Last week I attended the Gilbane Conference in Boston and have finally found a few minutes to blog about it, we exhibited and I was invited to speak in a couple of sessions and as I’d been contributing to the ‘back channel’ through Twitter (#gilbaneboston) I thought I’d expand on some of the those thoughts.

First observation is a personal one – this was the first event  that I’d been to where there were a lot of people that know me through this blog or twitter – and initially it was slightly unnerving having people leap straight into conversation with me and thank you to everyone that did.

Then there was the flip side – of scanning the room (or the bar!) feeling that “I’m sure I know that guy/girl” and then trying to spot who was who from their twitter avatars, scrolling through hundreds of Twitter profiles on my Blackberry (and of colleagues joining in). The place was packed with people I follow and that follow me, Tweetdeck had sprung to life. I’m not naturally a stroll up to everyone and say “Hi” kind of chap – so I didn’t speak to all of them – but it was a pleasure to meet the ones I finally did.

Plus of course the absolutely pleasure of finally meeting folks that I “know” well on social media – Irina Guseva and Scott Liewehr.

There was a plenty of food for thought and a more conscientious blogger would have been transferring those conversation and observations into a blog post on the plane home, mostly about the continued vibrancy of this pretty mature software market (or you’d think so by now) and the emerging trends. I’ll save those thoughts for another day, but seeing as I’ve started wanging on about social media, I might as well stay on that track.

This observation has been made elsewhere I am sure, but; social media, especially the broad adoption of Twitter in our industry (way more people tweet than blog and you can follow way more twitterers than bloggers) has changed these kinds events. You are walking into a pre-formed, pre-warmed community – the bar at the Westin Boston was like Cheers – where everyone knows your name!

In addition when you stand up and present to a stuffy, windowless room of  folks – you are increasingly feeding sound bites to the ‘back channel’ – your audience has grown from tens to the hundreds (thousands?). Gilbane chose not to beam the back channel during the sessions – thankfully – as I was distracted enough by the supplied laptop and projector never really figuring out if they really got along.

But, when sitting on a panel and not speaking, I was compelled to check the back channel on my BlackBerry (and contribute), but couldn’t decide if this was massively rude for my fellow speakers or the polite thing to do for the audience tweeting.

I think this broader impact should be embraced by event organisers, the community, the online reach of an event is soon going to be part of its value. Also the back channel generally is full of the good stuff, the food might be awful, the room hot – but the desire for most is to be thought provoking and to be interesting. (By the way, the food at Gilbane was very good, someone at Gilbane likes meat!).

On the back channel – this blog post is an absolutely compelling must read, in fact I think it’s a must read for anyone presenting anything ever in these social media enlightened times – as Danah Doyd reveals the anxiety of public speaking as well as revealing an experience of being basically flamed by the back channel during a presentation at a Web 2.0 Expo.

You may want to reconsider my use of the term “enlightened” when you learn about the abuse she got – but throughout the post she makes some great points about the interaction of the front channel (you the speaker) and the back channel. It is very curious, in my experience, that however much you invite personal interaction with the audience, these days some folks would prefer to tweet their feedback.

So, yes, social media and events – my experience of Tweetdeck coming to life and thanks to everyone that said hello IRL (in real life).