ALT.NET Seattle 2009: The Next Best Thing To Being There

Or: ‘How I attended a Conference real-time from the comfort of my own Home Office’

This is a blog post about how I ended up spending much of my weekend attending the ALT.NET Seattle 2009 conference without having to actually get on a plane (or book a room).

For those of you who don’t know, ALT.NET Seattle is a 2-day conference that was just held this weekend in the greater Seattle area.  Like any conference, its a chance for like-minded individuals with common interests to get together and share experiences, ideas, challenges, and solutions with each other.  But unlike most other conferences, it follows the Open Spaces approach to allowing the attendees to self-organize the conference agenda in real-time.  Because of this aspect, ALT.NET conferences tend to be a lot less predictable and (perhaps somewhat paradoxically and perhaps not) more valuable to attendees.

Would Have Loved to Visit Seattle…

While I would have enjoyed attending the conference myself in person, personal and professional circumstances in this time of economic constraint just weren’t going to align to make that a possibility.  As with other conferences that I’ve missed like PDC, MIX, OreDev, and others I figured I’d have to be content with just watching the videos of the sessions found at those links after the fact at my leisure.

This is one of the truly amazing things about (relatively) cheap high-bandwidth connections becoming (reasonably) ubiquitous: even if you cannot attend a conference you can (usually) get either professionally-recorded or amateur-captured audio and video of the sessions after-the-fact.  And this is what I had resigned myself to with ALT.NET Seattle.

Enter: Scott Hanselman, ALT.Hero

Then along came that regular wearer-of-so-many-different-hats, Scott Hanselman, who took it upon himself to leverage the commodity hardware combination of a laptop, a wireless network card (along with the conference facility’s wireless network!), a microphone, and a webcam to actually permit those of us who couldn’t make the trip to experience the conference remotely in real-time!  Using all of that hardware and a site I’d never heard of before called, Scott streamed real-time audio and video from his laptop to the site and permitted all of us remote-attendees to literally see the conference as it was happening.

Now, you may ask…

How is that any more valuable than just watching the video after the fact?

And the answer is that one of the things that makes so valuable is that in addition to allowing both real-time and archived audio/video, it also supports integrated real-time IM-style chat.  This feature actually permitted a sort of Twitter-like parallel session to go on where all of us not only conversed amongst ourselves about the content we were witnessing on-line but could also offer comments and questions to the actual conference participants in real-time so that they could respond to our chats as if we were actually there in the room.

And in a very real sense, we were.  It was a really interesting experience and came pretty much as close as I think one could come to being at the conference while not actually being able to attend.

In one of the several sessions where Scott found himself apologizing for the poor wireless bandwidth (that he had no control over!) that made some of the audio/video choppy, Roy Osherove officially bestowed the title of ALT.Hero on him for all his tireless efforts to ensure that people who couldn’t make the trip could still participate.  That title has also been extended to Ben Scheirman as well for doing the same and I understand that at least one other person was also streaming content over so this heroes list clearly has room to expand smile_teeth

These guys (and more that have plans to make their own recordings available after-the-fact) deserve tremendous credit for their efforts to get this content into the hands of the larger ALT.NET community that couldn’t attend this conference.

Conference Resources and Content

For more info on the event (including links to all of the recorded content, session notes, and more, visit the Conference Wiki.  Specifically for the recorded content (including the archives of the content itself if you missed it in real-time) check out the media page.

ALT.NET Speakers Bureau (ALTNETA?)

One topic in the conference I want to call special attention to is the ALT.NET Pedagogy session.  One of the things that appears to have come out of this session is the idea of gathering a laundry-list of ALT.NET speakers that can be drawn upon to participate in brown-bag lunch sessions, speaking engagements, and other occasions (organized by metropolitain region, I would assume!).  If you’re interested and have something to contribute, join the google group and ‘register’ yourself.

Over time, I’d personally love this informal effort to grow into the ALT.NET version of the INETA Speakers Bureau — nothing nearly so formal or structured (since as ALT.NETters we seem to actively eschew any structure or organization!) but more of an informal equivalent from a resource and organizing/collecting perspective.  I’m tentatively casting my vote for christening the effort the ALTNETA Speakers Bureau even though unlike with INETA those letters don’t stand for anything but we’ll see if that catches on or not smile_tongue

Anyway, if you’re at all interested in ALT.NET but missed the Seattle conference (either in person or via or twitter) you’re encouraged to check out the link and resources I’ve mentioned here.

Oh, and I’m sad to say that my unexpected ‘attending’ of the ALT.NET Seattle 2009 conference (even if I never actually left my house) has in fact delayed my wrapping up the next Autumn of Agile installment, so that’s not going to be complete now for another few days into next week~!  Sorry smile_embaressed