To Liveblog or Not to Liveblog: That is the Question

Now that I’ve had some time since the Enterprise 2.0 conference, I want to reflect a bit on the experience of liveblogging directly from the conference. I have a feeling this is going to be a lengthy post, so if you’ve no interest in liveblogging pros and cons, you’ve been warned.

(Quick Summary: there’s more value in more commentary and analysis, less in transcription).

My own liveblogging from Enterprise 2.0 was inspired by many useful liveblogs I’ve read from events – especially David Wienberger (who is able to liveblog while participating as a panelist and chatting on backchannel IRC). Noting the presence of power strips in the seating areas and a working, stable wifi network (as opposed to SXSW), it just made sense to me to share the notes I was taking.

But then a comment by Andrew McAfee made me think more critically after the fact than I had at the time.

McAfee notes:

Finally, I used to think that short talks at conferences were low-pressure events, since they’d be heard by relatively few people and remembered by even fewer. A quick Google blog search, however, brings up about 30 blog posts commenting on my keynote. These will persist unless their posters take them down, and will add to the Internet’s record of my work. This is more than a bit scary for me as a speaker, but for me as a conference attendee this is great news; it means that the overall quality of talks will go up. No one wants to be examined from that many angles and found lacking.

(Just FYI – McAfee’s keynote is also freely available online in video from Altus – to me that would be even scarrier than the blogger’s reaction).

This got me to thinking, about liveblogging in particular, and asking a number of questions I probably should have thought more about a few weeks back:

  • What’s the proper etiquette for liveblogging, other than sitting in the back and typing as quietly as possible?
  • Does one need permission to liveblog a conference keynote? What about a conference panel session?
  • Would that be permission from the speaker(s)? the conference organizer(s)? both?
  • What’s the difference between blogging about an event – summaries, excerpts, and commentary – and liveblogging an event? Is it just the time difference, or the percentage of the event covered?
  • Does liveblogging get in the way of more substantive commentary?

First, a bit of background on some of the controversies about Liveblogging. I can’t claim to have seen all the various threads on the topics, but here are some highlights.

Shel Israel, co-author of Naked Conversations, liveblogged at the New Communications Forum March 08 of 2007: New Comm Forum–Winner & Sinners.

Steve Crecenzo, seeing Shel’s post, reacted by posting in the comments:

You know, I would rate the lunch panel as the worst session I saw at the conference, and I was on it!

But your “live blogging” of it was even worse. Maybe you ought to just stop typing for a second, listen to what’s being said, and THEN go back to your room and blog using your notes.

Steve also posted, on his own blog: The problem with “live blogging” and the “blogosphere”.

It’s a long post, but worth reading for its critique of live blogging (as well as a good picture of how conference panels can be put together and how they sometimes fall apart):

As people sit and “live blog” speakers and events, and get a whole bunch of shit wrong but publish it anyway, isn’t that a little dangerous? Especially when the person doing the “live blogging” is a very respected person who has the power to influence a lot of people?

The comments to the post include a pretty good cross section of pro/con on live blogging, perhaps a bit tilted to the con side.

Shel Holtz’s response, Live blogging: a new fact of life, sympathizes with Steve but ultimately disagrees:

The fact is, live blogging has become a core component of many conferences and events, especially those dealing with technology and social media.

Holtz argues that, rather than yet another sign of the decline of thought, this new fact of life is a good thing:

The difference between what live blogging really is and what Steve perceives it to be is dramatic. Steve sees it as reporting, and inaccuracies in the reporting leave misinformation on the public record. But blogs are far less about reporting than they are about conversation. Personally, I see live blogging as a service. As someone who cannot attend a conference (or a session at a conference), the ability to read the post about it offers me insights I would not otherwise have been privy to.

Paul Waldman, on the other hand, asks “Is it just me, or does liveblogging really, really suck?” (Tell us how you really feel, Paul):

I appreciate the value of up-to-the-minute information as much as anyone. But I can’t ever recall reading a liveblog of anything and coming away feeling like I learned something. I mean no offense to my colleagues who have liveblogged at one time or another, but I have to question whether the activity has any value at all.

Similarly, Allen Jenkins argues that Liveblogging is for irritating snots . . . real men take a Moleskine:

And here is the greatest shame: livebloggers tend to be the smartest, savviest people in the room. The people best able to absorb a presentation on Day One at a conference, absorb two on Day Two, and another on Day Three and weave all of their thinking into one excellent article or blog post. But what do we get? Off the cuff blog posts and “tweets” that they, let me call it, should be ashamed of. I will not name names, but I read the liveblogging of many colleagues from conferences I cannot go to: folks, take notes instead. Reflect. Talk to the other attendees. Then write your posts. You will be doing the world and your own reputations a big favor.

Seth Godin also weighs in on the side of the “is this really useful?” camp:

On closer inspection, it doesn’t work particularly well. I mean, not only was I there, but I was speaking, yet I can’t make sense at all of the posts. That’s because most people don’t take notes to be read. They take notes to write them. The act of writing things down triggers different areas of our brain, it focuses attention, it makes it easier to remember things. You can read your blog notes later and say, “yeah, I remember that slide…” But for an outsider who’s not there, the amount of information that’s imparted is small indeed.

Angelo Fernando wonders, in the context of setting up a conference, what the conference organizer’s role in this should be: “should there be some guidelines conference organizers should set?”

So between all these posts, and their comment threads, you can see a few basic camps emerging.

Some argue liveblogging is inherently bad, because it:

  • Encourages those in the audience to pay more attention to their own notetaking and posting to their blog than the live speakers or fellow audience members
  • Allows poor notetakers to post inaccurate summaries of events, potentially harming reputations needlessly or without real context to add value
  • Dilutes the value of attending the events live, or selling access to conference proceedings and such – material to which the liveblogger does not have copyright clearance
  • Gets in the way of deeper thinking – about, absorbing, reflecting, and then posting about the event offers more opportunity to add value than the relatively immediate (and unmediated) coverage of liveblogging

Those who argue in support of liveblogging point out that liveblogging:

  • Provides a service to those unable to attend the event, capturing some of the “feel” of the event
  • Is conversational, like blogs in general, and therefore should not be held to the same critique as journalistic reports of the same event would be. Liveblogging declares itself partial, incomplete, informal – therefore the audience understands these are not edited or formalized conclusions
  • Creates an opportunity for people to react, correct, and respond to what was said
  • Contributes to the worth of the event, by giving it more attention – paying organizers back in free publicity more than it costs them in exclusive content

My own experience was rather mixed. I definitely saw some value in exposing the content to folks who were not there – great increase in traffic, some good comments, and an uptick in subscribers – but those are just benefits to me. Did others benefit from my liveblogging? It’s hard to speak for anonymous readers – I did get some positive feedback from readers who appreciated the effort and the content, but I don’t know how many found it a flood of useless raw notes – useless but not annoying enough to complain about.

On the negative side, I did get the feeling that it interfered with my conference experience in a few ways.

First, the simple logistics of always getting to a power strip, getting onto the conference network, and starting the shell of a blog post into which to write ties you up right at the moment where you should most be talking to other attendees. You lose that 5 minutes right before a session begins or after one ends. It isn’t a lot of time, but it is key time – I could actually feel a bit disconnected from other conference goers due to managing the laptop. (Am I using the laptop or is it using me as a source of movement and constant power?)

Second, the sheer effort involved in trying to do a good job of liveblogging – capturing well what was being said – meant that by the end of the day I was far too tired of the experience to post any reflective thoughts. In my experience at least, liveblogging meant that I was not able to write more value-added blog posts in which I summarized, drew conclusions across panels, argued for a different interpretation or approach, and so on. (This wasn’t helped by the 1.5hr commute to the conference each morning and home each night, or the fact that I was also manning the Optaros sponsor booth when it was open, and doing other work – not complaining, just saying it made for some really long days and probably sapped my ability to make cohesive arguments).

Third, I found myself stuck in trying to cover everything – as though I was somehow letting someone down if I didn’t liveblog on e of the sessions. Why shouldn’t I only cover sessions I found interesting and insightful? Do I need to spend my time liveblogging a vendor sales pitch? I felt that it actually increased my urge to make snarky comments. Not that there’s anything wrong with well developed, constructive criticism – but I don’t want to focus on snippy comments interjected in the middle of someone’s presentation. Seems juvenile at best. (Ok, I don’t think I was that bad – but I could see how people could get caught up in the opportunity to say something funny for humor’s sake rather than as a sustained thoughtful critique).

So would I liveblog again?

I certainly will continue to blog about conferences I attend, and capture notes on presentations, keynotes, and panels I find interesting. But I don’t know that I will liveblog in quite the same way.

For me it’s less about the permissions issue (though I will certainly keep an eye out for what is explicitly allowed and disallowed at various conferences – as a speaker and as an attendee) then it is about the opportunity to add value, not just record transcripts.

Even if I do find myself with the urge to share my notes from a conference, I’d want to make sure that it is not interfering with my ability to engage the folks around me and that I’m preserving time and energy to actually reflect on the event, not just transcribe it.

While there may be value in sharing relatively unprocessed notes – for some occasions – I don’t think it is worth the effort, when compared to synthesizing, analyzing, arguing about, and engaging the material rather than just transmitting it.

In short: more commentary and analysis, less transcription.

What do you think? Should bloggers get permission before posting about conferences? Does this apply to all bloggers or just liveblogging?

Two side notes:

The funniest reaction I saw was a quip in the comments of a liveblog of Bruce Sterling’s rant from SXSW: “liveblogging is for sissies. when you’re cutting edge, someone else liveblogs it for you.”

Alice Marwick liveblogged from a workshop on “Ethical Surveillance” – the irony of which is not lost on her: “I’m going to selectively blog some of the sessions, since I didn’t bother to get anyone’s permission for this. Would this count as micro-surveillance? I wonder.” Is liveblogging a form of surveillance? What if you identify people in the audience asking questions?

Good references on liveblogging (more about how to do it well than whether to do it or not):


  1. I’m a it disappointed that you covered what everyone else had to say about an incident in which I was very much involved, but you did not cover any of my key points, the most important are: (1) There were other live bloggers covering Steve. He objected to me not because I was live blogging but because I gave him a bad review. Had I done as he suggested and gone back to my room, I would have still given him a bad review. It would have been better written with fewer typos, and (2) To suggest you are going to have a conference in which social media is being discussed and championed and to restrict the use of those social media is simply unwise.

  2. Hello Shel – thanks for the comment.

    While I can see reading Steve’s objection as being based on the bad review, I don’t think that’s the thrust of many of the other folks talking about liveblogging who have concerns about its impact. In other words, you may be right in that particular case but the broader issue is still whether or not liveblogging adds value, is worthless, or (worse) takes value away!

    On your second point, while I can certainly see the irony in having a social media conference that doesn’t allow social media technologies to be used – what about other conferences? I can imagine contexts in which liveblogging would present more challenges than benefits.

  3. It seems to me that nothing will ever beat being in the room. Live blogging or perhaps live streaming opens a porthole into the room allows other people to get a sense of what is happening as it happens. It gives speakers a chance to address a wider audience. It allow speakers to show prospects for their next event to show people what they are missing and it gives viewers and readers a chance to see what they are fortunate or unfortunate to miss.

    I just don’t see te logic of trying to censor this remarkable way to extend the experience beyond the confines of the room. Everyone wins.

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