I’m here at an analyst conference, trying to combine a seamless online and offline experience. The presentations are compelling, the panel discussions are lively, and I should be using social media to augment and amplify the information I’m soaking up from my seat in the second-to-back row.
Except that I can’t. Because, as usual, the Wi-Fi isn’t working.
Sure, there’s a Wi-Fi network, and it worked OK for 30 minutes yesterday, but today, the connectivity is pretty much nada. I’m at a central London hotel where the IT infrastructure is clearly not up to the job, especially when 300-plus delegates all try and connect their notebook, tablet and mobile phone to the network. First, the network slows, then it just stops responding. I’m not alone. Over coffee with the chief analyst, he shrugs and says “yeah. I’ve got the same problem!”
This is very frustrating but also unfortunately commonplace. Even the GSMA couldn’t make the free Wi-Fi work at Mobile World Congress in Barcelona. There were Wi-Fi nodes available, but nobody I met was unable to draw data across them. And no, it’s not always so easy to switch over to good old 3G, especially when you’re incurring data roaming charges.
Why does this matter?
Well, for starters, the lack of connectivity is frustrating and time-wasting for users – I’ve rebooted various devices hoping to iron out glitches in connectivity, before finally giving up and going offline. But there’s more to it than that. Being off the grid actually diminishes my gain from sitting in the audience: I’m better off at my desk where I can monitor the livestream and social media channels – and even do a bit of work in-between.
You may argue that this is the very point – get out from behind your desk and meet some real people. Yes of course, but it’s counter-productive to “force” me to pay 100% attention to a conference session that isn’t quite so relevant to my interests, just because the Wi-Fi isn’t working.
Sometimes I get the feeling that some executives would prefer to do all analyst briefings in lead-lined concrete bunkers so that there’s no danger of being distracted by the outside world (if they’re not listening, could it be that you’re boring or irrelevant?). The other concern is that tweeting analysts might just let the cat out of the bag and breach NDAs in their eagerness to liveblog an event.
I disagree – it’s about engaging with your audience, and asking professionals to respect clearly-flagged NDAs and embargoes, no matter what form of communication they use. Furthermore, without connectivity, I’d miss the real-time interaction of swapping under-the-radar snarky comments with a few friends. You’d be amazed how much backchat there can be when a speaker wears out their welcome, gets into a monotone, uses the same “tic” phrase 20 times or more in a presentation or – horror of horrors – starts lecturing the audience.
Nor could I share those little gems, such as the speaker this week who said “I suppose I shouldn’t be showing this one here”… then still proceeded to brazenly put up a Magic Quadrant slide this week at the non-Gartner conference – in the process earning an ironic round of applause from the audience.
Nope. Without Wi-Fi I’m 100% paying attention to conference proceedings. Or to tell the truth, I’ve zoned out completely for 30 minutes to write this post.
How to solve the connectivity issue?
There must be an answer to the connectivity issue. The promise of a Wi-Fi network being there, but stubbornly not working, is maddening, and akin to trying to buy the “special offer” that’s sold out without a rain check. And the bottom line is that if I’m offline, I’m not tweeting content from the conference, so I’m not able to amplify the message.