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O'Reilly invites Twitter questions at Web 2.0, doesn't ask them

The conference and magazine innovator offered to incorporate the backchannel in a way that could change how such confabs become interactive, but then doesn't follow up.

O'Reilly Media's Tim O'Reilly said he had his phone on the wrong Twitter setting to receive audience Twitter questions during his Web 2.0 Expo keynote interview with Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz. Twitter

Update: This story now reflects Tim O'Reilly's mea culpa for not asking audience questions sent in via Twitter.

SAN FRANCISCO--After all the hooplah over interactivity--or lack thereof--during keynote speeches at the South by Southwest Interactive conference in March, I've been thinking a lot about how conferences can incorporate the backchannel.

That's why I was pleasantly surprised to see Tim O'Reilly, who runs O'Reilly Media, which is the co-organizer of the Web 2.0 Expo here, invite the audience for his keynote conversation with Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz to Twitter him questions to ask Schwartz.

He pointed out that the dynamic of the room didn't allow for audience members to stand at microphones to ask questions, so instead, he said, people could send him questions via his Twitter account (@timoreilly), which he would then be able to check on his mobile phone.

This can be a nice way to bring in the audience and it can showcase the ways that audience members can now interact with the people onstage at conferences and symposiums.

As I wrote in my earlier story, it is becoming increasingly clear that audiences want to be able to have a say in what is being discussed onstage, and technologies like Twitter, Meebo, instant message, and others make it more likely that not only will those in the audience be able to talk silently among themselves, but also to communicate with the speakers.

O'Reilly Media's Tim O'Reilly encouraged the audience at his keynote interview with Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz to Twitter him questions, but didn't follow up by asking any of them. Daniel Terdiman/CNET

But, sadly, O'Reilly never actually checked his phone to see if there were any Twittered questions from the audience--either those in the room or those following from outside--and therefore wasted this golden opportunity to bring the backchannel into the conversation.

There's nothing wrong, per se, with not incorporating the backchannel in such a keynote address, of course. At Web 2.0 Expo, the keynote addresses are shorter than at many conferences, and so I can easily see why keeping the discussion solely between those onstage makes perfect sense. And in fairness to him, there were really only a few minutes left in the time for the talk when he posed the opportunity.

But it still felt like a little bit of a slap in the face for O'Reilly to offer the audience the ability to Twitter questions and then not follow through.

Afterwards, I Twittered O'Reilly to ask him why he hadn't asked any of the questions I'm sure he must have gotten. He hasn't responded yet. But if I hear from him, I'll update this blog.

At just before 3 pm pacific Friday, O'Reilly Twittered publicly that he had accidentally had his cell phone set to the wrong Twitter setting and that it was only showing replies from Twitter users he was actively following.

It's good of him to address the issue and explain why he didn't follow through on his offer to the audience.