03 February 2022

Online conferences offer many benefits, but online poster sessions still suck

Since 2020, most academic conferences have been online. A recent paper on conferences found many positive effects from online conferences. In short:

  • More people overall.
  • People from more places.
  • More women.

The paper argues that online conferences also reduced carbon footprint, but do this by calculating carbon emissions of air travel only. They do not calculate the carbon emissions from hosted server space, energy use of uploads and downloads, and so on. As blockchain technology has proved, “digital” does not mean “carbon neutral.”

The paper highlights the problems with online poster sessions in the abstract: “(F)urther development of virtual networking features and poster sessions is necessary to achieve widespread adoption and acceptance of this new format.”

A dive into the main text shows a more complex picture.

Skiles and company go into more details in this excerpt, lightly edited (acronyms removed):

Analysed virtual conferencess had poster authors publish their posters via Twitter, using a web-based iPoster sharing platform, or by uploading a 5-minute prerecorded presentation to the conference website. The poster presentations had high view counts (NAMS iPosters had on average 142 views) but presenters could not tell how many attendees were viewing their posters and features for communicating with poster viewers were not effective. In contrast, Twitter-based poster sessions are increasing in frequency and allow asynchronous communication. However, Twitter is not available in every country, limiting access. Consequently, virtual posters were less popular, with 85% of North American Membrane Society survey respondents and 43% of Photonics Online Meetups 2 survey respondents indicating that they preferred in-person poster sessions to virtual poster sessions.

So they present a sample size of two, with an even split on preference. One crowd preferred face-to-face poster sessions, the other preferred online poster sessions. The “preferred” margin for online poster sessions is smaller in one meeting than the other, but still. I’m amazed that one conference had more than half of respondents favouring online poster sessions.


Skiles M, Yang E, Reshef O, Muñoz DR, Cintron D, Lind ML, Rush A, Calleja PP, Nerenberg R, Armani A, M. Faust K, Kumar M. 2021. Conference demographics and footprint changed by virtual platforms. Nature Sustainability. https://doi.org/10.1038/s41893-021-00823-2

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