Things I learned, that will influence my future projects:
Reactive programming is growing and it looks it’s going to stay. One way bindings and data flows make it much easier to manage state in Single Page Applications.
One way bindings with immutable data, fit well with functional programming. A lot of new experiments are in FP domain.
Concepts like graceful degradation and progressive enhancement are out. The only context in which people care about HTML is for Search Engines. If you can render good enough version of Website for Google – you don’t have to worry about anything else.
It seems that new solutions target only evergreen browsers.
I do see a lot of challenges. We’ll have to train people to understand FP. Now it’s a good time to pick up your Haskell book, once again.
I’ll also have to switch my tooling to TypeScript and replace jQuery with another layer of abstraction on top of it.
Jay for the speed of progress and the fact that I now how to learn completely new skills, while still staying ‘just’ a web developer.
Organising a conference is an activity that should count as an extreme working environment. It’s stressful and it requires good organizing skills of a wide range of people. If you don’t have a professional manager running it, you end up micromanaging your team. You’re also the only one that has all the information, that is often not document anywhere.
If you run your business like that, people will let you know that you need to fix it. Get the processes and documentation in place instead of one indispensable person.
With events, you can solve this by hiring
a Professional Conference Organizer. An individual or a team that has enough experience that you can trust them with the project. They can also delegate the tasks in optional fashion.
Hiring a PCO isn’t an option if you don’t have the budget either because it’s a volunteer event or you just can’t raise enough money.
Solution – Big Picture
Organizing a conference is a straightforward process. You need to figure out:
• Budget (expenses, sponsors, ticket sales, etc.)
• Venues (main venue, party venus, etc.)
• Accommodation (speakers, offers for attendees, staff)
• Logistics (catering, booths, booklets, lanyards, etc.)
• Promotion (press releases, web site, marketing)
My hypothesis is that you can write all these areas as a series of tasks. Each task has a clear outcome, deadline and required skill level. Once we break down the project into small tasks, we can introduce a thin layer of technology around these processes.
The Solution – Website That Helps You Organize Your Event
Main interface shows you a Gantt diagram with project structure. Initial wizard asks you for dates and rough requirements, which it uses to generate tasks that lead up to the event.
Task themselves are simple: “Distribute Call for Papers”, with a date of 6 months before the conference.
Tasks themselves would act like Trello tickets. You would add extra comments and attachments to documents its status and progress. Making this part frictionless, would help with the documentation process.
E-mail and Calendar integration would an important part of the whole system. Sending timely reminders about due tasks could ease the amount of activity tracking for the main organizer.
As a bonus, having a previous event in the system, would you allow you compare the notes and reuse the documents and templates.
Benefits over classical Issue and Project Tracking tool
Preset templates would ensure that you have a good structure, that it’s hard to setup upfront. You get skills through experience, but it’s easy to overlook something.
Most of the tasks could be further linked to a knowledge base, with good practices and example document templates.
Can it earn enough to be a sustainable business?
Events usually have a set budget. This would prevent selling it as a subscription service. You might be able to show a significant saving for the team, but the team can’t pay you. The problem lies in the fact that you get most of the money just before the event. Most of the conferences just about break even.
Would Professional Conference Organizers pay for it?
They might, but they don’t need a hand holding tool. They have different needs that would be better served by a CRM tool. It also would not help them communicate with their client as they’re not selling a tool, but their services as organizers.
Right now, to me, it looks like a tool that I would use, but doesn’t have good business potential. It might get traction as a free tool, but you still couldn’t upsell it to a subscription service.
How would you improve the business model?
Do you know anyone that built a successful product in such a vertical?
It’s popular today to work in Open Data, Big Data or similar space. It feels just like the times of Web 2.0 mashups, but instead of simple Google Maps based tools we’re now creating powerful visualisations that often feel like an end by itself.
In a way, I expected OKCon, OpenKnowledge Foundation’s conference, to be about makers – people that build useful part of OpenData ecosystem and to provide in-depth case studies. Instead we’ve got a mix of representatives from government, large international NGOs, small NGOs and various developers and software providers. To me these worlds felt just too far apart.
Data portals are here and while we haven’t seen a large scale deployment from government in Slovenia, it’s likely that they we will have something in this regard in the next few years. Everyone else has already deployed their first version and more advanced (public) institutions are already on their second or third attempt. Just as with social media a few years ago, we’re now also seeing first case studies that show economical and political advantage of providing such sites.
Self hosted CKAN platform seems a popular tool for such efforts (or it just might be conference bias as it’s developed by OKFN).
Budgets and contracts
A lot of effort is expanded in area of representing budgets, tenders, company ownerships and similar. In this regard, Slovenia’s Supervizor looks like something that’s from far future compared to what other countries or projects achieved at the moment. We could contribute a lot back to the international community, if we can produce case studies on benefits (or lack of) of such system.
At the same time, building visualisations around local budgets is something that doesn’t feel productive anymore. I think we should just upload sanitised data to a portal like OpenSpending and focus our efforts on projects with more impact.
Just as with mashups, everyone loves geospatial representation. The more colours and points of interest, the better. The only problem is, that it’s often useless for people that actually need to use it. While not openly expressed during presentations, discussions during the break often revolved around how bloated and useless were these representations and that just having a good text/table based report would work so much better.
At some point, community will have to embrace modern product development methodology – stories, user testing, iterative development and similar. Right now it feels like a lot of these tools are either too generic or sub-contracted and developed through water-fall model.
Having said that, I’ve seen great examples of how to do things right: landmatrix.org
While NGOs might be building things the old fashioned way, their developers certainly aren’t. Tools and platforms are openly licensed and published on GitHub and often tied into different continuous integration environments.
https://github.com/ostap/comp – automatically exposes your local CSV, XML and similar files as JSON endpoint through standalone Go based server. Developed by mingle.io team.
Software development is already hard for teams of seasoned veterans that work on projects inside the tech industry. It’s almost impossibly hard for both large and small NGOs since there just isn’t enough talent available. Additionally, it seems that these organisations often don’t want to coordinate efforts (even basic sharing of data) with each other or even internally, making projects even less likely to succeed.
I think that we’ll continue to see a lot of badly executed projects in this area until modern, tech-driven groups like OKFN and Sunlight Foundation manage to raise the bar.
This year Kiberpipa will be 10+ years old and its’ event lineup is incredible. Over 350 events a year involving various talks, meetups, screening and everything. During this time a bunch of new technologies showed and demand for jobs as well as our interest shifted and I/we stared creating bigger and more exclusive events (as in: you can only attend if you speak).
It mostly worked, with limited success. What happens is that while the core members Kiberpipa and related communities are used to speaking and working out in the open, not everyone is. And we didn’t give new members of community a chance to slowly build up their involvement.
With this in mind, I’m hoping that we can get a few more meetups and events going where minimum level of involvement is a 15-min talk instead of a full 45-min lecture with all eyes on you.
Reading Pratchett’s latest novel – I Shall Wear Midnight (a Tiffany Aching story), I was reminded that witching is mostly a matter of stopping to think and look around and observe what people are actually doing. Witches in his stories call this headology – headology, a sort of folk-psychology which can be summed up as “if people think you’re a witch, you might as well be one”.
Which brings us to modern day with all the experts in soft fields like community management or social media marketing. They’re both fields where two things happen:
You have to know how to stop and observe what all the people around you are doing and understand their reasons for doing these things.
Since you’re mostly not producing things, the only way for others to accept you as a witch of this field is by you acting like one in the first place.
After you understand this, everything else is easy. Oh, and you’ll have to figure out what your pointy hat is.