Saturday 20 March 2021

London's Calling 2021

London's Calling 2021 was an all remote affair - the 2020 edition started this trend, but there was a small in person presence as the physical facilities were all in place. A sound decision this year, as we are currently under restrictions that mean we can meet one person for exercise/coffee in a public open space. I guess we could all have our own mini-event where two of us get together and present a talk to each other, but quite hard to scale I feel.

It was a very different day for me - typically I'd be up around 05:30 to walk the dogs before catching the bus to the station for the trip up to London. I still did the walk, but with an extra hour or two in bed. At 07:30 rather than wandering around near The Brewery waiting for it to open, I was sat on the sofa refreshing the Attendify app waiting for it to open! The commute was a lot easier though, and I could spend most of the day barefoot which I'd be reluctant to try in the real city. Lunch was a lot easier to come by as well - hardly any queueing in my kitchen, although the menu wasn't as varied.

The sessions were pre-recorded and replayed as live with the speaker on hand in the chat to answer questions. This is definitely my preferred route for these kind of events - while I like the "anything can happen" excitement of presenting live, home broadband connections just aren't solid enough to rely on for 50+ sessions across a whole day. Mine decided to drop just after I joined the BrightGen sponsor room and it took me a couple of minutes to reconnect via my phone - I suspect I'd have lost most of my audience during that time.  You don't get a lot of questions as the schedule is pretty compressed and most people are jumping on to the next session rather than sticking around to chat, but remember that all of us speakers are contactable via the usual channels after the event. The deck from my talk is available on SlideShare.

The keynote was, as always, thought provoking. The key takeaway for me was that I'm Batman! Or all of us attendees are Batman. Or more accurately, the skill sets that the attendees have will be key to the new normal. A talk will always go down well when the audience are told they are super heroes. 

A common thread between physical and virtual events is not being able to make most of the sessions that look interesting, and this was no exception. Typically half a dozen sessions on at any one time meant that I had to make my decisions based on whether I wanted to ask any questions. The organisers have done a sterling job to make the sessions available immediately after the event, so I'll be catching up over the coming week.

The bit I really missed was the networking - there's an element of this through the Attendify activity feed and the sponsor rooms, but nothing like the in person experience of bumping into someone in a corridor that you haven't seen for ages and hearing about what they've been up to. London's Calling brought this into sharp relief as I've known a lot of the attendees for years but don't catch up with them in person that much, even when there isn't a pandemic.

The other part this is very difficult to replicate is the after party, although if we'd had one of those I might not be sitting here writing this post at 07:00 on Saturday morning!

There's definitely an upside to the all remote approach - no travel means the opportunity to speak for those who don't have the spare funds to jet around the world. Likewise no visas means individuals aren't at the mercy of government departments, and I hope that when things are back to "normal" next year(?) some aspect of this will be retained for a hybrid event - maybe a virtual room or two so the physical audience can listen to virtual speakers, and a virtual ticket so that people who can't get over to London can still get access to the content and join in via the app. I'll be watching what happens with great interest.

The event might have been a little different in its location and execution, but once again it was awesome. Kudos to the organisers, all volunteers let's not forget, for showing some of the bigger events how things should be done. One pure virtual is enough for me though, and I can't wait for next year when we'll (hopefully) be able to get together in person.

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