Evolving The Virtual Event Group Chat

February 26, 2010

Excerpt of LinkedIn Discussion ("Virtual Events Forum")

For me, the best content in LinkedIn is found in Discussion threads in LinkedIn Groups to which I belong.  Why is the content so good?

  1. It has a precise focus that’s aligned with the charter or focus area of the group
  2. It’s based around timely topics (i.e. what group members are currently interested in discussing)
  3. It’s interactive with a loopback mechanism – there’s a dialog that unfolds – someone making a wild claim will be called on it and will need to return to the discussion to justify the claim (or, lose credibility by remaining silent)
  4. It’s the best form of “user generated content” – from subject matter experts and hands-on practitioners

As such, some content in LinkedIn Discussions can prove to be more useful and valuable than comparable content in related industry publications and web sites.  The LinkedIn Discussion thread is a great example of the “wisdom of the crowds” surpassing the knowledge of a handful of individuals.

Virtual Event Group Chat

While allowing for the fact that a portion of virtual event group chat is logistics-related (e.g. “I don’t hear the audio on the Live Webcast”), chat content related to the event’s theme (topic) comprises some of the most useful and compelling content in the entire event.  Why is that?  It’s for all the same reasons I list (above) for the LinkedIn discussion.

The challenge in leveraging an event’s group chat, however, is this:

If I’m not actively monitoring the group chat, how do I participate?

In my mind, the virtual event group chat needs to evolve to better serve attendees.

Group Chat Threading

Attendees may visit a group chat area (e.g. Networking Lounge), with an interest to discuss numerous topics (see example with LinkedIn Discussion topics, above).  In an unstructured group chat, the introductory chat message (to start the discussion) is likely to be “interrupted” with other, unrelated messages.  The result is some “scattering” of the chat content, with the possibility that a meaningful discussion (on the original topic) never happens.

Today’s “Wild, Wild West” of group chat needs to become threaded – the group chat’s user interface needs to allow participants to denote which message(s) they are commenting on – with the resulting “chat window” nesting (or otherwise grouping) messages within the same thread.  Additionally, the chat system should auto-populate information on which user one is responding to.  This way, participants no longer need to preface their comment with the name of the person they’re responding to.

A wealth of additional features become possible once this sort of threading feature is enabled.

Embraces and extends chat topics

I submit a chat message, asking if folks are interested in “Topic X”.  If no one answers me back within the next 10 minutes, that chat topic is dead.  Threaded chat, however, allows attendees to bring topics back from the dead.  If a visitor enters three hours later and decides to reply to my original message, that section of “threaded chat” can be moved to the “current timeline” in the group chat area – much in the same way a comment on a friend’s Facebook posting moves the original posting “up” in your News Feed.

Real-Time Search!

If I’m not able to dedicate the time to visit and monitor a group chat area, the next best thing would be a virtual event search function that provides real-time (or near-real-time) indexing of the group chat content.  Imagine the following capabilities:

  1. Exhibitor: perform searches on my company name – allows me to determine whether I need to enter the group chat to repsond
  2. Attendee: perform searches on topics that interest me – and be able to see the entire discussion thread on that topic
  3. Attendee: search on other attendees in my Buddy List – show me chat comments posted by my buddies
  4. Attendee: search discussion threads for comments posted subsequent to my own comments

Content Re-Use

For a B2B publisher – and, for some corporations – the content of selected discussion threads could be re-used and posted on the web as original (or, semi-original) content.  B2B sites often publish “how to guides” and best practices articles – discussion thread content (with the “right” mix of contributors) can be re-published on the web – or, used as the basis for a more in-depth article.

Conclusion

With group chat being one of the most valuable components of a virtual event, its features should evolve to better leverage the “wisdom of the crowds”.

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