A year or so ago, Kyle Johnsen asked me to co-chair VR 2020 with him, Ed Swan, and Kiyoshi Kiyokawa. I agreed, on the condition we would have some sort of significant online component, aimed at making progress toward the goal of allowing people to attend academic conferences without having to travel. I'd been increasingly interested in rethinking 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).
Fast forward a year. Over the past year I've run (or helped run) some small experiments using Mozilla's Hubs system, setting up space for folks to watch the live streams from VR 2019 and CHI 2019, leading to a more full-fledged experiment at UIST 2019 (see my colleague Jessica Outlaw's writeup, and the paper we'll be presenting at the Virtual Conferencing Workshop at VR2020). And we were preparing to run an even bigger experiment at IEEE VR2020, complete with our own custom installation of the Hubs platform at hubs.ieeevr.online. We had a few dozen people sign up to volunteer, and about 150 people expressing early interest in attending.
The setup would have been pretty simple: a collection of hubs rooms set up to view the three streams from VR2020's parallel sessions (that were being recorded and streamed to Twitch), and a Slack to let local and remote attendees chat if they wanted.
And then Covid-19 happened.
Last week, we replanned and rebudgeted and ran a new plan past IEEE, IEEE Computer Society and IEEE VGTC: move the entire conference into the system we'd been creating for the online experience. We didn't see any other choice, as more and more attendees couldn't come for various reasons (because of where they lived, or company policy, health concerns, or caution), and the coronavirus began to spread in the US.
And so here we are. As I've said to a few people this past week, "Be careful what you ask for."
I'll share more about how we are handling things in subsequent posts. Suffice to say, with the physical event no longer happening, our "architecture diagram" looks more like this:
Things are a lot more complex, but we are working through the details. Most folks seem to be onboard, and quite a few are excited to see how it unfolds.
Look for me in the Hubs rooms, although I'll have a different shirt for this conference!