Lisa Guernsey in the New York Times: In the Lecture Hall, a Geek Chorus.

I’ve been watching this trend develop from afar, not often finding myself in conferences or lectures where there’s a wifi connection available. It’s at the same time exciting and intimidating. I never stay long in IRC because the cacophony quickly becomes overwhelming (if I can speak of “cacophony” in a text-based world), so I’m not sure that I would respond well to a mixed, simultaneous online-offline environment

Years ago, while working as an engineer at a radio station, my father learned to follow several audio input streams simultaneously. He carried the same skill into reading while watching TV and listening to family conversation. Growing up with this, I picked up on the reading-while-watching-TV thing, but it stops there.

I was about to write that I didn’t think that an online component would be useful or effective in a very small group, but then I realized how handy it could be in discussions or meetings to easily pass links or make quick notes for everyone to see. This is what first attracted me to Hydra. I suspect that an online back channel would be most useful in a lecture or conference only once a group reaches a certain size, yet that threshold may be very near a group’s optimal size, beyond which the back channel becomes too hard to follow and too great a distraction. It certainly would for me. I’d have to school myself to tune out one or the other.

Later on, I’d love to have a transcript of the online discussion, ideally synched with audio and/or video.

I urge you to read Clay Shirky’s “A Group Is Its Own Worst Enemy” if you haven’t already. His “In-Room Chat as a Social Tool” is also quite instructive, especially for ideas about how these tools are actually used.

On a related note, Ray Ozzie’s idea for a combination wiki and collaborative text editor, and (Hugh Pyle’s quick implementation) is more than a little intriguing.

And hmmm… Groove text tool? A quick search for that led me to Groove’s Notepad, which appears to be a Hydra-like tool for Windows, but more. Groove does such cool stuff, I wish I could use it.