First, the only place you could get wi-fi was in the hotel lobby. It was not a long way to the lobby from some rooms, but live-tweeting was difficult. I could have used my phone to tweet, but it's much easier with a tablet or laptop and a wi-fi connection.
The issue, I learned, is that the hotel does not provide wi-fi to it conference rooms. It is a separate company. While other conference services can be negotiated with the hotel, who has the carrot of many guests filling their rooms, this one cannot. And the wi-fi provider cares not one whit how many people come to the hotel.
If I remember right, it would have cost $35,000 to provide wi-fi connections throughout all the rooms for about half the attendees. This underestimates the scale, however, because it assumes each attendee has only one connection. A phone and a tablet connected through wi-fi is two connections.
Apparently, SICB is considering raising the registration fees to subsidize wi-fi connections if members are willing to foot the bill for the connections.
More good news was that this was the first conference I have ever been to that had a dedicated app for phones and tablets and such. This was, for a society that has been reluctant to embrace the online world, surprisingly progressive. Members were extremely interested in the app.
More bad news came in the actual usability of the app. There were many good ideas, but they were often poorly executed.
Among the issues...
The sorting of the events was made it almost impossible to find events. After "1" came - not 2 - but 11, 12, 13... then 100, 101, 101... and then 2. This is strict alphabetical order as a computer understands it, but was hell for people.
Although the apps required you to log in, if you had it on two devices, the accounts did not sync. If you added an event on your phone, it would not later show up on your tablet.
Updates from the conference organizers sent through the app went to a region called "Archived" rather than "Inbox". There was no clear signal on the home page when there was a new message.
Maps of the hotel never showed up on the Android phone version of the app I was using.
I could not search for events on my phone (again, Android) in the "Discover" tab.
Some of the critical details for even listings, like time and room, were set in tiny light grey letters, which was not the easiest thing to read. I could accept this for the summary, but not the main listing with the abstract.
Short talk titles had the advantage of their listings being set in much bigger point size. Long titles were rescaled so more of the words would fit on one line.
And there was the irony of having a app that made extensive use of Internet at a conference where wi-fi was not provided in any of the conference rooms,
All of this made sense when I learned that SICB attendees were more or less being used as beta testers for the app.
- On the plus side, many people joined the society's Facebook page in the few days before the conference.
- On the negative side, the society's Twitter account has been used exactly once: to send a tweet saying "test."
- On the negative side, those people who were tweeting from the conference couldn’t agree on a hashtag. I was using #sicb13, but many (possibly most) were using #sicb, but I also saw #sicb2013. A strong official recommendation from the society’s Twitter feed would have helped.
I am hoping for much better things when the conference returns to Texas next year.