Conferences, Schmonferences

A few of us were hanging out on line Saturday night, just to chat about, well, nothing specific, just anything that came to mind. Trust me, late at night, a lot of weird stuff comes up.

Early in the conversation, I asked the group if any of them were paying attention to the FTBCon that was currently being held. If you’re not familiar with what I’m referring to, It’s a virtual conference, via Goggle Hangouts sponsored by Freethought Blogs.
There was a resounding “no” to my question. I wondered why. Well, one person said, it’s nothing more than a lot of podcasts, strung together. I said it looked like there might be some good stuff being presented because I had seen a few tweets about a few talks/panels from some people I follow.
I received the collective, meh.
The conversation then turned to atheist/skeptic conferences in general. Now, for full disclosure, none of us had ever been to any of these types of conferences.
The problem, as was discussed, in attending any of these conferences is the cost. At least here in the States. Even if the attendance fee is relatively low, the major costs are travel, hotel, food, and, ahem, amenities. So, unless you live within easy driving distance, a conference with an attendee fee of say, $50, could cost well over $1000.
So, could virtual conferences be the future of the atheist/skeptic conference circuit? In the case of FTBCon, it’s totally free. That’s an advantage to a lot of people. The organizers don’t have to reserve a hall, or guarantee a hotel attendance for a discount on rooms. They don’t have to pay for any food (some conferences, from what I understand, provide free breakfast), and the attendee doesn’t have to be concerned over their appearance.
So it makes sense, right? Well, what about attracting “big name” speakers. Most, if not all I think would require a fee for their time, even though their appearance was virtual. So how would sponsors be able to pay for certain speakers they’d like to have if the conference were free?
One idea, maybe not the best but I’m thinking off the top of my head here, is to go ahead and charge attendees a registration fee and issue them a particular access code to be able to view the event. Probably a little painful to set up, but it could be done. The real problem would be finding a company to host a secure Virtual Private Network(VPN) for a reasonable cost. So this option may not be viable if the sponsors want to keep the registration fee as low as possible.
As I mentioned, I’ve never attended an atheist/skeptic conference, but have attended many professional ones. The advantage I see to attending a conference in person rather than virtually is that I get to actually meet people face to face.I have the opportunity to network with people I’ve never met before. I get to connect with colleagues I may have not seen in a while and catch up. And then there are always the after hours events – well, even at professional conferences people will meet up for drinks and laughs.
The main problem I see with virtual conferences taking over the circuit is that most, if not all of the major organizations use these venues to raise money. Now, I really don’t
believe that these conferences are that profitable, if at all. But the organizers get the publicity they will need during and directly after to raise money for their activism. It’s also a way to get the attendees directly involved with that activism within their own communities. It’s a way for attendees to meet people that are directly involved in social/political issues and to help those that are considering forming a group at home, to do just that.
Is there a place for virtual conferences? Sure, I think so, especially for smaller groups that don’t have the resources to have a full-blown, in person conference. It’s also a way for people to be able to connect, albeit virtually, with other like-minded people and, in some way, be able to engage on issues in which they are personally interested.
So, will we be seeing more conferences like FTBCon? I don’t know. As far as I am aware, this has been a “first”. Even though I did not participate this past weekend, I know others that did, and I’ll wait for their reviews.
As always, your comments are welcome.

2 thoughts on “Conferences, Schmonferences

  1. While I do like the idea of an online conference in general, I did happen to skim through some of the FTBCon content, and, well…while some of the presentations may have had value, I got the feeling that the whole setup was really rushed and put together rather sloppily. Plus, there was just too much content. Few people are going to sit down and watch video for three days straight.

    • I didn’t watch any of it. I’m hoping that people that did, and blog, will write reviews indicating what they thought was good, mediocre, or just plain bad. Hopefully they’ll write honest reviews.

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