There is a great deal to rail against in current world circumstances, but silver linings exist. One, for me, was the ability to join a workshop on Personal Health Knowledge Graphs, part of the Knowledge Graph Conference. (A knowledge graph is a way to store, structure and query information; it’s cool stuff.)

In previous world circumstances, the odds of my heading to the US to join would have been fairly low, but signing in on Zoom for a day is a different matter.

I was very pleasantly surprised by the extent to which the workshop replicated, for me, the feelings I associate with being at an event. The organisers made smart use of Zoom and Slack, with crystal clarity about the contexts in which the chat functions of those two tools were to be used (Zoom chat only to discuss things going on in the current presentation or panel, Slack channels for everything else). I was also impressed by how well breakout rooms function in Zoom: I had the chance to propose and run a breakout session and the technology worked seamlessly.

There were even a few things that were better than a regular conference. It’s hard to mishear a question when it has been typed out, for one. For another – and I loved this – in the Zoom chat, people could and did throw links straight to the papers or resources they were discussing. No “Look up the paper by so-and-so from 2017…”, just “here’s a link to the paper I just mentioned.”

The Slack channels also provided a bit of an opportunity for some back-and-forth that can’t duplicate the social elements of a conference such as coffee and lunch breaks, but stands in (a little) for that. I know the organisers arranged a “happy hour” social event, but it was on another day when I had other things, so alas I could not join.

One creative thing the organisers did was commission Flatland Visual Thinking to both take notes and do a bunch of caricatures – you can see the notes from the Personal Health Knowledge Graphs workshop and my caricature below. Very cool.

All in all, hat tip to the organisers for running such a smooth – and fun – event under difficult circumstances, and to the participants for being so engaged.

diagram depicting the main discussion topics of the day

Notes by Flatland Visual Thinking on PHKG2020

Clare, caricatured

Me, but caricatured