Thursday, May 8, 2008

Event chat transcripts considered harmful

For a number of months I have been familiar with the observation that the quality of an event recap is a decreasing function of event chat transcript density they produce. Recently I became convinced that event chat transcripts should be abolished from all "higher level" event recaps (i.e. everything except, perhaps, business meeting transcripts). At that time I did not attach too much importance to this discovery; I now submit my considerations for publication.

You've all seen it before. The event is nearing its close an an enthusiastic host exclaims "Oh, and we'll put up a transcript online!". True enough, the transcript shows up in your RSS reader - but although you had missed 10 minutes because of a phone call or something, you never, ever read the transcript. It's not because you are lazy. It's because transcripts are useless - they not only have zero informational value, they actually decrease the information content.

There are several reasons for that. First, a large portion of event chats is simply people socializing - saying hello, wawing to one another, laughing or nodding in agreement. As virtual worlds make non-verbal communication rather hard, a lot of it has become verbal. Second, a lot of the time the log is full of system messages - people signing on or off, which adds to the clutter. And third - even if we prune all the non-essential parts, the transcript is still too long. It's one thing being present at an hour-long event - you pass the time during less interesting parts IM-ing or camming around. Reading the whole transcript, however, takes a lot of concentration - and, to be frank, I'd rather invest 30 minutes focused reading time in something well written, not pore over old event transcripts.

OK, so the transcripts are useless. So what if people publish them? Where is the harm? Simple - the transcripts kill the Google search, or at least, maim it. Here are some of the search results for IYan Writer:

Is it really helpful to someone searching for me? Even worse, as Google usually displays the first occurrence or two, you're very likely to seem like some weird "Hello"-saying and madly wawing maniac - heaven forbid that the search would show a cutting question you posed at the end of the event.

So what are the event organizers to do? Again, it's simple: provide actual value. Don't do the easiest thing and just slap the transcript online. Take the time to go through the transcript, identify a few key issues raised at the event and write a paragraph on each one of them. Some Metanomics event recaps are stellar examples of it. If you're taking the time to remove the "XX has signed off" lines already, chances are that this will not take much more time. Event visitors, readers and the hamsters powering the Google servers will be grateful to you.

PS: Why the title? Hint for non-CS grads :)