More Access for Some, Less for Others
One of the positive benefits of online conferences is that the events are more accessible to folks who couldn't otherwise attend (because of money, time, travel restrictions, and so on). In addition to "combating the climate impact of conference travel", "access" is one of the big reasons I am excited about the impact of online events. Our last-minute change to online for IEEE VR 2020 in March resulted in significantly improved access (more people registered, from more countries, and with a more balanced gender distribution).
So while more people, with more varied backgrounds, are able to attend online events, I've been noticing a depressing trend over the last few months: the diversity of presenters appears to be worse. I don't know if this is true for all fields, but in the AR/VR/XR field, I've been seeing the same faces headlining events (be they professional or academic), and I find it depressing. It's not really that I don't want to hear what these folks have to say, it's that I'd like to hear from more people, not less!
I'm not going to call out any specific people here, the point is not to name-and-shame these people. Rather, I'd like conference organizers to resist the temptation to go after the same set of famous folks, even if they are now available.
When events were physical, the "famous" people didn't have the time or energy (or motivation) to speak at huge numbers of events; without access to "the biggest of the bigwigs" to speak, conferences necessarily reached out to a broader set of speakers, often pulling less-well-known and local folks into the mix.
But now, when speaking at an event only requires half a day of your time, anyone can accept a lot more invites (or so it seems). So more conferences can have big-name speakers, cutting off the opportunities for less-well-known folks to share their work, thoughts, and insights.
Which results in less access (to speaking opportunities) for some of the people who we need to hear from the most! Lets be mindful, and avoid this negative outcome.