Earlier today, David Stanek was grousing about Convore and wondering why he needed "another place to look for communications". I promised him an answer that couldn't fit into 140 characters, and this is it.
I was initially a skeptic as well and had more or less the same reaction. I've got IRC and Jabber for chat rooms; I've got email lists and message boards for slower-speed, more permanent discussions; and I've got Twitter for a real-time firehose. Why do I need one more thing?
The answer, at least to me, is that Convore is a little bit of all of these things, and it ends up being greater than the sum of its parts. After giving Convore an open-minded try at PyCon, I found that it was a really comfortable and natural fit as a back-channel for the event.
It's topical: Twitter is great at being a firehose of information, but it's lousy for being able to subdivide that firehose into easily sippable streams. At PyCon, Convore users created a topic for every talk within moments of it starting, allowing commentary and discussion to stay relevant and focused.
It's persistent: Unlike IRC (which only persists in logs) and Twitter (which only persists in the Library of Congress), the Convore discussions will stick around and are easily discoverable (though admittedly some better search would help here). A couple of the benefits--and I'm sure there are others--come readily to mind:
As a conference speaker, I could go into the Convore discussion after my talk and not only see what the back-channel had to say about it, I could answer questions and interact with people who were interested in what I had to say.
I can come back to it much, much later. We're starting to show PyCon videos at work during lunch, and we can use the Convore data to help decide which talks were the most interesting or that are worth prioritizing.
People who weren't able to attend can review the discussion and participate after the fact. Maybe it means finding an interesting new project, or maybe it means networking with other developers--it's there and it's available.
It's low-friction: I can log in via Twitter (so I don't have to create yet another identity). I don't need a client to make it tolerable (even "New Twitter" hasn't figured this out yet). It works great on my laptop, as well as on the iPad (and presumably other tablets as well).
It's civil: If I were to star in a Ballmeresque dance video about Convore, the riff would be "civility, civility, civility, civility." At least in what I saw at PyCon, the Convore discussions never got nasty or crossed too far over any lines; even when the speaker from DropBox went way, way over time on his keynote address, the back-channel didn't get nasty--and in fact it eventually turned sympathetic (after all, how many times have you delivered a keynote speech in front of 1400 people?). This was a very stark contrast to the year that Ian Bicking put the #pycon IRC channel up on the big screen and things got somewhat ugly.
I don't think that Convore replaces email lists. Those seem well-suited to lengthy, back-and-forth discussion among the communities they represent. I don't use it for trying to organize our podcast (although there's an argument to be made that it's an impossible task no matter what medium we use), and I wouldn't use it for organizing a user group or conference.
I don't think that Convore replaces IRC or Jabber; sometimes I just want to shoot the breeze or have a more ephemeral conversation.
I don't think that Convore replaces Twitter; Twitter's great at being a big, asychronous party with all my favorite people in it. Sometimes I want to be distracted by all the shiny toys that people find.
But as a conference back-channel, it was stellar, and I'm looking forward to using it more in that context. Your mileage, of course, may vary.