Report on Multinet'95 Conference
Conference chair25 May 1995
ACS Canberra Branch Conference: MULTINET'95
Report on ACS Canberra 1995 Conference
Information Highway: from Hypertext to Multimedia on the Internet - advanced tools and techniques
IntroductionThe ACS Canberra Branch 1995 conference was held 13 May at the National Convention Centre in conjunction with the Australian Science Festival. The topic Information Highway: from Hypertext to Multimedia on the Internet - advanced tools and techniques was selected by the Branch Executive Committee (BEC) to debunk the hype surrounding the "multimedia, hypermedia, InfoBahn, Information Superhighway".
93 people attended the conference, made up of 32 members (paying $85.00), 44 non-members ($110.00), 17 students (paying $19.00) and 8 presenters (free). Delegates were provided with printed proceedings and access to the on-line presentations during the breaks.
ACS Canberra Branch conferences are designed to be small (less than 100 delegates), low cost (less than $100), local events for IT practitioners in Canberra . The last few conferences have been held as one day events on a Saturday, so that members who have fixed work commitments (and contractors who do not want to give up a day's pay) can attend.
This year's conference was designed by the BEC to draw on the resources in the Canberra region in the Internet & multimedia fields. All speakers were from Canberra (this also saved on conference costs) and most ACS members.
The conference topic was designed to address two current hot topics: the Internet and multimedia. In the event most papers addressed the Internet, particularly the World Wide Web. There was little on non-Web multimedia.
A call for papers was issued in the February-March edition of the Canberra Branch newsletter and via the Internet. More than 20 proposals for papers were received. Ten were chosen by Peter Talty and myself on the quality of proposals. Most speakers were from federal government agencies. There were several academics. One interesting aspect was the number of people from a non-IT background (particularly Librarians). Only two of the ten speakers were female.
Use of the Internet for the conferenceSilicon Graphics Pty Ltd were principal sponsor of the conference. Electroboard provided two video projectors and a touch sensitive projection screen linked to an IBM compatible PC. Pegasus Networks provided a dial-up Internet connection. Most presentations were delivered live on the touch sensitive screen from the Internet. No conventional overhead projector foils or slides were used.
Extensive use was made of the Internet in preparing, as well as running the conference. A conference home page was created. This initially contained the call for papers. An invitation to sponsors was linked in later. After speakers were selected the home page was modified to be the draft program and invitation to register.
As papers were completed, these were linked to the program. There were two versions of some presentations linked: the full text "paper" and the "slide show". The full paper was formatted for inclusion in the printed proceedings, the slide show was formatted for presentation on screen at the conference.
All papers were submitted electronically. The original plan was for these to be sent to the conference secretariat by e-mail and then sent by e-mail to the reviewers. After final drafting they would be prepared in word processor format for printing and translated into HTML format for linking to the program.
In practice it was simpler to prepare the drafts Web format before review. These were then placed on the ACSlink web server (or the author's own server). The reviewers were then sent the URL of the papers by e-mail. Each paper was linked to a draft version of the program, which was not publicly announced.
When the papers were finalised the program with papers linked was made publicly available. This program was used to introduce each speaker at the conference and start their presentation.
Several speakers had extensive Web experience and formatted their own papers and slides. Most had some Web experience but had not used the Web for a paper or live conference presentation.
There was considerable concern as to if the dial-up Internet connection, PC and projection equipment was reliable enough for a conference. On the day the equipment worked well. A 14.4Kbps dial-up link proved adequate for presentations and reliable enough. The "live" nature of the presentations added interest to the event.
Some speakers preferred to use Microsoft Powerpoint, to the Web browser (Netscape) for presentations. In some cases this was because they had already prepared Powerpoint slides and some did not consider the HTML formatting facilities adequate for a high quality presentation. On the day the Web presentation compared well with the Powerpoint ones. The ability to respond to audience questions by displaying Web documents from around the world adds a powerful feature to conference presentations.
The conference venue was set up with two projection units: one on a small screen for the presenter to operate and a larger screen for the audience to view. The presenter had a touch sensitive screen behind the lectern. This allowed interaction with the Web document in a similar way to a conventional whiteboard. The presenter could write the board in several colours and erase. Also they could operate hot-links in the document with a finger. This proved popular with the audience, but the presenters needed more practice to become comfortable with the screen interface.
- The Internet and multimedia are "hot" topics: The ACS had interest in the conference from beyond the IT profession, by other information professionals, particularly librarians. There were also enquires about attendance from members of the general public and companies whishing to use the Internet to sell products to Government agencies.
- The Web is useable for conferences: standard web browser software and personal computers make excellent conference presentation tools, when combined with a video projection unit.
- Internet for Promotion: The Internet is a very useful tool for organising and promoting an IT related conference. However it will be a long time before we can do away with paper completely. An approach of distributing material via the Internet first and then making any changes needed before paper distribution worked well.
- Better tools are needed for preparing printed and "slide show" versions of presentations in HTML. Preparing each slide as a separate HTML file becomes very cumbersome. There was a spelling mistake on the template used for two sets of slides and this was replicated on about 20 slides. There was no way to make a global correction to this before the conference.
- Presenters need some practice and training in using multimedia equipment and some convincing that this is a good way to present.
ConclusionAs a result of the success of the Multinet'95 conference the ACS can be assured that it is on track for IFIP'96. This much larger event will be held at the same venue and explore similar themes, in more depth. In addition there are plans to make extensive use of networking and multimedia for the event. Multinet'95 provided a useful run through for IFIP'96.
ps: The proceedings are available at: http://www.tomw.net.au/conf95br.html