Combining a conference call, IM and a wiki

Posted by Shawn Callahan - June 28, 2005
Filed in Communities of practice

John Smith introduced me to the idea of making notes using an instant messenger while on a conference call. Here Clay Shirky takes it one step further while recounting Joi Ito’s desire to get involved in a group conversation. Some very practical ideas for handling teleconferences.

“…I want to have a group conversation, too. I’ll start a conference call.”

“But since conference calls are so lousy on their own, I’m going to bring up a chat window at the same time.” And then, in the first meeting, I think it was Pete Kaminski said “Well, I’ve also opened up a wiki, and here’s the URL.” And he posted it in the chat window. And people can start annotating things. People can start adding bookmarks; here are the lists.


So, suddenly you’ve got this meeting, which is going on in three separate modes at the same time, two in real-time and one annotated. So you can have the conference call going on, and you know how conference calls are. Either one or two people dominate it, or everyone’s like “Oh, can I — no, but —”, everyone interrupting and cutting each other off.


It’s very difficult to coordinate a conference call, because people can’t see one another, which makes it hard to manage the interrupt logic. In Joi’s conference call, the interrupt logic got moved to the chat room. People would type “Hand,” and the moderator of the conference call will then type “You’re speaking next,” in the chat. So the conference call flowed incredibly smoothly.


Meanwhile, in the chat, people are annotating what people are saying. “Oh, that reminds me of So-and-so’s work.” Or “You should look at this URL…you should look at that ISBN number.” In a conference call, to read out a URL, you have to spell it out — “No, no, no, it’s w w w dot net dash…” In a chat window, you get it and you can click on it right there. You can say, in the conference call or the chat: “Go over to the wiki and look at this.”

5 Responses to “Combining a conference call, IM and a wiki”

  1. John Smith Says:

    I wonder what happens when several people on a conference call want to edit the same Wiki page at the same time. Maybe that’s when you have to say “HAND” in some new and different way. Sometimes an ensemble instinct developes and everybody knows who’s the eager person who’s going to do the wiki editing and who’s going to do the talking on the call and who’s going to take notes in the chat room. But sometimes we need to “go meta” (that’s the social glue) and say who’s doing what, and when.

  2. Shawn Callahan Says:

    I thinh the way it would work is simply an understanding that you don’t change someone else’s writing unless it’s agreed during the call. If you disagreed or wanted to change something you would add a new line rather than overtype what’s there.
    This issue represents the difference between how a small group would use a wiki and how a very large audience might use one. The small group is more aware of what can and should be changed. The very large audience uses its size to keep changes happening–the wisdom of crowds.

  3. Matt Moore Says:

    Tools like Centra allow you to do something similar in one environment – i.e. you have your VoIP and your public chats going on simultaneously with whiteboard support.
    I think that hitting people with a telecon AND IM AND a Wiki would be too much for most non-techies at the moment.
    But presumably that will change.

  4. Shawn Callahan Says:

    Hi Matt, flipping between a web page and a chat window is not too difficult but I take your point. I guess people will adapt to slight inconveniences if a solution is free.
    I watched a great video last night of Thomas Friedman talking about his latest book (see my Del.icio.us). He talked about how globalisation has gone through 3 phases promulgated by: countries, companies and now indivduals. Free solutions from open source are highly attractive to individuals.

  5. Nancy White Says:

    One way around the wiki is each person keeps their own page during the call, then some one(s) stitch things together if needed after the call. One person may take action items notes, etc.