FOSS Responders

[Tools Review] -- online platform for conferences

This topic us about reviews.

  1. Name of event: GitLab Contribute 2020

  2. Kind of event: It was a tech conference with multiple tracks. Also had: workshops, small group discussions, breakout groups for networking, and panels.

  3. Is it open source? No.

  4. How many people attended (approx): 1,500 people

  5. Tools you used to run the conference: We used for the event platform and Sched for the schedule building tool.

  6. Overall user experience: It was a great user experience! The only thing I noticed is that sometimes speakers took a long time to join (switching between presenters wasn’t easy). This means that sometimes the audience would be left waiting for a while and/or the presented had to stall for time until the next presenter appeared. Besides that small glitch, everything else was great and I really enjoyed my experience at the conference.

  7. Costs associated: Pricing was based on how long we wanted the event to run, support level, # of attendees and whitelisting the event.

  8. Other: Here’s a review for the scheduling software we used, Sched.

  1. Name of event: Open Source 101 @ Home

  2. Kind of event: A generalist tech conference with a focus on open source technology and concepts, emphasizing entry-level and beginner content.

  3. How many people attended (approx): sustained attendance of ~400 over the course of the day, with over 800 tickets sold or given away to the event

  4. Personal hardware/software configuration:

    • Macbook Pro (Display #1)
    • Additional monitor (Display #2)
    • macOS 10.15.3 (Catalina)
    • Chrome 81(Slides presented in-browser)
    • Slides written using the remark.js framework, hosted on GitHub Pages
  5. Overall experience as a speaker: Generally very good.

    This was my first time presenting at a virtual conference, and my first time using the platform in any capacity. I did not take advantage of the opportunity given to us as speakers to do a trial/tech run the day before, which was a mistake on my part. Don’t make this mistake - do a trial run. I did not have any significant issues that I couldn’t work around, but it would have been smoother if I’d tested my setup ahead of time.

    I started setting up as a speaker a few minutes before my talk, with the intention of sharing a discrete desktop showing my slides, with the window open on Display #2, and speaker notes in Display #1. I couldn’t get this to work in the moment, and so I shifted to just sharing a full browser window that was showing my slides on Display #1, with the window open on Display #2. This meant I was presenting without speaker notes or presenter view or the ‘next slide’ cue, but I’m comfortable presenting in this fashion. If I had been heavily relying on my speaker notes, I would have been in trouble. I don’t believe this was any fault of the platform, and I’m sure I could have gotten this configuration to work if I spent time troubleshooting it. All told, I spent a couple minutes poking at it, decided to present without notes, and started about a minute late.

    When sharing as a speaker, the interface showed me a camera view of myself as well as a window showing my slides. Both views were about the same size, as if it was a two-person video call. There was also a chat bar along the side of the interface that was only for my talk. This allowed me to see any comments that came in while I was speaking. I personally found these either distracting (trying to read them while speaking) or maddeningly quiet (absent visual feedback it was hard to know how my talk was landing. Next time I present in this format, I’ll integrate cues for feedback into the talk (“If this sounds like you, type ‘Y’ in the chat” or something like that.) A Thumbs Up/Thumbs Down emoji button here would have been great.

    The interface showed me several other options that I didn’t take advantage of (I believe I could run a poll for my talk attendees but I didn’t investigate). The interface also showed me how many folks were watching the presentation.

    Once I was rolling I didn’t have any particular issues. On the whole the interface seemed fairly intuitive to me. As an experienced speaker, I was able to handle the minor issues that I encountered when getting set up, but those issues were sort-of my own fault. Always do the tech run, even if you think you know what to expect. But in the end, everything went very well.

  6. Overall experience as a sponsor: Generally very good.

    As a sponsor (one of two top-level sponsors), we had a virtual booth in the “expo hall” part of the platform. We had a reasonable amount of control over the information that was shown about us, though we did not have direct access to edit the information (I wouldn’t expect to have this level of access anyway). We had the option of either doing live stream video chat, or having the booth auto-play a hosted video on our behalf (for example, we could have posted a Youtube video and had it play when attendees visited). We went with live streaming video chat, without much of an understanding of what to expect. We put together a loose schedule of topics that we would be willing to discuss in the booth, and asked the event organizers to post into the main conference chat every hour with our next topic. (“At the Indeed booth Now: Hear about, a cross-industry initiative to provide support to the open source community affected by Covid-19”). Having a schedule of what we were going to talk about and when was key to this booth going well for us.

    When the event went live, I was joined by one of my teammates in the live stream. We more or less stared blankly at each other for a couple minutes, not sure how the interface worked or what we should expect. We quickly transitioned to having an impromptu interview-style chat where we discussed the work we did in the open source program and his role leading the engineering team. The booth also had a chat interface along the side, and in the very beginning some very general questions about Indeed were posted in the chat - the kinds of questions you would expect from a causal booth visitor in a normal expo hall. Similar to the speaker interface, we saw a count for the number of people visiting our booth at any given moment. We saw surges of visitors when talks let out, and generally had 10-20 people watching at any given time (with spikes between 4-40 viewers). We regularly invited anyone watching to click the “Ask to share voice and video” button, which would bring them into the live stream discussion. Over the course of the day, between 3-6 people joined the live stream in this manner.

    We did not take advantage of some of the options that were available to us in the booth interface, and focused mainly on having public conversations. We had limited moderator rights within our booth that required us to approve folks who wanted to join the live stream, and allowed us to disconnect people if there was a need. This gave us some ability to enforce good behavior in the booth. We fortunately did not need to use this functionality. The platform also would have allowed us to extend virtual offers and capture leads at the booth, but we did not take advantage of this functionality either.

    Of the 6 sponsors, only two appeared to do live streaming at their booths. I only got to experience the other live stream briefly, and it appeared to be a single live streamer talking questions from booth visitors. I did not visit the other sponsor booths.

    Overall, our whole team enjoyed the experience, and we felt like we could do a much better job executing an engaging, multi-person live stream in a future virtual booth. We found the platform easy to use overall.

  7. Other: The platform is undergoing rapid development, and is currently in a closed beta. They raised $6.5 million dollars in VC funding in February to build out the platform, and at the time of this writing, they employ about 34 people (based off their LinkedIn profile)

    These facts are relevant to a point that I believe is worth bringing up, which is the limited moderator rights that were made available to us as a sponsor and to me as a speaker. While we encountered no issues at our booth, and while I encountered no issues during my talk, the version of the platform that I experienced did not have sufficiently strong moderation options available for speakers and sponsors. As a speaker, it’s not clear what I could have done to handle a channel-takeover in the chat for my talk had someone decided to post abusive or harassing messages. As a sponsor, I had the ability to kick someone off of a live stream, but not out of my booth chat. There was no clear, easy way to report a Code of Conduct violation in the interface, and enforcement relied on bringing complaints to the event organizers - who wisely had several moderators on hand keeping on eye on things. The need to directly and manually raise a complaint to an event organizer fails to take into account the speed with which virtual events can experience problems. To be clear - we did not experience any problems, and I have not heard of anyone who did. And had we experienced any problems, I have absolute confidence that the Open Source 101 @ Home team would have handled them swiftly and decisively. But I do think it’s fair to say that the team has not hung their core value proposition on attendee safety. For the platform to be widely successful, broader moderation features will need to be developed. While those features are developed, my suggestion is that if you run an event on, understand what your risk profile is, and ensure that you have enough moderators to monitor all channels (booths, talks, chat bars, and live streams).

  8. Final Thoughts: If asked to speak at or sponsor another event that used, I would not hesitate to participate, though I would have a conversation with the organizers to make sure they have their moderator bases covered. Not knowing the costs involved, I wouldn’t hesitate to use it as a platform for my own small event, provided I had enough support staff to run it safely and if the costs were reasonable. If the event were large and free for anyone to attend, I would have concerns about using the platform without the addition of some stronger safety features.

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I want to add a couple additional pieces of information to my review.

  1. You can view the user manual online for free. At the time of this writing, the user manual is posted and available online. You may find it useful to review.

  2. Event organizers must escalate requests to remove attendees from events. From the user manual:

    "To remove an attendee from an event, reach out to Team Hopin directly (either by email or using the website chat) and report the attendee. We will swiftly respond and look into the situation, and remove the person from the event on the backend.

    “Organisers are not permitted to remove attendees at this time to prevent organiser abuse or ungrounded removal of paying attendees.”

    I disagree with this approach for many reasons, and I hope that the team adopt a position in the future that delegates this authority to event organizers and chooses safety as a core value. No in-person event organizer would choose an event venue that required venue approval before removing an attendee.

Having reviewed the user manual and the process for removing event attendees, I would not recommend as a platform for events where attendee and event safety are a primary concern. In all other aspects, I found the platform to be quite good.

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Update from the Twitter account indicates that this policy text is out of date, and that event organizers can remove attendees.