Dave, you and Chuck are convincing me here, especially given that this conference seems to not have a trade show component to it. The virtual conference is an enormous savings in energy usage and time. And yes, I realize people are not so shy in chatrooms.
@Rob: If you think there are things people won't say in Internet chatrooms, you must not have been in many Internet chatrooms.
Seriously, though, it's not so much about the money (which, presumably, would benefit the local economy wherever the conference is held) as it is about the accessibility of the format.
I was glad to "see" one of my colleagues, who is a professor at the University of Belgrade, in the chat. He was just one of many international participants, who may not have been able to attend an in-person event. There were participants from India, Nigeria, Malaysia, and many other countries.
International participants were not the only ones to benefit from the more accessible format. As Chuck pointed out, most companies don't react happily to requests from engineers to attend five-day conferences in Hawaii. Two afternoons sitting at your desk is a request that managers are more likely to approve.
As someone who just went to an invigorating in-person conference on optimization and simulation technology, I can attest to the value it brings to get out of the office and go talk to people. Aside from the mental cobweb cleaning that takes place from the occasional brief trip (longer and more frequent ones can be a different story), there's also a serendipity that I think happens more in person in between sessions and at the lunch table, than it can online. In this case, the videos shown during very focused talks were key to understanding just how sophisticated this technology has become. But for something as broad as this topic Dave writes about, online makes it so much more accessible.
Yes, Rob, there's a definite advantage to face-to-face contact. To look on the bright side, though, there are probably a lot of engineering departments that can't afford to send their people to a conference in Hawaii.
@Rob: Yes, there's a lot to be said for spontaneous one-on-one conversations. But there's also a lot to be said for an open and accessible format that allows many more people to participate.
Even if the "sequester" cuts are reversed or rolled back (which looks like one possible outcome of the current Congressional negotiations), I think DoD should seriously consider continuing with the virtual format. From what I understand, the attendance of the 2013 virtual conference was nearly twice that of the 2011 conference, which was held in Palm Springs.
To the extent that the purpose of the conference is the dissemination of research findings, I'd say that anything that allows greater participation is a good thing.
I would imagine that helps, Dave. But there are some conversations (the best ones) that would never happen if they had to be committed to print in any form. They tend to be both spontaneous and truthful.
@Rob: There was a chat function that allowed attendees to communicate with each other, and during some of the sessions there were some pretty lively discussions. I agree that it's hard to replace the kind of discussions that conference attendees sometimes have between sessions while grabbing a cup of coffee, though.
This is just a small taste of the many great presentations from the conference. All of the presentations will be uploaded to corrdefense.org, which is where you can also see presentations from previous years' conferences.
I think we can all appreciate the importance of not spending tax dollars sending government employees to Hawaii, but I wonder what a virtual conference will due to learning. So much of the education you get at a conference come through talking with people.
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