Remote Participation

Pros, Cons and a formula for Remote Participation at events.


“A really bandwidth-intensive way of playing whack-a-mole” — Johannes Ernst (jernst)

From the point of view of the participant:

  • Audio+Video Quality
    • Dependant on hardware+software+connection quality
    • Proximity problems — some mics pick up fine close, but are extremely sketchy for anything >2m away
    • Prioritise Audio over Video as it’s more useful
  • Awkwardness

    • Not being sure exactly who’s talking, and to whom
    • Not being able to hear how loud you are/see how you’re presented (Unless someone takes a Helpful Photo)!
    • Do you say “Pleased to meet you”? Or try to be witty and say “pleased to virtually meet you”? We all know what route you go down then…

      “Pleased to virtually meet you!”

      KRRRRT SHRRRTHHT “Sorry, didn’t get that, audio broke up”

      “I said, good to sort-of meet you!



      “Oh! Yeah, good to meet you too!”

    • Difficult to actually participate in discussions

From the point of view of the person managing the participation:

  • Managing the telepresence device
    • Ferrying it around
    • Making sure it has power, wifi, visibility
    • Keeping an eye on where it is
  • Managing the hangout/call
    • If it’s public, stopping the manic flood of nutters and creeps who pop up, play music, make groaning noises and so on.

To expand on that last point, during the IWC 2012 G+ hangout we had:

  • Countless random people turning up
  • 5 Shirtless Guys in shady rooms
  • 4 babies
  • 3 people who played annoying music
  • 2 Penguins
  • 1 person who made disturbing groaning noises
  • 1 Fangroup for Photographic Equipment
  • 1 Panda
  • And best of all: 3 people who were actually interested in the indieweb!

At times, this onslaught reduced the hangout to “A really bandwidth-intensive way of playing whack-a-mole”Johannes Ernst (jernst).

Aaron during the onslaught

(Above:) Aaron Parecki, who excelled himself as a remote participation manager (even offered me coffee!), during the onslaught.


Despite the problems, I was able to enjoy and participate in the second and third sessions I took part in as they made major use of Etherpad. The combination of a live audio feed (one-way, I muted my mic) and being able to not only follow along with the writing but add to it myself was an excellent arrangement.

Also, despite the awkwardness associated with sort-of interacting with people you sort-of know who are 6 timezones away, it was great to be able to say hello, put voices and real faces (not profile photos) to names, and see a little of the (wonderful looking) Geoloqi offices. Certainly worth the whack-a-mole :)

The Formula

Based on IWC, here’s my working formula for remote participation at events:


  • Hardware
    • Solid internet connection
    • Easily-transportable laptop
    • External Microphone/Hook into PA if any for audio feed
  • Software
    • Public Etherpad server
    • IRC
    • Video/Audio conferencing/streaming, as close to real time as possible
    • Google Plus (duplex/simplex)
    • Skype (Video conferences are paid feature unfortunately)
    • Other e.g. DSS
    • Photo-based alternative e.g. Eye-Fi -> Flickr stream


  1. Have a duplex video/audio feed at the start of the event for people to say hello, do introductions etc
  2. Switch to a local -> remote feed/get the remote participants to mute their mics/mute the speakers on the laptop
    • Could interacting via voice actually work for v. small groups?
    • It did at IWCUK 2012 — we had Aaron Parecki talking to the group a bit via G+ hangout
  3. Create an Etherpad for the session, get someone (either local or remote) to log the discussion on there
  4. See what session the participant(s) want to sit in on, and move the laptop in there.
    1. Figure out a mic position that allows most people in the room/the most prominent speakers to be heard
    2. Make sure everyone can see the Etherpad
    • Project it/give links out to all participants
    • Use telepresence laptop as EtherPad monitor as it’s likely to be in a central place
  5. Local participants’ discussion can be heard by the remote participants
  6. Remote participants can add to the discussion through the Etherpad