What if conference talks were video preprints?

Conferences are about the rapid dissemination of new science to specialists in the same field. We should treat conference talks as we treat preprints, as a deliberate science dissemination process, and make video recording and proper archiving ubiquitous.

Speaker-led demand

Recording already happens of course, at some conferences, in a rough and ready way. My point here is that, rather than passively accepting what the conference has organised, presenters should demand high quality recording and open distribution as part of the conference package. If nothing is organised they should demand an explanation and record themselves. At the moment recording is something conferences decide to do, it’s a bit like handing over a manuscript and not caring how or if it is published openly. Speakers should see the value of their presentations, make demands, take control, and actively disseminate.

Talks should be seen as a form of preprint and all the same benefits recognised:

  • Preprints promote the rapid release of science
  • Preprints breakdown journal (conference) paywalls
  • Preprints implement an open science/ open access culture

How and where to preprint videos

The camera technology is cheap and ubiquitous. It could even be camera free, maybe its OK just to record the presenter’s voice and embed it in the slides, that’s much better than a video of the presenter where the slides can’t be read. My University records voice and slides for all undergraduate lectures as default. Why not conferences?

The storage of the video must not be ephemeral, please do not use conference websites. Vimeo, YouTube channels are better. I watch talks from several data science conferences on YouTube, and the 2017 SSE Evolution meeting, and its almost like being there. Videos could be hosted elsewhere, but conference websites don’t last.

Why is this done so little?

The 2017 the SSE Evolution meetings were the first meetings in my area that has promoted recording talks. Why is it so rare? Why is it not more professional? In the absence of recording why do so few people advertise the location of their talk slides or better yet have a dedicated page archiving all their talks? Slideshare and Speakerdeck, and Figshare are perfect for this.

It is strange that biology has embraced preprints so rapidly but scientific outputs like talks are not thought of as worth sharing widely. You should make talks open and take credit for your work. If you are an early career scientist, finishing a PhD and looking for a job, all the more reason to advertise all your work outputs rapidly.


Many of the objections I can think of have largely been refuted for manuscript preprints already.

  • If talks were public nobody would come to the conference. Well conferences already do this, and people still come. Preprints don’t mean people don’t read the published papers. What is the point of conferences if not rapid release of science?
  • I don’t want the whole world to see this data. Maybe you shouldn’t present it at a conference? The same logic applies as with preprints. People could steal, but they rarely if ever do. Besides, the publication of a preprint video nicely time-stamps your discovery if that is important.
  • This is very early science, just preliminary, and I’m possibly wrong. This is fine, as long as you say that at the start. If you can explain it is preliminary to a conference audience you can explain to a YouTube audience.
  • I’m self-conscious and don’t like hearing/seeing myself. From my experience of my university implementing lecture recording this is the most frequent concern of academics. It is a significant source of resistance. Remember the self-conciousness of publishing your first manuscript? No, me either, and the self-doubt and embarrassment quickly goes away for videos too.
  • “Video preprint” makes no sense as a name, talks were never printed. Agreed. The language is horribly mangled. Sugestions please.

Actions you could take

  1. Ask every conference well ahead if they will have a YouTube channel for the meeting and if not, why not
  2. If a conference won’t record then trade recording duties with a friend, or just switch on voice recording in PowerPoint or Keynote or whatever
  3. Set up your own slide repository (eg Speakerdeck) and YouTube channel and populate them
  4. Advertise the location of talk media (slides, video) on the 1st slide of your talk and on your web page
  5. Tweet the title and links to all your talks
  6. Treat talks as professional open science outputs that you distribute rapidly to the widest audience

A final concern

I’m concern about permanence. If a conference or society has a YouTube channel and fails to maintain it, are the talks lost for ever? What if the recordings are in a different format and at a more ephemeral URL? What can you do? Who “owns” your talk? Who ensures its permanence the way we ensure the permanence of the written scientific record?

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