How to turn Conferences into a new kind of Rendezvous

Attending Blogtalk last week was great! Not only because there were many interesting people to meet and things to see. But also because it gave me the opportunity to experience first-hand what Apple's Rendezvous Technology is capable of !

Apple introduced Rendezvous two years ago with the Jaguar Update of Mac OS X (Tech Brief as PDF):
"Rendezvous is an open, standards-based networking technology that automatically connects electronic devices on a network, allowing them to interoperate seamlessly without any user configuration.

It simplifies traditional networking activities like file sharing and printing. It also enables innovative solutions such as music playlist sharing with iTunes and automatic buddy discovery with iChat AV—just two examples of the exciting new ways for devices to communicate with one another. (...)"
I always thought it was great concept. But I had my doubts about how useful it will be, because where I work, I usually am the only Mac user around.

But Blogtalk was different. It was full of Macs! I realized that right on the first day when more than a dozen previously unknown fellow Mac users suddenly showed up in my iChat Window.

Using the WLAN, Rendezvous had automatically scanned the Blogtalk venue for other Macs and after a few seconds I was able to see everyone in the hall, who also used iChat - most of them with their names and pictures! Clearly a killer app at any conference, where you don't know most of the people.

But that was just the start!

The system had also created some kind of instant peer-to-peer-network between every Mac, which we could then use as an infrastructure for collaboration during the whole conference.

We used for example...
  • iChat to say hi to fellow attendees.
  • iPhoto to share pictures taken during Blogtalk in realtime.
  • SubEthaEdit to take notes - with ten people working together on a single document!
I am pretty sure some also shared their MP3s with others using iTunes when a presentation got a little too academic... ;-)

All these programs are Mac-only, so the poor Windows users felt a bit excluded sometimes. But there were also more traditional tools used, accessible for everyone: a live video stream was available to people not present at the conference, during the presentations lively discussions took place in an special IRC-Channel and the notes from SubEthaEdit, documenting what was said, were posted on a Wiki as soon as the speaker left the podium. And of course many people blogged in realtime about the whole event.

At times, it became pretty crowded on my screen...
Detailed Screenshot
...and there were also some problems: for example I realized that todays computers are much more able to multitask than their users.

But all in all, it was really an exciting experience and I really would like to see, how this technology could be used for example in universities, where collective note taking and instant chat feedback probably could create interesting opportunities...

If you want to read more about Collaborating at Blogtalk, here some articles from fellow bloggers...