Being an attendee… from home


Hello Nashville! Farin Salahuddin, National Trust Conference Coordinator/FlickrI’d really wanted to attend this year’s National Preservation Conference in Nashville, TN. It is the annual gathering for the National Trust for Historic Preservation.

I should really say that I was looking forward to taking advantage of some of the “open to the public” presentations and events being held during the conference. I knew that I couldn’t make the trip to BlogWorld Expo in Las Vegas this year (incidentally one of the largest blog conferences in the world) taking place on the same weekend. I also knew that going to Nashville early would mean that I could squeeze two conferences into one trip with BarCamp Nashville taking place on Saturday.

Unfortunately, as the week’s schedule started taking shape, I realized that I would only be able to attend events and activities on Friday. I figured that I wouldn’t quite be able to experience the conference the way I’d hoped despite the fact that I’d be able to get a taste of what was going on via Twitter.

Now, I already knew what the conference hashtag was going to be; it’s #presconf if you’re wondering. Creating one for Twitter has almost become a requirement for events, allowing folks who aren’t able to attend to glean from tweets of those who are lucky enough to be there. It also, by way of sites like What the hashtag? allow for organizers to measure how frequently the tag was used as well as provide an easy way for a collection/log of tweets to be made.

Well, given the country’s current economic situation, the National Trust decided to take the idea of being a virtual attendee to another level.

It’s not so much that it’s anything new being done on the National Trust’s Virtual Attendee page of their official website. Many of these tools have been implemented for BarCamps and WordCamps across the world. It’ll be easy for those that know about it to be able to follow live blog chats during presentations, webcasts of featured talks, watch the photos get added to Flickr and get a sense of the buzz going on in Twitterville.

The point that I’d hammer home is this is not an unconference, but probably one of the largest gatherings of historic preservationists taking place in the Western hemisphere every year doing this. It’s not necessarily the first group of folks you’d identify with providing open access to conference presentations. Or are they?

Wouldn’t it make the most sense to help spread the word about the benefits of encouraging preservation projects in your community by making informational sessions available on the web? Doesn’t the fact that the hashtag has the potential to be a trending topic on Twitter or photos suddenly flooding the Flickr pool mean that the preservation movement can be shared with a whole new group of folks who probably didn’t even know that the conference was taking place? Can these tools encourage conversations in forums or groups that they’ve never taken place in before? Can this be transformed into a new perk for supporters? Will this impact how other organizations choose to hold and organize their conferences in the future? How much do we lose out on without the ability to talk with others face to face?

Well, in my case, it makes it a little easier to accept arriving at the conference late knowing that I’ll at least have some idea of what’s been going on.

I’m interested in what you think about it…

Photo: Hello Nashville! Farin Salahuddin, National Trust Conference Coordinator(PreservationNation)/Flickr


3 Responses

  1. ThomasP

    October 14, 2009 7:48 pm

    Wow – loved your post, which raises some excellent questions. It deserves a long response, but I will leave just a couple of quick comments.

    First, it is absolutely fantastic that the Trust did this, and it is indeed a step in the right direction. That shared, it would have been great if the Virtual Attendee experience would have been one which more closely replicated actual attendance, by allowing viewers to interact with staff, speakers, etc.. If they did so, they might discover that the real power of social networking could free preservation and allow it to speak to a wider audience as you suggest.

    Second, I do wonder about the economics of doing this type of event in the future. It is worth noting that the Trust unveiled the Virtual Attendee page after actual, in-person registration had closed – and they may have thought that announcing it before-hand might actually have had an impact on attendance. If have a truly interactive experience would impact attendance, that, in turn, could impact the very nature of the underlying event itself. Or, in the alternative, the Trust might move to a fee-based system for viewers to obtain the live feed, which would again limit its potential impact.

    Our statewide has been involved in social media for over 3 ½ years, has the oldest preservation blog in the country, and is extensively involved with both Twitter and Facebook. On October 23, we are hosting the country’s first live blog on social media, preservation and revitalization. The Nashville Virtual Attendee experience is sure to be on the agenda that morning.

  2. Andre Natta

    October 14, 2009 8:56 pm

    Thanks for your comment Thomas. I agree that this is a first step towards seeing what social media tools can help the preservation movement as a whole. I also believe that the issue of cost, both financially and in terms of sheer manpower, needs to be looked at closely by anyone that would consider this, especially for a conference of this scale.

    One thing I'll say here that I'll try to elaborate on for Friday's follow-up post is the idea that even with the level of interaction that's possible using social media tools, there's still something about seeing folks face-to-face for a discussion.

    I'll definitely be looking forward to the live blog chat on the 23rd!

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