Singularity: Is The Web Replacing Reality?

! Warning: this post hasn't been updated in over three years and so may contain out of date information.

button_120x90.gifFor a while now, I’ve been carrying the Singularity logo on this blog, curious to know what it was all about.  Last weekend Aral Balkan revealed it to those of us who’d help promote his project. I was both excited and sceptical about it, but we were asked not to say anything until the project went public. Today, it has gone public and so I can start publicly commenting.

If you haven’t already looked, Singularity is a web conference planned for later this year. It’ll be a large multi-day, multi-track conference involving 100 speakers. What is different though is that  the whole thing will be completely web-based. There’ll be no travelling expenses, no hotel costs, no food costs (though cheap-skate events like Flash on the Beach didn’t both providing food either, so maybe that isn’t a valid advantage) and no event hire. Of of this should keep the costs – and so ticket prices – low. Due to the lack of travel, the event also scores “green points”, as it will have a low carbon footprint.

There are downsides to all this though. At a “real” conference, there is a buzz that will be near-impossible to recreate online. The crowds; the venue itself; the speakers on stage talking to; and responding to, an audience sat before them. All of these things set the scene. Then there is the face to face contact with other delegates, the chance to talk to product suppliers, potential customers and the speakers themselves.  Finally there are  products to try, books to browse and freebies to collect. Compare all that with being sat at your desk at weork, headphones on, watching a podcast and communicating via twitter or comments on someone’s blog. There will be none of the buzz, just interruptions, distractions and boredom will easily set in. Just as sitting at home by oneself watching Lord of the Rings on a 12″ portable TV will never be comparable with going to watch it in a packed cinema, so online events will never be comparable with real conferences.

Of course there is a big advantage to an online conference too. With a normal event,  typically one or two people from a company attend due to the costs. With a webcast though, a whole department can sit in a meeting room with a laptop and projector and watch the speech. Whilst real conferences often put videos of the speeches online, the speaker spoke to the audience, not the camera and the video often doesn’t work very well. Speeches designed for online broadcast from the outset ought to work much better.

So all in all, I am cautiously optimistic about this event and will be watching its development over the coming months with interest.