Home > Events > #8 – We are the Skeptic Party Crashers

#8 – We are the Skeptic Party Crashers

This week’s meeting was a mixture of new experiences; our first attempt at using tinychat (an alternative to the video chat software we normally user), our first attempt at having a “party” of people join the group, and my first attempt at hosting the meeting completely sober.

Skeptically Speaking

Skeptically Speaking” is a live weekly call in radio show broadcast on the internet (via ustream) and locally in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. The show has weekly guests that talk and take questions on skeptical topics. If you aren’t familiar with the show, check it out as a podcast (on iTunes) or listen live on Friday evenings.

In addition to their regular guests they frequently have a short segment called “Speaking Up” where they interview and help promote skeptical ideas, actions, organizations from normal everyday people. I was contacted a few weeks back by Desiree (@teh_skeptic), the host of the show, to talk about our rag-tag group of virtual skeptical drinkers. (I will be on the show live next Friday Nov 20th)

In preparation for the show, to meet us and make sure we’re cool, or just because they thought it would be fun (take your pick) Desiree and their whole crew patched their normal ustream after-show “party” into our webchat on Friday evening. Unfortunately it didn’t seem to work too well: we never did manage to get the audio working well enough for them to interact with us, but they did listen in, and we shared our discussion (and hi-jinks) on their ustream channel for most of the evening.

TinyChat vs. TokBox

Another first last night was our attempt at using tinychat instead of the usual tokbox software. Although the video quality seemed a bit better at first, there were a number of problems compared to tokbox that eventually led us to switching back about half way through the meeting.

  • We had to password protect the chat room to lock out unexpected chatters that were only there to disrupt the group
  • It was difficult (and impossible for some) to get the microphone gain set correctly, plus the “push to talk” option caused more problems than it solved.
  • Audio drop-outs made it difficult to talk
  • The limit on screen size made it difficult to tell who’s talking in the tiny video windows
  • General “clunky-ness”

In my opinion, tokbox is the better solution and for now we’re going to stick with it, despite the extreme bandwidth problems from time to time. I’m still looking for suggestions for alternative solutions.

Lessons Learned

In addition to learning about available tools and how best to run these online meetings, I have been spending a bit of time thinking about what we’re trying to do and how best to do it (especially since I’m supposed to talk about it on the radio next week). I’ve always thought the primary idea of VDS is the same as “Drinking Skeptically” or “Skeptics in the Pub” or other such groups – it has a social focus, to develop relationships between similarly minded people – “networking” if you will.

Since the primary idea is for people to meet and get to know each other and develop relationships, here are some ideas I’ve had on how to foster that kind of environment.

  • Video Webchat – Multi-video webchat software is key. In order for people to get a feel for each other, the same way they would if they were to meet in real life, there has to be that “look me in the eye” type of social interaction. Although these tools are either flaky or expensive, I don’t think you can get the same kind of social bonds from an audio-only chat.
  • Small Groups – Mutli-video webchat forces everyone to talk with everyone else, no side conversations inside the group, therefore the more people in a chat, the less people can engage in the conversation. It seems that the best most inclusive groups are around 6-8 people in size and it really depends upon the individuals whether 8 is too big. In order to prevent people from being discouraged because they aren’t included in the conversation, we will probably have to provide or promote additional groups or meetings.
  • Single Parties – As I’ve seen in the past, it is really difficult to engage with groups of individuals that are sharing a single chat window. When there is 1-2 people per video stream it can work ok, but when there is a large group it becomes difficult because of the natural resistance (due to audio delay and feedback resulting from an open mic) to talk w/ the webchat group. The webchat becomes the quiet outsider due to the distraction of a party of people having fun.
  • FUN – The most important aspect of the meetings is they must be fun. Who’s going to show up if its just a bunch of curmudgeons grumbling at each other? Which is why I say this trumps all the above ideas. If all you can get is audio or text chat, roll with it, if the group gets too big, roll with it, if a group or party comes on the line, roll with it, and by all means spend a good portion of the group time goofing around.

Ok, there is it. Send me all your hate mail now.

This Week’s Discussion Topics

To all who participated in this week’s group – THANK YOU!

Brian Gregory (@briandgregory), Cary Collett (@qaphsiel), Luis Vidal (@NeuroPunk), Michael W. McCarron (@bigheathenmike), Jerremy Witteveen (@cafewitteveen), Sarah Ann (@xtexasbelle), Rob Miles (@PC_ROB), Myron Getman (@TheMadSkeptic), Steve Thoms (@SomeCndnSkeptic), Desiree (@teh_skeptic) + pretty much the whole crew from Skeptically Speaking

Sorry for the lateness of this update, I usually try to post the morning after a group meeting but I woke up with what might be an abscessed tooth and was barely lucid due to pain killers. I promise I will never let my health get in the way of blog updates ever again. #sarcasm

Schedule

Due to upcoming American holidays (Thanksgiving and eventually Christmas) the weekly schedule will probably break quite a bit. There will be no meeting the week of Thanksgiving (Nov 22-28) and next week’s meeting, although it is supposed to be a Wednesday week, the meeting will be on Friday Nov 20th (both to support any possible new people we pick up from the Skeptically Speaking promo, and so we have a meeting half way through the holiday break). I will make it up to the Wednesday people by having the cycle start back up on Wednesday Dec 2. Sorry to everyone for the inconvenience.

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