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Virtual Howard Rheingold underwhelms audience at Vidweek 2010

The organizers failed to mention that the keynote speaker, Howard Rheingold, (vaguely pictured above) would appear virtually.

You may not have noticed but this past week was Vidweek 2010 in Vancouver.

Vidweek 2010 is short for Vancouver International Digital Week, and it’s an event put on by the Digital Media + Wireless Association of BC (also known as DigiBC), which includes Electronic Arts, Disney Interactive, Rainmaker Entertainment, Nokia Vancouver and Sierra Wireless as members.
Vidweek is actually an amalgam of several smaller events, including CONVERGENCE, the Pacific Northwest Wireless Summit, WIP Jam, Vancouver Enterprise Forum, Digital Kung Fu (“a crash course in digital martial arts!” according to the programme), and PechaKucha, which is a chance for young designers to show off their work, with each designer given 20 seconds to show off 20 slides. The Vidweek website can be found at

As with all such conferences, there were panel discussions, keynote speeches, gallons of coffee, headache-inducing PowerPoint slides, mountains of breakfast pastries and lots of opportunities for networking. Here’s what I got out of the four-day conference:

1. Some advice for conference organizers:

  • If your keynote speaker is not physically present in the hall but is appearing “virtually” over the internet, you should let your audience know about it ahead of time. If you advertise your keynoter as Howard Rheingold (Stanford University professor and author of the 2002 book Smart Mobs), the assumption is that Rheingold will be there in person. Finding out that you’ll be watching a virtual Rheingold on a large screen is a bit of a letdown.

A virtual Howard Rheingold underwhelms the audience on the first day of Vidweek 2010.

  • Try to make sure your technology works, especially if it’s a tech conference. Rheingold gave his talk using a Vancouver-developed technology called Mingleverse. Glad to see them using local technology, but there were some unfortunate glitches. For the first 10 minutes of Rheingold’s presentation we stared at an avatar while Rheingold’s voice came out of the speakers. Then he realized he had forgotten to turn his camera on and in place of the avatar, we were able to look at Rheingold’s grainy webcam image. Other difficulties included Powerpoint slides that coyly refused to show themselves in the “Mingleroom” and a “they seek him here, they seek him there” Rheingold who twice disappeared from the screen during the question and answer session. Rheingold’s talk was also disappointing. The programme promised an address on “The Future of Communications and Collaboration in a Convergent World,” but what he gave us was a sketchy history of communications technology followed by an extremely irrelevant and incomprehensible argument between Rheingold and someone in the audience over a minor point in that history.

2. Statistical Overload

  • 1 billion people see a Google page every day
  • 55 percent of people online are women
  • social media users are more positive about brands than non-users -- 35% of them believe companies are genuinely interested in them
  • there are 5 billion mobile phones in the world, compared to 1 billion personal computers and 1.1 billion televisions
  • 75 percent of Canadians have mobile phones
  • Canadians send 100 million text messages every day
  • by the year 2014, more people will access the web from their phones than from their PCs
  • 2.7 million Nintendo Wiis have been sold in Canada
  • the average Blackberry user looks at their phone 67 times per day

These were some of the statistics that were bandied about by keynote speakers such as Marc Gobé (“the pioneer of emotional branding”), Bernard Lord (president of the Candian Wireless & Telecommunications Association) and various panelists. It’s hard to check up on these stats or put them into context, but they sure sound impressive when they zoom up at you in large type on a giant PowerPoint screen.

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