Engineering serendipity

With a week left until we kick off our 2020 edition, it’s clear that one of the upsides of a virtual event is our ability to bring in incredible speakers who work on the front lines of digital government globally.

But events are more than just great content. They’re also a chance to reconnect with old friends, meet new people, and share vital knowledge with our counterparts from around the world. FWD50 is about using technology to make society better for all—and this year, that means using technology to bring us together.

We’ve spent the last 8 months testing new ways to interact online. We know we can’t replace the thrill of being near others, the chance hallway conversation, and the networking that happens while waiting for coffee or printing your badge. But we’re pretty excited to show you what is possible!

Here’s a quick look at some of the platforms we’re building to “engineer serendipity” from November 3 to 10.

Profiles and networking

When you set up your FWD50 account, we’ll ask you about your interests—who you are, what you’re focused on, and how you like to learn. Our system uses this information to suggest other attendees you may want to meet, and sessions you’ll find useful.

The networking options in the FWD50 platform, showing a list of topics of interest.
We’ve chosen topics from our audience survey, and some of the sessions and talks at this year’s event.

When the system suggests someone, or when you’re looking at a profile, you can connect with other attendees in several ways: By requesting a meeting; sending a message; or the less-creepy “Interested” button. If two people are interested in meeting, you’ll get to connect in a virtual meeting room.

An example of a contact with options to show interest, request a meeting, or skip the recommendation.
You can send a message, request a meeting, or just say you’re interested in connecting.

After the event, you can download your networking history to follow up elsewhere—and of course, you can click on other attendees’ social profiles on Twitter, LinkedIn and other platforms to connect with them there.

Partner meetings

Most of our programming happens directly in the FWD50 platform, and we’re using Zoom and Microsoft Teams for workshops. We’re using Whereby, a great video chat tool that’s simple and friendly for informal meetings. We love the way Whereby lets you pop video out into a window, signal with emoji, and show chat atop participants’ videos. Our partner rooms will be running Whereby so you can meet directly with them.

The Whereby video chat tool showing four speakers, as well as controls for chat and emoji.
Whereby is a refreshing alternative to other video chats, perfect for quick, simple meetings.

Speed networking

Our platform also includes “speed networking” video chat. You can sign up for a networking session, and let the matching algorithm suggest a few new people to meet in a series of short one-on-one video chats.

Many-to-many networking

We’ll never recreate the experience of being in the lobby together online—but we think we’re getting close. We’re using two amazing tools that let many people move around, and join in spontaneous group discussions.

Kumospace is a top-down live space for small groups

The first of these creates small virtual spaces that host up to 25 people at a time. It’s sort of like an old top-down adventure game, only everyone’s video is on! As you move closer to others, you can hear them more easily, too.

Four of the “lobbies” we’ve set up for mingling and meeting others using Kumospace.. spins up chat circles as you approach others

The second tool works at a greater scale, where literally thousands of people appear as circles that move around with the mouse or arrow keys. The background has various topic areas, allowing “Birds of a Feather” networking. When people’s circles get close enough, the tool turns on video for that group—so hundreds of small concurrent conversations can take place at once.

The tool automatically creates video chat when people group together on the site.

We’re using this approach for curated Topic Rooms throughout the event, too!

Off-platform networking

There’s already plenty of interaction happening in the lead-up to this year’s event, including on Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Remember that you can join the LinkedIn FWD50 group too!