A RhetNet SnapShot Reply:
I share Mike's frustration with "fanny-fatiguing" conferences, where papers are read to information-overloaded audiences and discussion remains limited. Partly this does seem to be a limitation inherent to the format--the best conference papers, we all know, are not necessarily the "smartest" or "most insightful" but the ones delivered by showmen and -women who possess the easy ability to shift between intellectual meditation and enlivening anecdotes. (Not that I'm disparaging humor, mind you! The sensitive reader will instead detect wistful envy.)
Conferences, as we have them, seem to best function as a means of exposing attendees to a variety of approaches in a short time and as a way of forming contacts between individuals with like interests. Then, perhaps, after the conference, such folks can converse via traditional print letters or more easily through e-mail. But this discussion remains only tangentially related to the conference itself.
I'm currently helping organize a conference that attempts to include such post-conference discussions within the scope of the conference itself. "Prometheus Unplugged? Romanticisms Past and Future" will meet from April 12- 14 in Atlanta, GA and in the two weeks following the conference, we will hold virtual meetings and plenary addresses using a Web/MOO interface called Juggler , developed at Georgia Tech by researcher Andreas Dieberger . Using Juggler, a conferee can convene in a MOO room with others and discuss one of the papers presented at the conference (all will be put up as Web pages) or some other resource on the Web. We hope that the combination of the textually-rich MOO environment with the graphical capabilities of the Web will stimulate new possibilities for intellectual discussion at conferences.
Guests to the virtual conference are welcome, so please check our Web pages:
for information on how to participate.