Comment »Posted on Tuesday 25 August 2009 at 5:28 pm by Jacob Aron
In Happenings

Last Saturday I got up nice and early and headed down to the Royal Institution for Science Online London 2009. Long time readers may remember I attended Science Blogging London 2008; this year the focus had been expanded from blogs to include the wide range of science communication taking place online.

I was slightly miffed to find out the “breakfast” promised by the programme was little more than coffee and biscuits, but was soon chatting to various science bloggers, including Just A Theory’s Sam and Colin. After a while we headed up to the RI’s famous Faraday Theatre for the first of the day’s sessions.

This was supposed to be a talk on the benefits of blogging, but due to technical difficulties it was switched with a discussion of the legal and ethical issues surrounding blogging. A slightly dry topic to cover so early in the morning, but speakers Petra Boynton and David Allen Green (aka Jack of Kent) were fairly informative. Although they did make me slightly concerned about being sued for libel…

As a lawyer, David was concerned people might rely on what he said for legal advice, and insisted we did not liveblog or tweet his advice. Of course, this lead to lots people tweeting along the lines of “in a session, but can’t talk about it!” As befits an conference on online matters, Twitter was out in full force throughout the day. Apple seem to do well amongst the science community, as the Faraday Theatre was lit up with the glow of Macbook icons and iPhones, for the most part. That did get a bit annoying later in the day when someone forgot to switch off their ringtone

The technology was kicked up another notch at the start of the next session, when we were joined by a gaggle of Second Lifers. If you’ve never heard of Second Life, it’s a sort of online virtual reality. Video from all of the sessions (besides the first, for the aforementioned legal reasons) was streamed to those who couldn’t actually attend in person.

This included one of the speakers, Dave Munger, who had to pull out at the last minute. Mark Henderson of The Times stepped in to replace him, but Dave was still able to join in through Second Life. Listening to his voice boom through the speakers was a bit strange, but allowed him to talk about his site Research Blogging, which we make use of here on Just A Theory. Other interesting nuggets came from Mark, who revealed the quality of comments on his blog posts was much higher than normal news stories, and Daniel MacArthur of Genetic Future who discussed the difficulties of managing your online and offline identities.

As tends to happen, my note taking became increasingly sloppy as the day went by, so I will refer you to the extensive online coverage for detailed analysis of the other sessions. These included the role of scientific institutions online, community management, citizen science, and more.

We were also treated to a live demo of Google Wave, the latest tool for collaboration from the web giant. Like many of the audience I didn’t quite “get it”, but some people were very excited about the possibilities for writing future science papers online. Anyone care to explain to me what it’s all about?

The day was naturally rounded off with a trip to the pub round the corner, where drink flowed and conversation continued. I finished the evening with a good natured but heated debate with Tim about the relevance of Second Life, and whether we’d all eventually be living in a virtual reality or an augmented one. We’ll have to wait and see what the future holds. I can’t imagine much will have changed by the time Science Online London 2010 swings round, but I’m sure I’ll be heading along next year for more interesting conversations.


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