The Front Row


This seems important enough not to just be a note in my July 2020 post when it comes.

I’ve seen a new interaction model emerge for virtual events, which I think maps into Fred Wilson’s 100/10/1[1] “rule of thumb” with social services:

  • 1% will create content
  • 10% will engage with it
  • 100% will consume it

What we seem to have been missing at virtual events is the means for the 10% to engage, which is where The Front Row comes in…

The Front Row

Last week (and again last night) I joined a live comedy stream featuring a couple of my favourite comedians, Rachel Parris and Marcus Brigstocke hosted by Always Be Comedy. It was a little weird at first because I joined a Zoom call as a viewer to find a dozen connections from strangers chatting to each other. Those people weren’t just there to watch the comedy, they were ‘The Front Row'[2] at the ‘venue’, they were there to be part of it. When Rachel and Marcus started their show they (and we) could still hear The Front Row (and they could also see comments on chat from the whole audience).

This is a good thing for the presenters, who would otherwise be getting no feedback from their audience, and it’s also (mostly) a good thing for the broader audience, as the laughs coming from elsewhere make the whole experience more like an in real life event.

So what?

You may be thinking, ‘That’s great Chris, but I’m not into live comedy, and I’m definitely not into live comedy on another web conference when I’ve spent all day staring at a screen’; but I bring this up because I think The Front Row is just an early example of how audiences are going to be empowered to engage with online events.

Some other things I’ve been seeing

At the recent Virtual DevOps Enterprise Summit the presenters were available in Slack for Q&A whilst the recordings of their talks/demos or whatever were playing, and this resulted in some really good interactive discussions about the topics at hand.

I watched the opening keynote for Google’s Cloud Next event on DatacenterDude’s Watch Party[3], which brought people together from Nick’s online communities on Discord and YouTube to chat about the event (a bit like a group of friends/colleagues sitting together at a conference and sharing some thoughts).

What next?

I don’t know. We’re all learning about this stuff at the moment. The Front Row is just one experiment in engagement that’s showing some promise. I hope that event producers try more stuff out, and I hope platforms introduce more features to help with engagement. We also have a ton to learn from YouTube and Twitch streamers (and similar) who’ve been engaging with (often huge) remote audiences for many years before the pandemic.

I’m adding useful things I find about streaming to my Pinboard tag on the topic.

Dick Morrell also pointed me at Jono Bacon’s People Powered as a book to help understand (online) communities, but I’ve not had the chance to start reading it yet.

Update 9 Sep 2020

BBC News is covering the use of the front row in online comedy gigs with its (video) piece Lockdown comedy: How coronavirus changed stand-up.

Also Jono Bacon is starting up a book club for People Powered.


[1] I find myself often referring to this as the ‘rule of 9s’ – 90% consumer, 9% curator, 0.9% creator (and I know that leaves a stray 0.1%).
[2] Live comedy regulars will know that you don’t sit in the front row of a venue unless you want to run the risk of becoming part of the show. It’s a bit like the splash zone for shows at dolphin parks – don’t sit there unless you want to get wet. There are some comedy fans who will always choose the front row, most not so much – it’s a good reason to show up to an act on time, because you don’t want to be forced into the splash zone if you don’t want to take part.
[3] I saw some analyst commentary that Next was poorly attended, which I think fails to take account of the facts that a) analysts were given early access to the streams, so they were seeing them at a time when only press and analysts had access, and b) anybody joining a watch party wouldn’t be counted for the origin stream (though this is something that YouTube/Google should be able to get straight in terms of fan out).

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