We’ve integrated into the Connect interactive player both Twitter and Cover It Live live blog, which allows an administrator to create short, rolling blog post-type updates – while tweets on a particular hashtag appear – like this screenshot:-
It’s something that’s been around with the new Citizenscape Connect platform for a short while – and I got my first chance to road test it at the Public-i User Group in May (yes, it’s taken me a while to get round to talking about it).
Using the hash tag #PIUG2011, we were able to incorporate a conversation on the web with the webcast itself and – using the Cover It Live player – commentate on the meeting and try to enter into a two-way conversation between me (if you like, the administrator) and those people watching on the meeting.
What do I mean?
In practice, I sat down at a computer and commentated on the Cover It Live what was happening at the meeting. Meanwhile, we had people tweeting in and commenting on the blog offering questions, opinion and insight. But, as I went a long, I learned that I couldn’t a). keep up with everything and b). really help by telling people everything that everyone (who could be heard loud and clear on the webcast) was saying.
As a result, what I ended up doing was probably a bit more interesting – and may be a bit smarter, if I do say so myself. By trying to act as a kind of mediator I was able to get more out of the three different technologies – the webcast, the Twitter stream and the live blog.
The key to this seems to be using the three different forms of technology to their strengths – perhaps unsurprisingly. Cover It Live gives a webcast administrator – or someone with the necessary skills in the chamber – the chance to offer a potted (rather than comprehensive) commentary.
Of course, if you’ve got a webcast running, that might not be a comprehensive service – instead, it’s possible to offer insight and additional information. So, for example, when Nick Booth spoke at the event I was able to provide the links to the different websites that he was talking about.
With the the Cover It Live running, you can feed back what’s happening online into what’s happening in the meeting. You can also, when necessary, step outside that stream to tell people what’s going on (or in some instances explain why something isn’t happening).
This was, obviously, fun but it may have provide some important lessons about how we do these things in the future that I’m keen to share. In particular, I’m pretty sure that what we did can, in the right circumstances, offer a much richer experience to the veiwer at home.
So how is it richer?
Firstly, with Cover It Live and a webcast you’re able to do more than just offer a running commentary on events. Instead, you can deliver insight, explanations and feedback to both the online audience and to the meeting itself. So:-
1). You can give people more information.
2). You can remove some of the confusion that sometimes exist – both around meetings when you’re watching them in the flesh and when you are watching at home. So that would include both stuff that might be procedural (some of the more arcane local authority expressions and process spring to mind) and when the webcast on its own isn’t completely capable of conveying what’s going on in the meeting.
3). You can take part in an online conversation – and by doing so begin to really understand what’s happening in terms of who is (and how people are) getting interested in the meeting you are webcasting.
4). You can, potentially, start to feed into the meeting what’s happening online and then offer those online the chance of seeing that their views and their involvement can have an impact in real time.
5). You may also be able to correct misconceptions or misinformation – which can spread and be damaging online very quickly.
All this, I think, is important. Many of us may already be familiar with the Twitter chatter that can form around a meeting or an event. But it’s not always the case that this conversation becomes part of the actual event or meeting.
Too often, the contributions of those taking part online (often with a very valuable perspectives to add) are lost to the conversation for good because they take part on what is a fairly ephemeral medium. As it happens, at the User Group we were chewing over this very issue – because one of our guest speakers on the day was Carl Whistlecraft.
Carl is the head of democratic services at Kirklees Council in West Yorkshire. Carl knows a thing or two about using online interaction because his council has started to use Twitter to provide a running commentary on the democratic process at Kirklees (see his blog post).
As Carl pointed out, for there to be real online interaction (and by extension engagement), there needs to be a level of understanding and interaction with those meetings on offer for the public. Twitter doesn’t mean much unless the meetings are made more accessible – and, in the future, reflect the new ways people are beginning to engage.
In at least one sense, this is what the interactive player is providing. By allowing someone to sit in the middle (as a sort of moderator) between what’s going on in the meeting (and on on the webcast) and mediate between the two conversations, it offers a chance that that ‘much richer experience’ can emerge.
As it happens, at Kirklees Council they’ve started to experiment with the interactive player – and Spencer Wilson has written about the interesting – and encouraging – results here. He makes some interesting points about how this might one day feed into the democratic process – and the difficulties of doing this.
What else could we do?
I guess – as Spencer also points out – that we’re going to get much better at these sorts of online conversations – and I think there are three areas for this:-
1). How we manage the conversations: It’s possible, for example, that my former colleagues in journalism will be able to teach us a thing or two – as they’re already working very hard to create quite similar interactive discussions through live blogs for news events.
2). The way this changes the meeting and the structures that support it – (hat tip, again, to Carl Whistlecraft).
3). How we refine and improve the technology. With this being such a new area, we’ll need to keep an eye out on how we can develop the tools – particularly as users become more savvy and the way we think and treat these tools change.
Plenty to do then!