We had an interesting Thursday/Friday last week. For those who don’t know, our product Twitterface has come out of beta and is now a paid product. Pricing is still being finalized. We have a new feature that allows video on the page, as you can see by clicking the image, and the Like Minds conference held Friday in Exeter, UK was kind enough to partner with us on our first ever debut of this offering, to show their event live online while it happened in Exeter.
What we learned, was more than we bargained for. Things blew up. We had to make adjustments, there were issues and confusion. And of course, all of it happened in front of everyone watching… talk about exposing yourself! It’s a bit nerve-wracking to do these experiments in the social space where things could go horribly wrong and people may jump all over you about it. But it gave us so much real experience, and mostly worked well, so I am thankful we are offering this now. I wanted to recap what was going on behind the scenes of this fantastic conference and tell you what we’re doing to make these events better in the future.
The Twitterface page for Like Minds had the aim of using an assortment of services, and whenever you combine technologies, mayhem often ensues before you get it totally right. Our goals were:
- Live Streaming of the Conference
- Watching Real-Time Conference Conversations
- Tweeting from the Page
- Links to Conference Information
- Delivering Live Blog Feeds
- Providing an Online Experience that Extended the Live Experience
Our partner and developer Joe Taylor did an amazing job of coding the video feature for Twitterface pages so that it’s easy for someone to embed a video on the page. It is super-easy to use the embed code from Ustream, YouTube or anywhere you have embed code offered and put it on the video page. It’s not as flexible as it hopefully will be in the future though – the pane that shows up beneath the video, does not automatically adjust to fit the video width, so we need to work on that. However, we can adjust that pane width after the chosen video (or service you will use) is added, to make the page look more polished. So that’s a minor inconvenience for now. Overall, I was thrilled with how adding a video and changing video codes work.
Watching Real-Time Conversations
A lot of people like to read and watch conversations without joining in, or they like to hop in and participate. We wanted this to be easy and so we added an auto-refreshing of the panes feature to Twitterface a few weeks ago. In reality, something we did not anticipate was our product producing api overage errors. We are going to have to work with Twitter to see what we can do about that. When an unknown number of people are hitting the page, and panes are refreshing every 20 seconds (or longer) it caused our limits to be hit quickly. I didn’t really know we had limits, as Twitterface is a whitelisted product, so to see this happen as the conference opened, at 4 am our time (Joe and I were up to make sure all went smoothly) nearly caused us a heart attack. What was frustrating is that we had tested this on Twitter the night before and this never happened – of course, there weren’t as many people hitting the page. Doh! We figured out that having a profile name up, instead of searches, would give tweets and not api errors so everytime we saw the api errors happening, we switched to a profile name. We’d like to thank @thebrandbuilder and @adders for being such great live tweeters as they saved our necks because we put their profiles on and still had some coverage.
Tweeting from the Page
Our product has its own login (it does not use oauth) and is meant for one person to use, like your Twitter account on the web works. But we wanted people to be able to send tweets from this page without having to leave it, and we wanted it to be secure as possible and use Twitter’s oauth mechanism. So hooking that up, in conjunction with our tool being architected like it is, was a hurdle we had to get over. With the help of our developer Tom Jenkins, who now has a dayjob but graciously did work for us in his spare time on this, we managed to get a working oauth widget on the page, and though it had a few display bugs (the page had to be refreshed if the widget box didn’t work right) it worked and you could tweet from the page.
Links to Conference Information
One of the initial features of Twitterface was links to real sites in the footer, to make navigating to other places easy. The conference organizers added their schedule, a link to ways to participate, a link to add photos to a Flickr pool and links to their sites at the bottom of the page, and we used that Schedule link constantly to adjust the page settings… we put the speaker’s name beneath the video as they were about to speak and changed that pane when they went to lunch to keep people in the loop about what was going on in Exeter.
Delivering Live Blog Feeds
Like Minds had two official live bloggers using a service called CoveritLive to do real-time coverage of the day. Our dream was to drive these feeds, since they had an RSS feed, into the page but we needed a way to do it. The awesome @dlvrit service saw my pleas for help on Twitter and gave us the PERFECT solution. I was so happy. Unfortunately, you can’t test CoveritLive without them going live, so what we did not know was that our solution was not going to work. Until we were Live and in front of thousands of people, of course. The RSS feed produced only some sort of timestamp, not actual coverage, so later in the day we discovered @adders was blogging live, and tweeting also about his live posts, and so we switched to his tweets and it helped so much. We love http://dlvr.it and will work with them in the future on live event feeds though – they supported us above and beyond what we anticipated and their tool is excellent.
Providing an Online Experience
Despite all the technical problems and glitches, one thing we seemed to actually deliver on was providing a great online experience for virtual attendees. This is important, because Like Minds and we at Fresh ID want to come up with ways to do paid attendance to certain events in the future. So a good experience is very key to this working at all. Throughout the day, attendees watching the Twitterface page seemed to have good things to say about it – like they felt like they were in Exeter, that they loved watching it online, that it was so good to be able to watch it live they felt they could cry. In reality, you can go to Ustream and watch a live event. And of course you can set up hashtags and things in your own Twitter client and keep an eye on things that way. But what we wanted to create was an extension of the Live Event, and that means branding. That means attention to detail, and focused conversations, and cutting out the noise. So I think what worked for people, and the reason we’ve created the product, is that they were attending a branded experience online, because they couldn’t be at the real event in person, and they felt the connection because it was planned, branded and constantly monitored to ensure a smooth experience and really, the best one we could give them despite technical issues that gave the Fresh ID team headaches all day long.
So, the net result of the day was pretty positive, both at the event, and on Twitter from what we could tell. Here are some things we’ve learned, that will affect our product offering and future events:
- Events must be monitored every single minute, by someone. I got up at 4 am because in the UK they were going to start around 10 am. Joe had stayed up – it was 2 am his time in California, and thank goodness we did get up/stay up because the api limit issue would have made this page unusable had we not started making changes to refresh times and adjusting pane settings to not display the error when it happened. The opening of Like Minds was smooth and fun there it seemed, but it was a nightmare for us and drove home the continual monitoring issue, which we had not planned for. I’d had two hours sleep because of getting the page finished Thursday night, so though I didn’t plan to stay up, it wasn’t optional. My team was also not around – Joe eventually went to bed and Lisa and Matt were en route to meetings and the office. So during their lunch, I got ready very quickly and drove to my office to continue monitoring until Matt got there, and then he took over the rest of the day. We will be offering this as a service to companies who need it, but people who do not hire us to do this DEFINITELY need to plan to have a person attending the page and making constant adjustments to keep things flowing.
- One of the things Like Minds did to us was use video from two different ustream channels, which I sort of figured out on my own. LOL! We did not have a member of their web team on a phone speed dial or even Twitter. I mostly worked with Scott Gould to set this up, one of the founders and event organizers, and I didn’t want to bother him because I knew he was busy at the event. Fortunately, I happened to notice he had streamed from both a LikeMinds and a ScottGould ustream channel, so if one went off-air we checked the other to make sure we weren’t missing something. But we needed communication with a member of the tech team there – it would have helped us know what was going on and when they were going to stream or not stream.
- We have to talk to Twitter directly about these api issues, and we’ve never worked with them directly. Fortunately for me, I am making that Lisa’s job. Haha! I hope we can get that improved, but if not, we know how to get around it during an event.
- The official hashtag for Like Minds is @wearelikeminds, but no one tweeted from it all day and we needed it when we had to switch from a search to profile views only because of api issues. I really recommend that you assign someone to tweet from the official account – even if you have to ask a participant to do it and hand over the login temporarily. For people wondering what is going on, that would make a big difference and it would have solved some of our problems doing this live offering also.
- The presentations could not be viewed behind the presenter, but with some adjustments they could have been. We are going to design a combo video/slideshare page I think, but it would have been very nice if the presentation had been dropped down behind the presenter (almost even with his feet) so online viewers could see the slides and hear the person talk at the same time – in fact, that would totally rock!
- Organizing the remote event team, with the team on the ground, for fast communication via skype or twitter makes sense. We will make sure to do this in the future. I actually think it helps for the remote monitoring team NOT to be at the event, to minimize distractions. It is too easy to have to put out fires at the event and lose track of monitoring this page – for us, our sole job was to watch the page, fix issues and keep things flowing online, and we were not hit up with other issues that took focus off of that task by being in the building where it was happening.
- When Like Minds broke for lunch, there was no Ustream feed for at least an hour and a half. I think we lost some online viewers then. I know that in the future Scott wants to enable video at the lunchtime talk sessions – that would have helped, or even having an event take place on stage (maybe one of the lunches is done there) would have helped not break the momentum of online viewing. I loved the lunch idea though – they had numerous mini-sessions over lunch at different restaurants around the city! Such a cool idea. Attendees got to choose the type of food, speaker and type of conversation they wanted to have.
- One of the things I noticed, was that this conference WAS very pleasant to attend online. When I got up at 4 am I was still in bed. So here I was in my jammies, comfortably propped up on pillows in the dark, while everyone in England was looking dapper and had makeup on and their hair done. Yet I was learning the same cool information they were – it was REALLY pleasant! And watching the tweets from people actually there, plus being able to tweet without leaving the page was very nice. This is an experience I would want to repeat at tons of other events… not just conferences, but musical events or education of some type – it really did work like I envisioned it, aside from our little issues (which we will find a way to make better!)
We were very pleased with the analytics behind spreading the word about the event Twitterface page. One thing we did at the 11th hour was a press release, informing folks that this would be a live event online. We definitely want to do that earlier than midnight before the event, next time. LOL! Because that press release was picked up by numerous sources – Lisa has the exact count. We’ve had over half a million potential tweet impressions of the twitterface.com/likeminds2010 link, and 75o of the aggregated bit.ly link for that url, and it was mentioned online in blogs, on Twitter and on Facebook in more conversations that I don’t have a number count for. We had over 660 people watching the page it seems, from Google Analytics. That number is important, because only 300 people or so could attend the actual event in Exeter before it was sold out (and it was sold out.) So they increased attendance twice over in online attendees – pretty cool!!
I want to thank all of the people on Twitter who helped us test this page with a live ustream video of race cars in the wee hours Thursday night. I wish I could give you all a present – you helped us so much and we’re very grateful you took the time to test the tweeting and video watching for us.
We have had many inquiries about doing this for other events, including SXSW which is coming up soon. Contact us and let’s talk about hooking this up for your event! We’d love to keep experimenting with what we’re doing and perfect the kinks in the process.
In the coming days we’ll be hearing from someone who attended the event virtually (@brandguardian is writing a blog post) and I am eager to hear what others thought, so if you watched our Twitterface page during the event Friday and want to share your experience, please let us know in the comments!