Experiencing Conferences Remotely: An Experiment at UIST 2019
In recent years, I've been increasingly interested in rethinking how we participate in academic conferences, for both accessibility (not everyone can travel to every conference, for all sorts of reasons) and sustainability (we need to reduce the carbon we are spewing into the atmosphere, and needless long haul flights are a big part of an researcher's carbon footprint).
In the long run, I would like to see us have synchronous multi-site conferences (so people can attend near where they live, perhaps occasionally traveling to farther sites), with robust online remote participation (so people don't need to travel, and virtual attendees can be first class participants. Imagine your favorite small conference isn't a single site of 500-1000 people, but many sites of 100-200 with 1000s or 10s of 1000s participating online.
Tl;dr: we're running an experiment in remote conference participation at UIST next week! Visit http://uist.acm.org/uist2019/online/ to learn how to participate. Here's a teaser of the research being presented at UIST this year.
I became interested in this idea back in the SecondLife era in the late 2000's, when we built an AR client for SecondLife and used it to explore AR Machinima and also Mixed Reality meetings that merged VR attendees with those in an instrumented conference room using AR HMDs, wall-sized portals, and see-through whiteboards. The problems with SecondLife (and the difficulty of keeping our AR client running) led me in different directions, although others continued to experiment using an open backend with the SL client (including the UIST closing keynote, Cristina Lopes, who will talk about online conferences).
Over the past few years at Mozilla, the Hubs social VR platform (combined with new AR and VR displays) has rekindled the ideas I had back then, and pointed a way to making pervasive online social experiences for work practical. I did some small, informal tests of remote co-watching of conference video streams at VR 2019 and CHI 2019, and believe we're ready to try something more substantial.
Remote Participation in UIST 2019
Which brings me to the present. Next week, I'm helping ACM UIST 2019 host online experiences for people who cannot travel to the conference in New Orleans. My group at Georgia Tech are running this as an experiment (with Jessica Outlaw at Concordia in Portland) to understand how future conferences might add meaningful remote experiences for people who can’t physically attend the conference.
As many conferences now do, UIST will be live streaming video (onto Twitch) of the technical paper sessions and keynotes. Taking advantage of these streams, we will be hosting social 3D/VR spaces for remote participants to co-watch the talks with others. We will also use these online social spaces to host a virtual poster session (for a subset of the posters whose non-attending co-authors can attend and present remotely).
More information about these activities, URLs for the twitch streams, and links to sign up to take part in the remote social experiences, can be found on the UIST 2019 website "Online" page
If you are interested in trying out the remote experience, please sign up soon! We will be happy to show people around and help with any technical problems you might encounter, before the conference begins.
For those who are interested, here are some additional details on the remote experience.
The remote virtual experiences will be run using Mozilla’s Hubs social VR platform. Hubs is unique in that it is entirely browser based, and users can join from any browser, both on 2D screens and in VR displays. (Please visit the Hubs website to explore it, if you are curious, but note that Hubs is designed to be private-by-default, so there are no lobbies or rooms to join with others. To share an experience, you would create a room and share the URL with others. The Hubs community discord server, linked off the Hubs website, is a good place to meet others who use Hubs, and learn more about it.)
We will be using Discord for online chat, and as the authentication system for the Hubs spaces. Discord is similar to slack, but (unlike Slack) you use one Discord account for all discord servers you join. If you have not used Discord, visit discordapp.com to create your free account.