At Agile 2008 Conference in Toronto, Brian Marick told us that he wanted a way to give every participant a feel of what was being discussed, some kind of live temperature reading. Brian especially refered to Twitter as a way to do this, coupled with a screen that would display it (he seems to be a big fan of twitter).
I am a fresh Twitter user, but I thought this was a good idea and I arranged it for the Valtech Days Paris conference, which took place last week. I got approval from the Great Organizer, a spare laptop from the sysadmins, and my colleague Sadek agreed to implement the client.
Here are some implementation details.
- an internet connection in the conference, preferably through wifi, as cables take a lot of space
- a spare laptop; make sure that you can affort to waste it, as it might easily get stolen (ours didn’t); also, it needs to be able to run a decent browser with the appropriate plugin and should have a wifi card
- a video projector
- participants that use Twitter (no need to have their Twitter IDs)
- a web client able to display an RSS Feed reasonably cleanly and refresh it frequently — you will probably might need to code this client yourself; in our case, it was implemented in SilverLight (an added bonus) by Sadek in a day or so; another option is to use RSS screen saver, but none I found suited my needs (tried NuParadigm RSS Screensaver -too much space wasted-, rsssaver -can only display one post at a time-, and RSS More -ugly and there is no way to avoid duplicating the post title in the content-)
- to get around a strange behavior, we had to pipe the RSS feed through FeedBurner
An important step is to figure out the proper keywords that people will use during the conference. In the case of Valtech Days, it was “valtechdays” and “valtech days”. If they are not discriminating enough, then you might have to figure one out and tell participants about it. A convention seems to be to use tags preceded by a pound sign, for example “#valtechdays”. However, it is simpler for conference participants if they don’t have to remember the pound sign.
Once you have your keywords, test them with Twitter Search. Then, keep a copy the URL to the RSS feed provided by Twitter. You should end up with something like http://search.twitter.com/search.atom?q=valtechdays+OR+%22valtech+days%22 (make sure that the URL you get contains %22 in place of the double-quotes).
I am fairly pleased with the result. Posts seemed to take 10-15 mins to be picked up by our client; not great but acceptable. My main concern is that few people actually posted on Twitter at all (with 300 participants, I am personally responsible for more than half the posts during the conference). That said, there was always a couple of people watching the feed — a bit like watching TV. I also noticed that the cameraman, who was there to make a ‘special live report’ on the conference, actually spent quite some time filming the twitter feed ;-)
Last note: if you cannot get a special client for your feed, you could use Google Reader, as it can at least refresh itself automatically. Of course, this is a very temporary solution, as you probably do not want to stay logged on a machine that can swiftly be stolen.