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22/12/2010 / Kirsty Pitkin

A Delicious Warning for Event Amplifiers

A lot has been written about the uncertain future of Delicious. Like many of the tools in the event amplifier’s kit, Delicious is a free, third party cloud service which provides a really useful mechanism for curating and sharing conference content (in this case web links), thereby maximising the reach of event resources. It can also be easily integrated with other tools – a valuable feature I always look for when choosing a service.

But the future of Delicious was called into question last week when it was announced that Yahoo! will be dropping the service. There were lots of posts describing alternative services and ways of exporting links from Delicious, combined with a mad scramble to make sure that valuable content was not lost.

This made me reflect on the ghosts of conferences past, who’s links may be connected to an active personal or corporate account and would thus be saved by a diligent owner, or may have faced loss as an independent, event-specific collection long forgot.

Online conference materials usually have a relatively short active life span with a long tail. However, part of the purpose in amplifying an event is to increase the value of an event over time., which involves making resources accessible and reliable for future reference, preferably in a way that allows impact to be easily measured. Many of the free cloud services provide convenient and cost effective ways of delivering amplification benefits in the short term, but obviously long term reliability can be a concern. I have been thinking about what measures I could take as an event amplifier to help maintain the long term usefulness of conference materials from my events.

Carry out a risk assessment

As Brian Kelly emphasises, there are risks to all solutions. Whilst full due diligence cannot protect against a service disappearing or deteriorating in the future, you can look for services with an active user base. It is also important to determine what content will have particular long term value and ensure that you have duplicate systems in place to protect the sustainability of this content.

Keep a record of what you used

When a service announces closure, the instinct is to grab what you currently use and consider valuable, but it is easy to forget about archived events that may still have long term value but are not top of your mind. I intend to keep a central record of services used and links to archives for each of my events in the future so I can see at a glance where resources are stored and what might need moving in the event of a service changing. It will also be worth subscribing to the news feed of each service so that I know when any changes or problems arise with those services which may require attention. Alternatively, I could provide the event organiser with this record so they can maintain the resources themselves.

Making sure you use services that have an export function

A lot of services, including Delicious, do provide an export function so that content can be transferred to other location. Before choosing a tool, I need to make sure that I check that there is an export function and check how easy and versatile it is. It would also be worth making an export file available for download once activity has died down shortly after the conference so there is a back up of the content in the immediate aftermath of the event in case a service goes down suddenly. Participants may wish to use this file themselves in an alternative context which is more accessible or convenient for them or their company.

Encourage ongoing use and social curation of materials

If the conference community take ownership and make active use of the resources, then obviously my work is done and the community will preserve and transfer any materials they see as valuable and under threat. This is obviously more practical for communities with a strong online presence (as a collective) and regular meetings than it would be for one off or ad hoc groups who come together perhaps just for one conference, then disband.

What this whole discussion emphasises for me is the need to talk to clients about the long term legacy of their event. Do they just want to amplify their event across geographical boundaries and increase online buzz around the temporal event, or do they want their event to be amplified across time to have a greater impact in the long term? The types of tools selected and the ways in which information is presented may vary depending on the intended focus, as will the priority given to accessible preservation of conference materials. Historically, formal conference output has been preserved in the form of journal papers, but if the newly harnessed amplified conversations are to have the same kind of value, equal attention needs to be paid to the preservation of these materials so they can be of practical use in the future.

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