Engineering serendipity

We are kicking off our 2021 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 year 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 2 to 5.

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.

Networking on the platform

Most of our programming happens directly in the FWD50 platform, Whereby on Grip, and we’re using Zoom for workshops.

Attendees, speakers and partners can network with one another using Grip’s networking features. By clicking on the “Attendees” option in the side menu bar, you can scroll through a list of all attendees at the event and search them by categories provided at the top. Once you’ve identified someone you find interesting, you can click “show interest” to create a connection. If the other person agrees to connect with you, then both will be matched and a private DM chat will appear. From there, you can request a meeting with that person (book a time in their calendar) or have a live video call with each other at any point during the event. 

You can accept, postpone or decline meetings if you wish. Additionally, you can schedule meetings with up to 50 people at one time and any meetings accepted will appear in you own personal schedule.

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.

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 30 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.

Three 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. 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.

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!