27 June 2012

Virtual In-person Collaboration with Hackpad

Filed under Articles, Project Updates |

So I recently learned about what I thought was simply another EtherPad clone. We used it in Moldova for the hackathon, at the World Bank for the Development Data Challenge, and most fully this week at the Open Source Summit. Here is what I learned from that experience.

First, I discovered that hackpad has gone a ways past etherpad and created something unique and useful in new ways. They were kind enough to provide a unique url for our event (http://ossdc.hackpad.com/), where you can see what we did – and follow along if you’d like. This main hackpad was the central point for participant information during the event, so we didn’t need to print anything, and it also enabled us to do several fun and innovative things with the format.

The Format

The event was a combination of amazing speakers and “Deep Discussion” break out sessions designed to ensure that participants walked away with tangibly useful information that they could put to work directly when they got back to the office. Here is a brief overview of the agenda items, with areas delineated that hackpad made possible:

  • Introduction
  • Keynote speaker
  • Structured networking
    • HACKPAD! During the intro and keynote speaker, participants added their topics of interest into the schedule, each next to a number that corresponded to numbers on the wall around the room. During this period, they were welcome to wander from one number (topic) to the next and meet other people that had the same interests.
  • Speakers – there were 3 periods where a group of 4 or 5 speakers each gave a 6 minute talk.
  • Deep Discussions
    • HACKPAD! Each speaker was assigned a room and time slot following their speech. In addition, participants could suggest other topics for discussion if they preferred. All of this information was captured in hackpad and changed live and in real time by the participants and the organizers. The discussions were engaging and even the speakers said that they had learned things during the event.
  • Everything Else
    • HACKPAD! This section of the event was closest to a traditional unconference except that we didn’t create a paper board – we used hackpad! The entire agenda for this afternoon’s discussions were proposed by participants. Each was responsible for adding their content into the hackpad, and then making a public (short) announcement to the rest of the group about their topic. Once this was done, they all headed off to engage in serious and intense conversations about a diversity of topics.
  • Information collecting
    • HACKPAD! In addition, the hackpad was used for collecting notes that were collaboratively created by the participants during the event, as well as crowdsourcing lists of relevant communities and resources that other participants should know about.

All in all, hackpad made the process very easy and we had no difficulties with the technology. While we only had about 70 people editing simultaneously, hackpad allows up to 150. This ensured that no one ever got locked out. In addition, the real time nature of adding information during a live event allowed us to create a virtual unconference board that all participants had immediate access to through their computers, smartphones, and ipads.

Lessons Learned

  1. Very few people took advantage of the ability to schedule a session at the same time as the speakers were doing sessions. While this was useful for those that did, there simply wasn’t enough energy around the possibility of doing so for people to really leverage the opportunity. I think one solution for this is to allow session proposers to announce their sessions to the assembled crowd.
  2. A potential danger with allowing anyone to propose sessions during speaker sessions is keeping them topical. Perhaps this means that proposed sessions during this time need to be approved by the facilitator – just a thought.
  3. If you don’t have a physical unconference board, you still need to get people up and moving around to announce their sessions. Without this, you don’t generate the excitement and comfort level in the room that enables anyone to take ownership of the event and ask the questions they really need answers to.
  4. For a full unconference, this could work very well with the virtual unconference board (hackpad) projected on the wall as people announce their sessions.
  5. Finally, people who show up without the appropriate technology (smartphone – not all of which work perfectly, iPad, or laptop) need a means to add sessions and see what else has been proposed. Projecting the hackpad on the wall is one way to do this, but it would be useful to have a couple of free computers/people who are willing to help the less-tech savvy propose sessions and see what is on the live schedule (on hackpad).

All in all, some really successful and exciting stuff. If you haven’t, check out their Hackpad Feature Help page to see some of the cool functionality they’ve added in.

Oh yeah! I suppose it bears mentioning that this is a free product, with a professional version (that I don’t think is out yet) for private and corporate use.

One Reply to Virtual In-person Collaboration with Hackpad

  1. Pingback: Hackpad as live conference schedule | The Official Hackpad Blog

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