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Virtual Book Signings: Part 2
Using a simple camera and some software, you can broadcast a constantly updating image to a website, where the folks that cannot make it to your real life event can watch. Sound boring? Maybe, but it can also be extremely effective and powerful way to share your moment.
For instance, a few summers ago we lived on the oceanfront, and our webcam pointed out over the beach to the Pacific Ocean view. The local neighborhood soon discovered our webcam, and would use it to communicate with their friends and family in far off corners of the world. Having previously sent their friends the URL to our webcam, and arranged a time in advance, they would then walk on the beach in front of our house and wave to their family. It was a little unnerving having people wave at our house all the time, but it was also fascinating in a social experiment kind of way, especially since these folks had figured out a way to piggyback their personal communications on our signal. We also discovered that area fishermen and windsurfers were using our webcam to check up on the local sea conditions, which are legendary for changing dramatically in a short time. (We eventually moved, and took our webcam with us, leaving many sad virtual faces out there on that beach.)
Add text messaging to that simple webcam set-up, and the experience becomes even more powerful. The porn industry has known for years how compelling this can be, now you can put that technology to work in kinder, gentler, less naked ways. Your friends can view your event on a webpage, and at the same time, communicate with you via IRC or by instant messaging.
This is how we started out with virtual events (no, not in the porn industry!). Our webcam would broadcast images of our signings, while we chatted with fans in our IRC channel. We set up a table as if we were at a real book signing, with the camera positioned where fans would be standing if they were in front of our table ready to get their book signed.
We use a pad of paper to keep viewers informed of whose book we are signing, and to directly address folks we know are not currently on IRC. Screenshots are saved and later posted up on the web for those who couldn't make it to the virtual event.
The great thing about the webcam broadcast is its ubiquity. The feed can be made available to anyone with an Internet connection, and your event can be as private or as public as you desire. It can be viewable by one person, or with a bit of publicity, seen by thousands of people in different locations all around the world. We won't go into detail about how to set up a webcam, as that information is readily available on the web, but if you haven't set one up yet, you'll probably be pleasantly surprised how easy it is.
Of course there is a big catch here, you can't go it alone. You will require the services of a Scottie on the other side: a ready, willing and knowledgeable geek who will be on-site to round up the necessary equipment and handle the set-up. Your geek will also be there during the event to receive the stream and handle any problems that might occur, as well as act as the host for the event.
All this may sound daunting, but as long as you have a high-speed connection to the Internet, setting up an iSight and running iChatAV for your event should be a no-brainer. Of course, even the simpilest system can run into glitches that will threaten the entire show, so to illustrate, we'll share our experiences with you from a recent virtual book signing.
Snaggys Law: The more important an event is, the greater the likelihood of technical difficulties.
At our Emerging Technologies Conference appearance last February, we had the extreme pleasure of working with Bill Takacs, Product Manager for the event. Previous to the conference, we had been discussing the set-up at ETech, and eventually convinced ourselves that we had all the technical wrinkles ironed out. Famous last words.
Almost immediately into the event, we recognized that we'd need external speakers to boost the sound at the conference end of things. Bill was running the ETech side from an iBook, and the built-in speakers just didn't have sufficient volume, especially in the crowded area where the signing was taking place. Luckily, being the resourceful geek he is, Bill was able to quickly round up some external speakers and we were good to go... or so we hoped.
Our signings were scheduled to be held during the breaks between the conferences sessions. We had access to the broadband at the conference, and during the sessions, things were looking and sounding great. However, we discovered that during the breaks, as conference participants emerged from the sessions, they immediately went online to check their emails and download the worlds biggest files. It was like a school of starving piranhas feasting on a hapless jungle newbie. Available bandwidth was rapidly consumed, and our video stream was stripped of its flesh!
Fortunately for us, iChatAV does a remarkable job maintaining a connection despite bandwidth woes, and after a few re-connections, we were able to continue our signing, and despite their otherworldly pixelated appearance, we were able to distinguish the most important feature of our fans, their smiles.
Tips for Net-Setters
Of course you're always going to run into problems like power outages, equipment failures, geekosphere malfunctions, and other random acts of technology. To help avoid the Stress of Tech, we recommend that before the event, you thoroughly check all of your equipment, perform a test-run or two, and perhaps even make a small offering to whichever geek gods or daemons you currently believe in.
Virtually everyone's doing it.
For instance, at a recent Florida Film Festival screening, an iChat video conference was held during the intermission, in which music video director Brett Simon interacted with the audience from his computer in Los Angeles. And fans of Dr. Phil (What are you thinking!) will no doubt have noticed he uses iSight and iChatAV to connect with his "Dr. Phil Families" in order to serve out his brand of therapy directly from his home to theirs. Another area where we think iChatAV is going to be very popular will be for teaching, from personal tutoring, to remotely teaching an entire class of students.
So whether you're sharing the hallmarks of your life, promoting your business, or just trying to see what that person you fell in love with over IM really looks like, we encourage you to give a virtual event a try... at least it won't take you a few days to get over the Net-lag!
If you have a unique way that you use iChat or other telecommunications, let us know in the comments below!
We held a Virtual Book Signing on Saturday, May 22nd at MacCenter in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida. We beamed down there via iChatAV at various times throughout the afternoon as part of their Meet and Geek event. Check out the pictures from that fun day!
You Sexy Thing!: How to look good on iChatAV: Just about everyone looks great behind a cursor, but the days of communicating online exclusively with text are numbered. So, we offer our brand of advice on how to look great on iChat AV, in spite of your iSight. With tips on proper lighting, camera angles, and the ultimate Geek Makeover, this is essential reading for the iSight challenged.... after all, laughter is the best tech support!
Adventures in broadband video
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