Track lead: Mr Arvin Kamberi (Lead, Online Meetings, DiploFoundation)
- Selecting online meeting platforms: Costs, usability, and functionality | Moderator: Dr Stephanie Borg Psaila (Director, Digital Policy, DiploFoundation)
- Apps and tools: Ice-breakers, surveys, and animations | Moderator: Ms Sherna Alexander Benjamin (Center for Building Resilient Communities, Trinidad and Tobago)
- Meeting via holographic technology, and virtual and augmented realities | Moderator: Prof. Jovan Kurbalija (Director, DiploFoundation)
- The use of artificial intelligence, chatbots, and other advanced meeting technologies | Moderator: Mr Michael Aendenhof (Cyberdiplomacy Envoy, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Belgium)
The technology track started with discussions of current dilemmas in choosing online meeting platforms and tools. This was followed by a discussion on tools for interactive online meetings, and two sessions on the future developments in the use of holograms, virtual reality (VR), augmented reality (AR), and artificial intelligence (AI).
On choosing online meeting platforms, half of the participants pointed out that they make informed decisions by analysing the features and functionalities of the tools; one third of attendees said that they rely on recommendations provided by others. Often, they combine different platforms according to the needs and objectives of the meeting. In most cases, the choice of online platforms is made at the organisational level.
The extensive and widespread use of online meeting platforms is still a relatively recent development, and organisational policies on the selection of platforms are not yet in place.
Speaking on the frequent use of Zoom, the participants noted that it can be attributed to its easy and user-friendly interface. Well over three months into the crisis, Zoom is still a preferred platform for many.
That said, security issues associated with Zoom pushed some users to gradually shift to alternative tools such as WebEx, Microsoft Teams, and open-source platforms like Jitzi. For a comparative and comprehensive survey of online meeting platforms, consult the survey by Diplo’s Conference Tech Lab.
A wide range of online apps such as Mentimeter, Pigeonhole, and Slido, can compliment a platform’s polls, surveys, and Q&A features. These enrich online discussions and expand the range of features of online conferencing platforms.Online video animation tools, such as GoAnimate, Powtoon, and Wideo, tap into the creative side of meetings.
The use of digital technologies in online meetings, however, does not stop with apps. Speech-to-text transcribing services powered by AI, that help expand the accessibility of the online space and facilitate inclusion, are already being used by some online platforms.
AI is equally used for ‘logistical’ tasks, including virtual assistants that help schedule meetings and automate messages, and assistance chatbots.
Other emerging technologies, including augmented and virtual reality, are already here, but are not yet used extensively in the context of online meetings. New technologies could give a new meaning to the notion of hybrid meetings in which the physical and virtual spaces merge.
Virtual reality was pioneered more than a decade ago with Second Life. Augmented reality, for its part, was brought back to life thanks to the world-popular game Pokemon Go a few years ago.
Holographic technologies are also becoming increasingly popular. Nonetheless, these emerging technologies have not yet been mainstreamed into the field of online meetings. Holograms could help defy the laws of physics and allow the same actor to be present at two places at once, and therefore attend several meetings in parallel.
This was recognised as particularly helpful for protocol meetings where presence is required. Such innovations and developments will be happening in the next phase.
While these developments could change the way meetings are organised and conducted, they also need to be carefully balanced to support innovation and inclusiveness, keeping personal privacy and data protection in mind.