Like Tom Johnson I’m happy to embrace the recording and re-broadcasting of the STC Summit this year. To me, this makes the STC Summit much more like SXSWi where you go for the people instead of just the programming. My hope is that instead of being concerned with missing certain sessions, I can use my time in Atlanta to fill in the conversations I have on social networks (blog comments and Twitter) with real-time conversations and networking.
Content capture and release
I’m both professionally and personally curious about how or if this move affects attendance at the Society for Technical Communication annual conference. I’ve asked around at work (remember that I’m an association techie geek, or at least I work with some real association pros) about some of the trends in the association marketplace.
Update: I spoke to Lloyd Tucker this morning and got additional details about STC’s plans for the recordings. We geeked out about association management technology for a while and it was great. I should have practiced better citizen journalism and talked to him yesterday, and then published this post, so I apologize for the interruption in the post, but I’ll summarize some of the details here. The questions are in bold:
What’s the copyright or licensing agreement for the recorded content? The speaker agreement, which will be sent to all speakers, states that the speaker grants STC rights to a royalty-free license of the presentation. In exchange for presenting, speakers get full or partial registration compensation (depending on whether you are the sole presenter of a session). The speaker retains copyright of the presentation (slides and audio) and the speaker can use the material however they like. Now, because the synchronized slides/audio recording is on a website and can only be viewed there behind password protection, a speaker can’t download and redistrubute a synchronized recording, but speakers can download an MP3 recording of their session and give that away with their slideshow if they choose to. See next my question.
Are the recordings proprietary formats only or can people get MP3s to load onto portable devices? With a password to the recordings, you have the option to download any presentation as audio and take it with you to the gym or in your car, or if you are a speaker and hold the copyright to the content, you can upload it to your blog or website. You can also download a PDF of the slides from the password protected site, so you have the makings of portability of the content.
Is there any “right of refusal” built in if someone doesn’t want to be recorded for any reason (or certain reasons)? Lloyd really wants everyone to participate in the recordings, but would consider individual cases with special needs. If you don’t want to use the pre-configured capture laptop they’ll supply, you can install the recording software on your laptop. The recorder records everything displayed on the screen. There are certainly sessions that won’t be recorded because they are progressions or otherwise not a good match for recording. They do plan to have audience mics in some rooms to record audience questions, although speakers should also repeat the questions.
How can STC afford this previously unaffordable technology? Last year, STC’s home grown in-house conference management system (DOS-based) broke so badly that they decided that repairing it was not an option. The budget cycle and some timely action from the board of directors aligned just right with this need for an updated conference management system. The ease and flow of the web-based proposal management process gave them an immediate efficiency boost, and they are able to publish the preliminary program earlier than ever, plus output it to multiple formats allowing them to publish in STC Intercom easier than before.
And of course, what’s the price point? This is the main question that associations have to consider carefully. Lloyd says they haven’t set a price for access to the recordings yet. The vendor doesn’t have a way to “group” recordings so that you could buy only a certain track – it’s all or nothing. Lloyd currently thinks the price for recordings for non-attendees will be comparable to the full registration price. It is a ton of recordings, when I look at the program. While I didn’t ask him specifically, he didn’t say they were considering a fee difference for members and non-members to purchase access. He’s not sure if there will be a different pricing structure for individuals and groups (the scenario Mike gives in the comments). In case you were wondering, for the most part, associations haven’t found that offering recordings causes conference attendance to decline. Lloyd also said that he hasn’t thought of directly comparing proceedings to this new recording offering – because proceedings are usually either articles or academic papers, more of an archive or record of presentations, and the article may or may not reflect all the content of a session. I’d say it’s generally tough for STC to find pricing “comps” for their relative size. I did mention that I have to budget for about $950 to be there even with a compensated registration, so if one could buy the recordings for 15-25% off of the registration fee, it could be worth it even for a single working tech writer.
End of the update! Thanks for reading.
Associations vary greatly in their membership guidelines, open or closed stances on sharing content, and in how they pay their bills to keep offering member servies (non-dues revenue is a big part of this equation.) In STC’s case, the tool they will be using is Live Learning Center to record all presentations and serve up the descriptions – the preliminary program is available online already. I’m presenting two sessions: Documentation with Wikis, Blogs, and Online Communities with Janet Swisher and another one about collaboration techniques where I’m still toying around with a title, description, and outline.
Overall, I’m really pleased they’ll be recording sessions (audio and screen only, not video), but not sure how other associations are handling this sort of content dissemination and how well it’s working. What are good and bad outcomes from this shift towards offering asynchronous conference attendance? Here’s some of what I’ve learned.
Do printed proceedings and audio recordings represent the same value?
Proceedings have historically been sold by professional organizations. I learned that the heart of the issue is what do you charge, and do you charge members and non-members differently? Printed proceedings are the model they seem to be using though. With the upsurge of all this community-generated content, The answer varies widely because of the different cultures that each organization embodies. And associations are finding it harder and harder to justify any additional charges.
Some of the reason for this shift in expectations are other examples that are changing the way we think about conferences and availability for viewing sessions asynchronously: namely WebStock, SXSW Interactive, and TED. Many of their speakers are compensated at greater rates than any of us would be at STC conferences. Having a recording that you can then send people to as a “portfolio piece” makes sense when you are a paid speaker. You’re glad to have others have free access to it without having to incur the expense yourself of creating a recorded portfolio piece. I know I’d prefer it if I kept copyright of the content, but I haven’t seen the contract yet to know whether STC gets a one-time broadcast “license” to the content. Then again, the trade off there is that STC would be locked into proprietary broadcasting technology (which they probably are already).
I know that WebStock offers their recordings for free, but they have a group of volunteers (looks like about five people) who offer them as a labor of love (though I’m sure love doesn’t pay the bandwidth bills). For a conference with 500 or so attendees, that method is probably the only one that makes sense from a cost persepctive. They are also allowing refusal to be recorded for any reason – and don’t even expect you to give a reason. I’m learning this interpretation from this post to the WebStock blog. Associations don’t really adhere easily to this model, although an association that had members who were willing to labor that much would be a great association indeed.
SXSW Interactive has offered recordings for years now but they are also attended by over 6000 most years (I think it’s a slow year when it’s in the 3-4k range but feel free to check my numbers) and they even have an artist doing an artistic rendition of the session (see honoriastarbuck.com). I’m not entirely sure how their cost structure works. It full well may have been done by volunteers in the early days. Heck, sched.org did their SXSWi demo for free last year and totally reaped the benefits (though they are looking for a sponsor for 2009′s SXSWi. Again, SXSW Interactive is not an association, does not have members, and is hardly comparable to an association’s annual conference.
And then there’s Technology, Entertainment, and Design – TED – I don’t know a lot about it, other than it’s 20 minute sessions and only last year opened up the recordings to the world. Their value proposition is inspiration, but they do have over 110,000 members in the community according to the website. They remain super elite and closed in the conference itself, but the content is open via video sharing. I can hardly compare a TED conference with a conference for a professional association, though, so I’ll stop with that.
There are neat examples out there of hybrid techniques, though again, not offered by an association. For example, the User Interface conference site has podcast interviews with presenters but also sells PDFs of their procedings at probably 10% of the price of the full conference. This method gives an audio experience for free, promoting speakers while still protecting the content that is specific to the conference.
How long will you be face-to-face?
I wonder how offering this audio will affect the number of days even registered attendees stay at the conference. As a mom, I know I try to keep my nights away to a minimum. Will my presentation schedule allow me to spend a few days in Atlanta and then somehow carve out time listening to sessions after my kids go to bed upon returning home? Or will I seriously make the time to close my office door, change my IM status to “watching recorded STC Summit sessions” and hunker down in front of my monitor with headphones on and attention fully watching and listening to sessions I missed?
So is the only value proposition for holding a conference the face-to-face networking? Or is there also the value of the content at the sessions themselves? For some reason, I still want to argue the case of the work-a-day technical writer who needs to learn new things as the main reason for them to go to a conference. Plenty of people use the “train a trainer” justification and send one writer on a team of ten and ask that writer to bring back all that they’ve learned at the conference and teach others. But more and more people have convinced me that you don’t need to go to a conference to learn. Having written the “Embrace the un” article and experienced firsthand the value of in-person connections, I ought to know this one by now. Yet I’m still writing justifications that seem to back different value propositions.
From my perspective, which is limited by age, experience, and the narrow working-mom window in which I live, offering audio is the right direction for STC to take. When I offer content for free on this blog, it has paid me back not monetarily, but in opportunity, connectivity, and learning I never could have gathered through other means. Will the “giveaway” of my session content at the STC Summit pay back in similar ways? I’m willing to experiment to find out. What do you think?