Science Online 2012, held in at the NC state university in Raleigh, NC, last week was a transforming event. The 450 attendees were a colorful mix of science writers, journalists, researchers, educators and artists. Apparently, the ratio of scientists dropped in its 6th installment. But the love of Science in the air would have graced any proper scientific meeting. Much of it has already been praised in readable form and can be accessed in a wiki repository. So why was Science Online 2012 so great? The reliable WLAN, the conference hall, the sessions run by the usual suspects, more or less prepared? I fail to answer that question precisely but coming back I realized I changed my views on many issues in science communication profoundly. When I wrote it up, it sounded as shallow as the following.
My most fundamental impact was on my view on Twitter, which was the online glue of this conference and the hose labeled #scio12 was connected to every participants’ mind. Twitter has its shortcoming in aggregation and search capabilities and problems that arise from the different styles of usage. But in this community, it’s the connecting information outlet. Most participant have certainly explored Google + and Facebook and I expected a lot more activity on + but those channels were as dead as MySpace. Individually, the tweets were neither smarter nor more useuful than those in my timeline on an average day – but they were essential in how they brought people together in person and provided a unique experience that I never encountered at a meeting of bloggers or a fully fledged academic conference ever. The plenty of joyful “I am about to depart for RDU” tweets were a better opening than any string quartett could ever provide.
To improve my participation, I finally decided to use @spithshine only for English, sciency material. The second, recently opened account continues my musings in German, typically of little relevance unless you know me well and received a personal, Latte cum Augustiner-long introduction to the tweet in German and have fun in finding the stale punch lines on the talk page of a Wikipedia article. Follow and unfollow as you see fit.
In significance of conferences in my life, its only second to a meeting in Atlanta in November 1999, where I witnessed a young and cheeky John Logsdon arguing with the Nobel laureate Walter Gilbert, who had just advocated the introns-early idea. Working in a company at the time, that loud debate was my final push to pursue an academic path. This science was pretty cool. 12 years later, I bumped into John Logsdon again over lunch at #scio12. I wasn’t even surprised.