (534361) | about a year ago | (#45123129)

This isn't merely a technological barrier but the wrong tool for the job. It sounds like the traditional in-person format is poorly translated into this technology, sure. But that doesn't mean technology is the problem. It probably means the meeting itself is trying to force its traditionally square peg into a round, digital hole.

old habits in new medium (2)

fermion (181285) | about a year ago | (#45123133)

I think the problem here is not that meetings are virtual, but that large gatherings are being held with virtual meeting.

There is a benefit to large meetings. But clearly the limitations that mandate large concise time intense meetings do not exist in the virtual world. There is no reason to hold 50 presentations in a day and then have attendees select their favorite 5 which means the get to attend 15-20 over the week. Rather 200 presentations can be held over a month, and one can drop in for an hour when they are interesting.

This would also free up conferences for what they are best. Provided unstructured interaction between professionals. Honestly, too many conferences are so structured that I feel like they are made for elementary school students, or laborers who bill by the hour.

If the value of a conference is the interaction, then lets pay people to go to Hawaii for a week and interact, and not cover the real purpose with these fake structured meetings.

Re:old habits in new medium (3, Insightful)

ebno-10db (1459097) | about a year ago | (#45123237)

Exactly. This a conference, not a meeting. Big difference. A productive meeting should last no more than an hour, and involve less than a dozen people. A conference involves hundreds of people over several days.

I attend virtual meetings all the time, and don't find them any less productive than face-to-face. I do find, for reasons I've never quite figured out, that having met my colleagues face-to-face at some point makes collaboration go much more smoothly. But it only has to happen once or twice, maybe repeated once or twice a year. That's the sort of thing that happens at a conference. The rest of the time colleagues and collaborators can send email and have phone calls (desk top sharing can be helpful, but video I find useless).

Re:old habits in new medium (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45123711)

Hogwash! I'm muchmore productive when I can zone out with earplugs for the entire day and just do what I do best: code lots and lots of code.

That the project managers always seem to make the spec wrong is their damn problem!

Re:old habits in new medium (1)

pz (113803) | about a year ago | (#45128029)

Terminology. Seems like the parent poster and a lot of other respondents are picking apart the use of the word "meeting" when used as a synonym for scientific conference. Frankly, I've never seen anyone do that before with such misdirected certainty. The OP clearly shows that this is a scientific meeting ("NASA's Lunar Science Forum became the largest scientific gathering..."). In my neck of the world, we have 35,000 people scientific meetings that are also called conferences and even congresses. The smaller ones are called symposia or workshops. I organize one that meets every two years (we explicitly emphasize the more informal interaction phase of such gatherings, which our participants appreciate greatly). Everyone understands that, in that context, "meeting" is a synonym for "conference".

So why all the nit-picking from conflating a scientific meeting with a business meeting? These two beasts are different kinds of events with different goals, different structure, and different levels of participation.

Germs (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45123193)

and disease.

Audience Reaction (1)

mfwitten (1906728) | about a year ago | (#45123217)

An audience reacts largely to your performance, not the material.

Is the point of these gatherings entertainment or communication? I see people complaining about not being entertained...

Re:Audience Reaction (4, Insightful)

mjr167 (2477430) | about a year ago | (#45123353)

If the audience is confused by your material, you will see it. If they are disturbed, interested, bored etc.

By noticing how the audience reacts you can tailor your 'performance' for the audience. For example if the audience is more familiar with your material than you originally thought you can gloss over the background. If they are not as versed as you thought you can provide more details.

You can also change your terminology. We have discovered that the terms we use when talking about our field are sometimes different than what other people use and there is no one standard. For that reason it is important to make sure we are all using the same words and assigning the same meaning to them. This can be difficult without knowing which terminology set the audience is using.

Re:Audience Reaction (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45123883)

There's no reason all of that can't be handled by the video feed except for the lack of software support to show all connected streams or to randomly switch between them.

Re:Audience Reaction (2)

Kwyj1b0 (2757125) | about a year ago | (#45123611)

Is the point of these gatherings entertainment or communication? I see people complaining about not being entertained...

In an academic conference the purpose is entertainment. The purpose is to get people excited by your work, and want to know more about it. True, you want to communicate the reasons your work is important, and what is great about your work. But the main goal is to get the audience to go home and read your full paper. The paper is the communication medium. The presentation is more about selling the paper.

Re:Audience Reaction (1)

d'baba (1134261) | about a year ago | (#45124435)

"Anyone who tries to make a distinction between education and entertainment doesn't know the first thing about either." - Marshall Mcluhan

The value is in the halls (2)

Kwyj1b0 (2757125) | about a year ago | (#45123239)

"The value is in the halls, not in the presentations" - this was a comment in an article on academic conferences (Let there be stoning! [wwu.edu] , pdf link). Unfortunately, the article hits the nail on the head - most academic talks are atrocious.

And mingling in the halls is still a human activity - you really don't like to do it virtually. It's like going to a virtual bar with your friends. Even if you have the best cocktail at home, the crowd, the sounds, etc. all play a role in keeping you in the mood.

The only advantage I see is in reducing some of the ridiculous conference registration rates I have seen (I'm looking at you IEEE - student registration of $400?). But I don't expect this to take off.

*cough* (1)

koan (80826) | about a year ago | (#45123243)

"the physical challenge of sitting at one's computer for hours"

Really? You still haven't figured out how to do that without fatigue?

Re:*cough* (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about a year ago | (#45123347)

This is slashdot, where a 15 inch laptop is HUGE and insanely heavy.

Re:*cough* (1)

koan (80826) | about a year ago | (#45123539)

But doesn't have the Trusted Computing chips, compromised BIOS and other BS, and still runs Linux like a charm.

Re:*cough* (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45123873)

Tea-bagging in counter-strike is considered isometric exercise.

Use it to break up the day so you're not just sitting the entire time.

It'll fight off the afternoon groggies.

Yeah? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45123323)

You only get bullshit responses from dumbasses who can't do any work, besides running their mouth in meetings.
Those who know and can do just sits there and waits for those with touchy feelings to be talked over and done for.

Old news... (2)

Lumpy (12016) | about a year ago | (#45123327)

Very large companies have been doing teleconferencing for years. Many have been doing weekly video conferences via Tandberg VC systems for a decade successfully.

Honestly, there is ZERO reason to force everyone to drive to one location for a conference except for the drinking and dining on the company dime afterwards.

Re:Old news... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45123533)

Very large companies are also filled with "communication" that mostly laments how poorly they communicate (it is even poorer than they think it is), and they're notoriously bad at getting things done that haven't been solutionised into best industry practice procedures by corporate policy and buzzword buzzword buzzword. So yes, there is zero reason to force everyone to sit into endless meetings where nothing gets done, virtual or otherwise, and that hasn't stopped anyone from holding them, ever which way. It's the drinking and dining afterwards where stuff gets done, informally, and so best dispense with that, eh?

Re:Old news... (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | about a year ago | (#45123893)

And those very large companies are seeing the productivity drain. I worked at a company that did that, and I won't do it again. It is too easy for people to go AFK for a long period of time but appear to be working. You get more and more vague status reports. It is really hard to work on a design, or to do pair programming. It's not the same level of engagement.

Ever watch a presentation or a training video with someone sitting next to you? You probably whisper to each other, point things out, ask questions. But if you both watch it separately that level of collaboration doesn't happen. Even if you confer afterward it isn't the same. Now it takes longer, and it isn't as fresh on your minds. Plus you had to take notes on what to discuss later, which isn't how some people like to learn.

Technology could minimize this, but no practical solution we have today gets us even close. Even with telepresence robots, you can't bend down to whisper a question, trade a sideward glance, or bump their elbow to remind them of something.

Re:Old news... (1)

MobyDisk (75490) | about a year ago | (#45124311)

Just to clarify: The company I refer to was going teleconferencing for development, not just meetings. Hence the part about working on a design.

Re:Old news... (1)

Lumpy (12016) | about a year ago | (#45124329)

" you can't bend down to whisper a question, "

Well typically I dont bend down as most of my co-workers are the same height as me. and I can , It's called sending a SMS or IM chat message and we do it all the time on Video conference calls.

Trading a glance except for a smirk to act like a 12 year old is not that useful when we can be lewd and crude in the SMS messages.

Re:Old news... (1)

swillden (191260) | about a year ago | (#45129123)

Honestly, there is ZERO reason to force everyone to drive to one location for a conference except for the drinking and dining on the company dime afterwards.

I disagree. Strongly.

My company (Google) uses videoconferencing extensively; every conference room is a video conference room with high-quality screens and cameras, and every meeting that involves people in multiple sites is a video conference. The VC system (which is the same tech in Google Hangouts, er, Video Chats) integrates with the calendaring and room booking system so everything gets linked up automatically. Anyone can project their screen to the VC with a few keystrokes. The result is extremely productive, especially when combined with Google Docs.

However, I still fly to remote sites to meet physically with the teams I collaborate with, and do it on a regular basis. A couple of times per year to overseas locations, and at least quarterly to the nearer sites, and drinking and dining boondoggles have nothing to do with it (I abhor business dinners). Why, then? And why does the company gladly fund and even encourage these trips?

Because they're necessary. VC is great for exchanging information, but very bad for building personal relationships. Meeting someone in person, even if all you do is have exactly the same meeting you would have via VC, dramatically improves the working relationship -- even if it was good to begin with.

Why this is, I don't really know. I do notice that physical co-location reduces the formality of the interaction in subtle ways. I think part of it might be the unnoticeable but still present latency in VC communications. The lag may only be 30 ms, but I think that 30 ms matters in the spontaneity of interaction. I think most of it is probably just that people become more real to you when you shake their hand and smell their BO (or, hopefully, lack thereof). Whatever the basis, the fact is that it's hard to make a human connection with an image on a screen.

And, much as I hate it, a night or two out socializing and discussing things completely unrelated to work (bringing spouses along really helps to ensure that) does a great deal to cement those relationships.

Once you've made those human connections, VCs are great vehicles for communication. But until you have a sense of the people on the other end, VCs are inherently less effective even in the best of times, and when things become stressful and have the potential to become antagonistic, the human connections are what make collaboration possible.

Both? Both. Both is good (4, Insightful)

jxander (2605655) | about a year ago | (#45123455)

The real problem is the attitude that we MUST decide which is best, and shun the failure of the other

Each have pros and cons : Virtual meetings are much cheaper, easier to setup on the fly, and are more malleable in size; able to accommodate two people without bogarting a conference room, or expandable beyond the number of bodies that can physically fit into a single conference room. Meanwhile, meatspace meetings must be setup months in advance to ensure everyone can make it, require a lot more expenses, potential arguments over the proper location, plus all of the potential pitfalls of travel (lost luggage, delayed/canceled flights, outdated GPS directions sending you to the wrong place, etc.)

But as previously discussed, actual human interaction has a LOT more potential to engender real ideas and changes. It allows us to better know our colleagues and understand each other. If a buddy of mine tells me that I dun goofed, I'm a lot more likely to take an honest look at my work and try to fix the problem than if I had received the same message from some random stranger on the other side of the country, to whom I've never before spoken. Maybe that's a problem on my part, but I'm certainly not the only one (as I've been the random stranger trying to correct someone else, only to receive a "Who the fuck are you" response.)

What needs to happen is utilizing both systems to their strengths. If you're a part of a big project, encompassing hundreds of workers across several geographical locations, and spanning several years, start with a big in-person conference. Make sure everyone knows their peers from different sectors, understands what roles everyone fills, how they operate, etc. Give it 2-3 days, include some after-hours meetups, and get things started right. Schedule these annually (or biannually) to introduce new team members, work through any major sticking points, and keep things flowing well. In between those, use virtual meetings for weekly status meetings, or 1 on 1 discussion between engineers at different locations.

Humans still human (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45123459)

Film at eleven...? Not quite.

Trust us to forget the obvious, and having to re-learn it the hard way. Learning is not a bad thing. Declaring the new fancy thing the standard before we have the slightest idea what'll happen and then having to slowly and painfully get rid of it, would be a lot harder.

But we can take the opportunity to learn, and we really ought to. So you tried, so you failed. When is the paper coming out?

Better idea (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45123469)

I'm guessing the latency, and the fact that you can see your own face are messing with the meeting atmosphere here.
It would probably go better if you didn't have a constant view of your face, and focused on something else while you were "meeting" (imagine something like teamspeak, but with faces and you're doing work instead of gaming)

ADD (4, Funny)

Bengie (1121981) | about a year ago | (#45123597)

I get too distracted wondering if anyone else is not wearing any pants.

Not a real meeting (2)

nospam007 (722110) | about a year ago | (#45123623)

On a real meeting, you fly 1. Class with your misstress, you are away from the wife and the meeting itself is in 3D.

A pale comparision, indeed.

Re:Not a real meeting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45124467)

Are you hiring?

Re:Not a real meeting (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45124585)

I believe you are talking about a different pants-are-optional meeting.

Answer to the face out of frame (1)

AbrasiveCat (999190) | about a year ago | (#45123891)

Well the answer to your face going out of frame is a picture in front of the camera. I could alternate between a normal picture, your head floating in space, frogs, (for this time of year) Jack-o-Lantern. I bet unless you are talking, no one will ever notice.
I thought a conference was an excuse to meet in the hallways and for beer later. Ever been to a Gordon Research Conf? The sessions are just a opening of ideas to talk about later.

most nasa websites are shut down now (1)

peter303 (12292) | about a year ago | (#45123915)

I dont know if I trust an online conference with them

experiences with telecommuting (1)

v1 (525388) | about a year ago | (#45123949)

I've had to do it on a few different jobs, where I was hired by a distant company to provide support for a customer in my area. For them I telecommuted for meetings etc.

I think one point that's been missed so far is that you only have a limited path of communication. It's generally one person talking to one other person. Interrupting may be rude but sometimes it's necessary, especially when you have people that ramble or that are being unproductive by repeating the same things over and over. It also gives others the opportunity to briefly voice their agreement. Things like "it's a problem when you do this". "You're the only one that's had any..." (and two other people suddenly speak up to disagree)

Also people don't behave the same when they're online with someone. It's pretty well known that some people act one way on a forum or in a chat room and are completely different in person. Same thing applies to video conferencing. But in this case I think it's a positive change. People that would normally be timid in a personal meeting get more brave and participate more, and will push their opinions harder. It really helps timid people contribute more. Otherwise these people get dominated by those with a stronger outgoing personality.

Perfect virtual meetings because... (1)

couchslug (175151) | about a year ago | (#45124681)

...when space travel is common they will be the main "meeting" method.

Surrogates... (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45125849)

May be?

"Webinars" (1)

Animats (122034) | about a year ago | (#45126097)

I have a mail filter that dumps anything with "Webinar" in the title to the spam folder. Most of them are infomercials. They're invariably too long for the information contained.

This, in fact, is the big problem with "online education" - no post production cutting.

Best cyber meeting system? (1)

TheSync (5291) | about a year ago | (#45126333)

So what is the best system for multiparty cyber meetings?

Socialization vs getting work done (1)

Paul Carver (4555) | about a year ago | (#45126339)

Humans are social creatures so there is often business value in spending some money to allow people to socialize, hang out, and eat and drink together. That's where face to face meetings are irreplaceable.

However, if the work is well understood and there aren't personality conflicts that need to be worked out and team cooperation to be built, then teleconferencing is much more effective. In person meetings and whiteboards facilitate "winging it" whereas teleconferencing (I mean with screens sharing, not just voice) tends to encourage getting your information into at least somewhat organized electronic form. This can be harder, but it's harder because it's not allowing you to be as lazy as just sitting around talking and maybe scrawling an incomplete and inaccurate diagram on the whiteboard that you never bother finishing or archiving for future reference.

I wish my employer would spring for a bit more business travel, but I would be lying if I said it would make me more productive.

I should also mention that instant messaging with presence indication is also an essential component of working across geographic distance. I'm much more effective working with people when glance at a list of names on my screen shows me instantly who's available at this moment. The people who are never "online" in IM require a much more inconvenient phone call/voicemail/email/walk down the hall.

I have certainly wasted time at in person meetings waiting idly by while someone I wanted to talk to was busy talking to someone else about some topic that didn't require my attention.

doh! (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45126761)

where'd the free donuts go?

Wrong Title (1)

Baby Duck (176251) | about a year ago | (#45126795)

Misleading Title. Should be: What's Lost When a Conference Goes Virtual. Nothing of value is lost during a meeting because meetings are near worthless!

What's Lost When a Meeting Goes Virtual (0)

Anonymous Coward | about a year ago | (#45127681)

Oh... there was a meeting? Me, I guess.

We should also discuss what's gained (1)

iamacat (583406) | about a year ago | (#45131395)

Like all the new people who were able to attend because they could still care for those children you were going to ask about. I think the solution is BETTER, multi camera, high resolution video conferencing tools, not crawling back into a cave.

Virtual meetings from a home office (1)

Crudely_Indecent (739699) | about a year ago | (#45136327)

What's missing? Usually, my pants!

all kidding aside (1)

gzuckier (1155781) | about a year ago | (#45139059)

What this all means is that you can't get laid at a virtual conference. And for a lot of the attendees, they don't have a lot of other chances.

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