Scientific conferences are ideal happenings for the microblogging service Twitter, and probably reason enough for you to get a twitter account if you've not got one already. On the whole people use Twitter to follow the thoughts and musings of a few people that find interesting, but it can also be used to rapidly form groups of people into diffuse conversations around a #tag. By adding a short tag to your messages, prefixed by a # (hash or pound sign), then searching for that tag yourself, you can temporally become connected with other people. Essentially you advertise your interest in the topic so that people do not have to dig around to find you.
The advantages of this at a conference are enormous. Instead of putting up a couple of blog posts and turning up at an ice breaker, you can start very early on by announcing that you've had your abstract selected:
Abstract accepted: "Sea ice on a supercooled ocean: field measurements of ice growth and structure..." . #igstromso
When finding somewhere to stay, perhaps you'd like to share a room but don't know anyone else going, so ask on Twitter, and maybe you'll find someone who can help.
Looking for a roommate for IGS meeting in Tromso #igstromso
You get there a day early, and see that some other people have set up an impromptu social, so you go along and start the networking a day early.
A group of us will be in the igloo bar from 9pm. http://made.up/link. #igstromso
Finally you can comment on talks and interesting discussions, partly as a reminder to yourself for later, and to connect with others that might be at the other side of the room, not to mention a little bit of advertising for yourself just before your own talk.
Currently Twitter's not quite in the mainstream, so while it would be helpful if conference organisers could come up with and publish a twitter tag for people to use but in the mean time we'll have to guess what might end up being adopted.
Eventually people self-organise around a particular #tag, but this won't settle in until the conference is under way. A lot of the time some combination of the organisation and city hosting the meeting (eg. #igstromso) is the best thing to aim for. Most organisations have three or four letter abbreviations but these tend to be too general, and get swamped with other noise from twitter.
As an example I've been searching for the following from time to time to see what they turn up:
For the association of polar early career scientists. A tag I'd hope to see used more frequently.
#ipyosc #ipyoslo (bad: #ipy, #oslo2010)
The IPY wrapup Oslo science conference. #oslo2010 is a great idea but gets mis-hits from the eurovision song contest which is likely to be much more popular with the rest of Europe.
#igstromso (bad: #igs)
IGS international symposium on sea ice in the physical and biogeochemical system.
#iahrlahti (bad: #iahr)
21st meeting of the IAHR in Lahti, Finland.
For the AGU and EGU annual meetups. Suffer from conflicts as they're very short, so I just use these while the meetings are happening.
Of course, I also scan #seaice but keep clear of the noise of #climate, #physics and other more general tags - these provide a way to engage with the general public, but in such a diffuse way that I feel a blog or traditional media provide more reliable outreach. Twitter is best when used to create a manageable community tightly focused enough to want to read 50% of the posts that crop up. Unlike an email list it's less intrusive for the people that don't care right now, but might do later, and it quickly dissolves once the event is over.