Learning patterns/Setting up a two-day, two-track conference online
What problem does this solve?
Every year, Wikimedia Ukraine holds a conference for Wikimedians from Ukraine. When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we obviously had to move it online. We knew we had to make the conference shorter because it’s generally more difficult for people to concentrate for long periods of time during online events — but we did not want to cut its length too dramatically. Thus, we looked for a technical solution to hold a two-day, two-tracks online conference — which we eventually held in early December 2020, attracting around 80 participants.
What is the solution?
After having tested several programs (Google Meet, Microsoft Teams, Remo, and Zoom), the solution we chose was holding the conference on Zoom, while streaming most sessions to Wikimedia Ukraine’s YouTube channel. Each day, we had two separate Zoom meetings on two Zoom accounts and two YouTube streams, one for each track (here's an example for day #1, track #1).
A minority of sessions — those that required greater privacy — were deliberately not streamed to YouTube.
Prerequisites for this solution include having a paid Zoom plan and a YouTube channel that is set up to allow streaming video. A good instruction on how to set up streaming via Zoom can be found here.
Benefits of this approach
- Recordings are available automatically on YouTube
As the stream progresses, YouTube automatically saves a recording and makes it available immediately. One participant noted the convenience of being able to listen to missed sessions at a 2x speed to catch up after having overslept the beginning
- Participants can (try to) listen to two tracks simultaneously
You cannot be in two rooms at the same time during an offline conference, but you can keep an eye on two sessions on Zoom and YouTube simultaneously — or even try and actually listen to both at the same time.
- Combination of platforms alleviates security concerns
Although Zoom appears to be largely a safe platform unless you are discussing state secrets, we’ve seen some community members have security concerns about using it. Some others don’t like Zoom because of negative experience with downloading it. We still decided to use Zoom as a main platform because it combined easiness of use with richness of technical functionality. However, simultaneous streaming to YouTube allowed participants to have an alternative option and skip using Zoom if they chose so.
Survey question: Are you satisfied with Zoom+YouTube as Wikiconference 2020 platforms?
Limitations of this approach
- It is not free of charge
To hold two tracks simultaneously on Zoom and stream them simultaneously on YouTube, we purchased two monthly “Pro” Zoom plans, which cost $15 per account ($30 overall). It’s a fraction of the cost of an offline conference (and the low price might actually be considered a benefit), but still it is not for free.
- Running two simultaneous tracks is demanding
At the beginning of the first conference day, we had a technical glitch. As a result, one event from Track #2 was streamed to the Track #1 YouTube video, while the simultaneous Track #1 session was not streamed at all.
We quickly fixed the problem, and it did not happen again, but this case shows the technical difficulty of trying to coordinate two simultaneous tracks on two online platforms.
To address this problem, it’s important to test technology in advance and make practice runs. Although it might not catch all technical glitches (at least in our case), it does considerably reduce their scope and frequency.
- There are two separate chats
When the event is streamed to YouTube, the stream chat is not synchronized with the Zoom chat, it’s a completely different chat. As a result, (a bit) more work is required from the moderator who is expected to monitor the chat to address questions and comments. Although it doesn’t appear to be a problem, monitoring two different chats does require some additional concentration and time commitment. Also, when there are two different chats, some participants might not see interesting comments from another platform (unless the moderator brings them up).
- Quality of streamed video suffers slightly from a watermark
In the cheapest Zoom plan, the program adds a watermark to the video streamed on YouTube. While it’s not a major problem, it does worsen the quality of video a bit, and it should be considered while preparing slides. (Purchasing a more expensive plan would allow us to remove this problem; we decided to save the money, though).