Thoughts on Cloudworks after ALT-C

For me ALT-C was slightly nerve-wracking as far as the Cloudworks site was concerned. We'd put in a couple of new futures in a rush just before the event, and although I'd tested them as much as possible, there's nothing quite like lots of people using a site in anger to find bugs that testing fails to unearth. Luckily, nothing major come up and I was relieved not to have to spend half the conference trying to fix bugs in less than ideal conditions!

Using the site at the conference illuminated quite a few things for me. Firstly, it made me realise that the main value of the site at the conference was twofold.

Firstly for crowdsourcing an archive of what was presented and discussed so that people can find information six months or a year hence. I think the tags are going to be really important here.

Secondly, quite a few people who weren't at the conference commented on how useful Cloudworks was in helping them follow the conference. Being at the conference myself made me realise how little time there is at the conference to actual engage in real, deep discussion in real life let alone virtually, and that I don't think we can expect that to happen. I'd like to look more into holding wholly virtual events though. 

ALT-C was also interesting because of the co-presence of Crowdvine. I think this is going to become more and more common at conferences and it's an interesting question how our site sits with that. I think here I see the role of Crowdvine and Twitter as one to support the short quick communication that people want to do at the event itself (and in the case of Crowdvine give timetabling information) whereas Cloudworks is more about persistence and enabling people to search e.g. for all presentations on a topic across all conferences, not just one conference.

In terms of the design of the site, we obviously picked up a few niggles that I'll be looking into. If you spotted any, do drop me a line and I'll look into them.

The one bigger things that I think we need to look at personally is the cloudstreams. These weren't quite working for me as they stand, although I think they're not far off - I found myself looking at the list of new comments on the home page to see if anybody was discussing anything interesting instead. Any thoughts on how we could improve the cloudstreams very welcome, especially as we're planning to make them rather more prominent on the site.

I think the introduction of links has also made the roles of clouds/cloudscapes a bit less clear. If you want to aggregate resources on a topic is it better to do it a cloud or a cloudscape? There's also some confusion over what exact a cloud is or isn't, although when we tried dividing clouds into more explicit categories, we found that the grey areas were so large that it was next to useless. How we structure the site to support the sharing and collation of resources is an interesting question, especially when tied in with the obvious problems of backwards compatibility - suggestions very welcome!

One thing before the conference that I thought was really important was the aggregation of information from elsewhere. I still think this would be useful, but I can't help wondering if this is something that other sites such as Netvibes etc. already do really well and maybe shouldn't be such a priority for us. It'd have been very hard to aggregate ALT-C blog posts for instance in any way that worked even half as well as doing it manually as we did.

I'll be posting soon about our technical plans for Cloudworks for the rest of the calendar year, but in the meantime, if there is anything you thought or noticed about Cloudworks at ALT-C, please do comment here or contact me directly.

  Posted by Juliette Culver on 13 September 2009

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