Bring the world to your event

Union Square Ventures hosted an event called Hacking Education that sparked conversations far beyond the day of the event, and did so in a way where we gave up control of the conversation and allowed it to spread. Steven Johnson recently wrote his thoughts about how Twitter will change the way we live, and within that article explained the process by which we shared our small event with anyone who was interested, and explained its impact:

Injecting Twitter into that conversation fundamentally changed the rules of engagement. It added a second layer of discussion and brought a wider audience into what would have been a private exchange. And it gave the event an afterlife on the Web. Yes, it was built entirely out of 140-character messages, but the sum total of those tweets added up to something truly substantive, like a suspension bridge made of pebbles.

I wanted to take the time to explain exactly how that was done and some of the thinking around it.

Leading up to the event we debated internally about what to project up on the screen. Albert was going to curate the conversation throughout the day and had a few visual references and videos that he wanted to show, but a question remained of what to put up the rest of the time. The day before the event we settled on a Twitter search stream hoping that our audience would contribute to this “back channel”. Not everyone is willing to jump into a conversation, especially in front of a large group – and this provided an easy way to react, agree or even disagree with someone simply by sending a message for all to see.

Early in the morning we put up a message explaining that any update using the hash tag “#hackedu” would appear on screen.

The first few tweets trickled in, mostly recapping great points, or synthesizing great thoughts for the outside world to see. Soon questions and retorts began to appear on screen, but none broke the flow of conversation. As Stephen alluded to in his article, many folks from outside the room were following, answering back, and participating in the room as their messages were being seen by all participants.

Below is example of how it looked


From our Hacking Education photoset

To get this accomplished we setup a laptop connected to a projector and broadcast the standard page with one slight adjustment. The standard search page does not update in real time and rather then clicking “refresh” every few minutes we needed to find a real time solution. Thankfully, someone had already created this solution in the form of a greasemonkey Firefox script. After loading up the page, confirming the auto-refresh was in place, we simply began sending the hash tag #hackedu into the system and the rest is now online forever.

Steps to setup real time Twitter conversations to your event:

1. Agree on a hash tag to use for the duration of the event (in our case #hackedu was short, descriptive, and easy to remember)
2. Have a laptop with an Internet connection projecting onto a wall or screen
3. Use Firefox and install the add-on called greasemonkey
4. Once greasemonkey is installed grab the Twitter search auto refresh script (or something similar)

You can continue to see and even join the conversation today simply by searching for #hackedu