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A hybrid event, as described on wikipedia is:

a tradeshow, conference, unconference, seminar, workshop or other meeting that combines a “live” in-person event with a “virtual” online component.

Many conferences, unconferences and hack events will have a significant online presence without needing to define themselves as hybrid. These involve a twitter hashtag, website, blog write-ups, and more. What this doesn’t always amount to is officially defined virtual participation.

It can be difficult to make virtual participation formal in the same way that attendees to an in-person event are. It is also unnecessary to make all virtual participation formal: someone commenting using a hashtag or discussing a blog post wouldn’t expect to need to register first.

But there are benefits to formal virtual participation. Limitations of physical events (venue size, travel time, and cost) can be prohibitive for many people being able to attend. In all other respects they may be free to participate and engage in the event, rather than just follow a hashtag or read blog posts. There are also few reasons why online participants can’t get more involved in many events: a hack event will often consist of teams forming (sometimes pre-arranged, often on the day), in order to work on a hack that they feel interested in. For practical issues, code collaboration can easily be done online. The event needs to enable the interactions between those online and those who are not.

Virtual attendance allows more people to be involved but also a more diverse group of people. Location can be a limiting factor that affects the demographics of those who wish to attend. Sometimes this can be necessary (e.g. a hack event focussing on local data may want local people), but an event that addresses UK or global issues is limited by being held in a single location. As well as removing the location barrier, virtual participation can remove the obvious social barrier of those nervous of attending.

A number of useful solutions can be used for this.

Twitter walls

Online solutions such as live tweet app and twitter fall allow for display of tweets (from a particular hashtag or other search terms) on a dedicated broadcast screen. These can also allow for event photographs to be shown by encouraging participants to tweet pictures alongside hashtags. These are then shown on the twitter wall.

Screen sharing with audio

During presentations and demos, online screen sharing can be used, with options for remote control, meaning an online participant could either follow, or lead, a presentation.

Private discussion and social media

MoreConference provide a private social network for conferences and events, and there are many alternatives (not necessarily conference based), to provide discussions forums, and profiles for groups.

GitHub or other source control solutions

Github is already widely used in hack events, but any online source control will enable collaboration between virtual and physical participants working on code projects. Having official GitHub organisation accounts and giving access to all participants can help encourage online participation.

Tickets and registration

The practicalities of a physical event usually require registration and a limited number of places, but having online participants, and not involving these in a registration process could create an unnecessary divide. Often event solutions such as meetup and eventbrite offer more than just registration for events - they send out reminders of what events individuals are attending, provide discussion forums, and mailing lists. It could be useful to have all attendees registered with these solutions.

Depending on the budgets and other practicalities, a hybrid event can also obviously implement live recording and video streaming.

Hybrid events not only give online participants a chance to interact with what is going on within the venue, but give people within the venue a chance to see what is going on outside of those physical walls. The twitter wall for an example - online attendees will most likely be in a better position to see what’s being tweeted, but a broadcast of this is useful for those at the event. Whether a solution primarily helps either online or offline users, either way they go towards making such events more integrated for all participants.