In-Room Chat as a Social Tool by Clay Shirky is an enormously cogent, readable description of the advantages and disadvantages of conference backchanneling based on a small experiment using an in-room chat over a two day workshop:
Chat as a meeting tool isn’t a universally good idea, of course. Every successful use of social software has environmental factors working in its favor. … The core observation, though, is that under certain conditions, groups can find value in participating in two simultaneous conversation spaces, one real and one virtual.
The article’s got me wondering if there’s a better word or phrase for this activity. Every definition of backchannel that I’ve seen so far includes the idea of secrecy, giving it a sort of illict feeling. While some conference backchannel conversations are private, for the most part I get the feeling that secrecy isn’t the goal… it’s really to augment what’s going on in the conference and/or personal take-away, both of which are positive outcomes. The backchannel concept is pretty new to me… has this idea been bounced around at all?