December 1st to 3rd 2020, Colombia 4.0 is the biggest tech event in Colombia. This year they opted-in for an online format (of course), here’s a summary of my experience on it, which, as usual, is centered on its videogames track. They also had the (BIG) animation / SIGGRAPH track, as well as Music, Fintech, and more.
As with many long-standing physical events transitioning to online, it seems one of their key concerns was how to keep a notion of it happening in a “place” populated by visitors. Instead of using a full real-time 3D rendered client (like XSolla’s Game Developers Carnival with YourWorld), they chose a more readily accessible format using prerendered 360° views with embedded videos and actionable areas, which you could access directly using any decent browser without having to download any plugin (which is great).
There was a central hub from where you could warp to the track areas (each one with an auditorium), the business tables, or the area with the booths. The terminal areas allowed downloading PDF brochures and connecting with people via either Whatsapp or Whereby.
The online environment worked… once you had experimented a bit with it. It was definitively not suited to all audiences, since it required knowing in advance some conventions about navigating 360 views.
There was an area *inside* the world with some instructions on how to navigate, but since it was part of the world the visitor had to know at least the basic of navigation in advance, and additionally it was pretty easy to miss (especially if you were there in business to check a talk).
One definitive downside to it was how hard it was to get to the talks since you had to navigate the world all the way to the auditoriums and then click on a link. A more straightforward directory with links to the streaming channels would have helped a lot with discoverability, as I think reducing the friction to get to the content should be a primary concern in this kind of event.
Some of my favorite talks included “Publishing for Indies” by Steve Escalante, “Intellectual Property” by Patrick Sweeney and “El equipo de programación ideal y otras leyendas” (The ideal programming team and other legends) by Luis Villegas. I’ll post links to them as (if?) they become available.
I also posted a commentary on my own talk about procedural generation here (Spanish only for now).
The business area was, frankly, a bit too empty. There were not many attendees with whom you could connect this year. I think however all the infrastructure that was set up worked and will hopefully be of more use for future iterations.
Some booths from the Commercial Zone
Something similar happened in the area with the booths, although it is hard to know since there was no way to know about the actual traffic happening, other than the requests you got to talk via WhatsApp or video conferencing. Which in my case and as far as I know from other attendees were not too many.
I think this may have been caused again by unneeded friction put in front of the potential visitors including:
- A signup form which asked for a lot of information, and which had to be filled in order to visit the booths.
- Requiring them to know how to navigate the online environment.
- How the area was presented, with an overhead view of all the booths but no way to know what they were, and hard to keep track of the ones you had visited already (coupled with normal loading times to check each booth)
- There was an option to see the list of exhibitors which made it much easier to find a particular booth but didn’t ease navigating thru all of them for a random visitor.
Ideas for improvement
I believe an event like col40, which is aimed at a wide range of potential visitors, should take advantage of existing, well-known conventions for Internet browsing, and strive to create an accessible “standard” online web experience, instead of forcing the visitors into a more “virtual” environment.
Direct access to the streams and past talks from the event’s agenda, as well as having a way to preview the booths sequentially, would be small changes with potentially big impact, even allowing the existing “virtual” structure to exist in parallel so that we can continue experimenting with innovation in virtual conferencing.
If you are curious, check out a video of my experience here: (it’s in Spanish)