If there’s anything good to say about these times, it’s that people are getting really creative at coming up with new ways for humans to interact. Sure a Zoom video over cocktails isn’t quite the same but it’s a solution we simply didn’t enjoy a few years ago.
In that vein, one of the saddest things to have cancelled for me was Macstock Expo in Chicago. The only one of these that I had missed was the year my darling grandson was born and I still did my presentation over Skype. From my perspective, it went great and only later did I find out that the Internet in the conference center wasn’t up to the task and nobody heard what I was saying.
There are two reasons to go to Macstock Expo. Of course there’s the amazing quality of the speakers and their presentations. But the other is for all of the side conversations that happen. During every break, you can find simply sit down at any random table and meet new people who love the Mac and iPhone and iPad who are hoping to tell you about a new app or a new method of taming their devices. Horror stories are shared, successes are analyzed and friends are made.
This year, like many conferences, Macstock will be virtual. But here’s why that’s a cool thing. No matter where you live and no matter your budget, you can attend for free! If you previously purchased a ticket to Macstock 2020, that ticket will get you into Macstock 2021, and it means you’re already registered for virtual Macstock 2020.
If you haven’t registered, there’s a link to register for free: macstockconferenceandexpo.com/… and it’s THIS coming Saturday the 25th of July from 11am – 4pm CDT (Central Daylight Time).
The conference will only be 5 hours long instead of 3 days, which makes a lot of sense. The speakers so far that I know of are Mike Schmitz, Brittany Smith, Jay Miller, Chuck Joiner, Josh Rensch, Elle Newman & Brett Terpstra, Joe Buhlig, and me! I know some of these names and the ones I do know are AMAZING so I assume the people I don’t know will be amazing too. The presentations will be prerecorded and then the speakers will be available in the virtual conference to answer Q&A. I think that’s going to work great, giving us a combination of slickly edited videos but still the interactivity of Q&A.
Each session will be only 20 minutes long, which I think for a virtual conference is just right. The talks will be available online for 7 days for registered attendees (even the free registrants) and indefinitely for the paid registrants to Macstock 2021. You can purchase a ticket to Macstock 2021 at 2020 prices by the way too.
Now what about the second part of why Macstock is so amazing? What about the amazing small group discussions we have when we’re in meat space? Well, Mike Potter and Marina Epelman (who is one of the coolest, most interesting people I’ve met at Macstock) have come up with a crazy interesting solution. I can’t speak to the details, but yesterday Steve and I got to participate in a test run of a web service that might just give us some of those spontaneous discussions.
Close your eyes and try to picture this. Imagine you’re in a virtual room with the other attendees and if someone is close to you, their voice becomes louder in your headphones and the crowds farther away from you fade to a dim murmur. With your keyboard or mouse you can move around the meeting space, say wandering over to the swimming pool where Brett Terpstra is talking about an automation idea he has or to the fountain where Frank Petrie is discussing his next Pledge Break idea.
The service is called High Fidelity (highfidelity.com/…). The service is currently in beta and open for anyone to sign up for a Space. There’s been no indication of what it might cost once it leaves beta, but Mike’s interactions with support have been quick and responsive.
The interface took a few minutes to get used to but in the half-hour or so we tested with maybe a dozen people, very naturally some real side conversations came up. I know one was about the benefits of light-weight cat litter!
There are definitely some accessibility problems with the High Fidelity. Mike has forwarded the issues to the developers, but assuming they can’t change the code this close to the conference, here’s what you’ll need to do. If you’re using VoiceOver, you will definitely need sighted assistance to push the initial play button on the site, and then do the menu picks to make sure your correct microphone and headphones are set up properly. But the good news is that after that you can absolutely navigate independently using the same keystrokes everyone else will be using. It might not be obvious who you’re moving near, but that’s the fun of Macstock anyway to meet people you don’t already know!
I hope this virtual meeting space will work as well with a larger group as it did with the small group, but in any case, I am really looking forward to Virtual Macstock. I really hope you consider attending too! Again you can check it out at macstockconferenceandexpo.com/…