Category Archives: 360Flex

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Session Recording, constant improvement

Recording conference sessions is one of those things that everyone seems to have their own way of doing it.

51iitebr49l-_sl1000_When we started, we had Flipcams on tripods in the middle of the room. Better than nothing, but only just. Under the best circumstances they captured grainy video and average audio. Under the worst they captured the person sitting next to the camera.

It wasn’t great, it wasn’t even good, but it was what we had on a budget, and for those who didn’t come to the conference is was better than not having anything.

 

snow_leopard_quicktime_x_iconThen we moved up to quicktime. It’s on 99.8% of our presenters laptops (Macs FTW) and does a great job of recording a screen. The Mac built in mic does a pretty darn good job of picking up the speaker too. The speaker is amplified and right in front (usually) of the machine. It was actually a pretty good solution, mostly.

We found that about 80% of the time quicktime screen captures worked really well. Then we encountered the random “record a green screen” issue, then the “my mic broke and I don’t use it so never got it fixed” speaker. Then we came across the “Quicktime is a beast and bogs my machine down too much” speakers. Quickly quicktime became a non winning option.

Enter our new rig.

One of the reasons we started with a super janky, then a less janky option, was budget. Conferences aren’t huge money makers for indie event organizers, so it wasn’t until recently I had the resources to upgrade our recording rig. Even then it was still a big investment.

img_0054This new set up (a MacBook Air, a Zoom H1, and a Elgato Game Capture HD) runs about $1500 for each room to be recorded (That’s with buying a refurb, 3 year old MacBook Air). We have four rooms to record at 360|iDev, so that’s not a small investment. Thanks to my friend Curtis Herbert for the tip on this set up. We were talking about ways to do it and he mentioned how he does it for his CocoaLove conference.

This year at 360|iDev was the first true test run of this set up at scale. It went mostly awesome. We had a few issues; settings on the hardware that were borked, a default on the mic that wasn’t compatible with the Elgato, etc. All in all we ended up with about as many sessions recorded as we did the previous year, so not too bad for an entirely new process.

As an organizer you gotta pick and choose where your limited budget goes. Professional session recording (last time I did it), runs a few grand per room per day, just not in the cards for a low margin indie event. As it is this recording setup is the largest single capital investment 360|Conferences has ever done in a single year.

I’m really excited for next year and for [360|iDev min] in October. I think our session recordings from now on will be quite good and of a quality I can be proud of. If you haven’t watched this year’s recordings, go check ’em out. To be clear, this years recordings are NOT of a quality I’m proud of, I was tempted to not release any, but figured for those that missed the conference and wanted to see what they missed the weird audio issues wouldn’t be a deal breaker. Plus the videos are free, so there’s that.

“This hotel internet is amazing” Said No One Ever.

“This hotel internet is amazing” Said No One Ever.

As much as I’ve enjoyed hosting my events at Marriotts, and as much as I’ve enjoyed staying at Marriotts (all but one hotel on my recent Hong Kong trip were Marriotts), this move by Marriott is likely going to keep me away, at least as much as possible. Certainly for events.

Marriott apparently is taking their dislike of customers to the next level. Surprised? No not really. I am surprised they’re so bent on this course of action that despite the $600k fine, they’re pressing forward trying to get the FCC to change it’s rules. First they tried being sly about blocking people from using their own hot spots, then they got busted. Rather than mea culpa and move on, they’re upping the stakes.

Since their FCC filing (please go leave a comment) being found out, they’ve tried to clarify that they don’t want to hose hotel guests, in fact they only meant they wanted to hose conference organizers and attendees. Oh that’s better…

Apparently suddenly (despite my having never heard of it happening) Marriott is very concerned with cyber security at conferences held on property. Something about protecting children too. The only issues I’ve ever seen at conferences with regards to wifi, is it generally sucking. I’ve never heard of any attacks against the hotel, the conference (It’s organizer or attendees) or any type of child porn ring popping up on premises.

What really happens is hotel internet is usually not awesome. Conference attendees often choose to spend their own data to stay connected. As an organizer I hate it when that happens, but am glad my customers have an option and a choice. I’d be severely pissed off if that weren’t the case, because the hotel chose to block access.

I can only think of one scenario where this type of behavior wouldn’t be abhorrent, and that’s if every hotel invested in the infrastructure to deliver amazing network connectivity to their customers and guests. While undoubtedly some have, most have not.

Oh and while Marriott is busy trying to screw it’s customers, Hyatt is getting rid of the stupid uncharge associated with guest internet access.

I hope either the FCC makes a decision (ideally the right one) or Marriott backs off their plan. Just pay the fine, move on guys.

2014 in review.

I know, everyone does one, blah blah. This is mine. Read it or don’t :) But I think 2014 was a pretty big year personally and professionally. It saw me recover from a massive blunder in 2013 to the tune of about $80k. It saw me cancel my first event, and sign on to do event consulting on an event I’m excited about. It also saw lots of travel, and bonding with friends near and far.

Things that happened in 2014:

  • Once again helped organize Denver Startup Week
  • Helped organize and run GoCode CO 2014
  • Cancelled 360|intersect 2014
  • Recovered from 360|Stack 2013
  • Held what’s likely the last 360|Flex
  • Helped organize AltConf 2014
  • Brought 360|iDev back to downtown Denver. Sold out a month in advance
  • Held a successful and the first of many [360|iDev min] in beautiful Greenville SC.
  • Spent 10 days in Hong Kong with my Pal Tom.
  • Spent a week in Amsterdam with my amazing wife and friends (Mike, Judy and Samuel)
  • Took on my first event consulting gig
  • I found awesome people to take on Ignite Denver

All in all not a bad year, some ups, some downs.

Denver Startup Week, as always was a great pleasure to help organize. It’s a week long celebration of the entrepreneurial side of Denver, that’s growing each year. It’s an exciting time to be in Denver, and I’m thrilled and thankful to be a part of such an amazing community and City.

GoCode CO is the first of it’s kind, multi city, multi month civic hackathon. Organized by the CO Secretary of State, it was a big pleasure to be asked to be a part of the team that executed this event. On top of being involved in all the primary events I was part of the team that ran the Fort Collins hack weekend. It was great, I worked with a member of the Sec. State and got to spend a weekend in the basement of OtterBox. GoCode is back in 2015, and I’m pretty sure I’ll be involved. Oh and the winning team? From Ft. Collins… not that I had anything to do with it, but since I was on team FoCo, i get bragging rights :)

360|intersect 2014, was the biggest fail of my professional life. I had a line up of amazing people (some I knew, some I hadn’t yet met in person) ready to share their passions, but I couldn’t get people interested. Several things worked against me, so I learned and am excited for 360|intersect 2015.

360|Stack 2013 was a dud. It was 2013’s big fail. I didn’t make it clear what it was about, I moved my focus from Flex too soon, and as a result an event I had planned for hosting about 300, hosted 100 (40 of which where speakers). I started 2014, owing 80k to the hotel we hosted 360|Stack at. Not a great way to start the year. I also learned that community doesn’t always support.

360|Flex 2014, was not an experiment, but was exploratory. Was there enough interest in what was left of the Flex community to do a Flex focused event. While it didn’t lose money, it didn’t make any, and while my heart is with the first event I ever organized, and what was the flagship of 360|Conferences, i decided that 2014 was probably it for 360|Flex. We brought it back for a last hurrah and everyone enjoyed it, but I think that’s it.

AltConf 2014 is something I love. In 2013 I sponsored with money. In 2014 lacking much spendable cash, I sponsored with my time. I volunteered the entire week; helping set up, being the safety monitor, and generally making myself useful. AltConf started (IMO) as a thing that existed along with WWDC. Something you could come to if you didn’t have a WWDC ticket (or if you did) but wanted to be in San Francisco that week. AltConf is now it’s own thing, the team behind it has worked hard to bring in amazing speakers, and provide an amazing (free) event for folks and really while it still happens during WWDC week, that’s more of an “oh yeah WWDC is this week too”. I go to SF that week now, to be a part of AltConf.

360|iDev 2014 in Downtown Denver. This was a big deal. It’s not that we didn’t like downtown it’s that downtown is expensive. We had used the same venue that while great, wasn’t downtown, for a few years. The time came to make a change. Almost a leap of faith, would enough people come, to justify the much higher costs associated with being downtown? Turns out, yes. 360|iDev sold out a full month in advance. We’ve sold out the last 3-4 years, but usually only a week before, sometimes only a day or two before. This year we spent the last 30 days focused on making the event great, vs. selling tickets. It was a bit freeing.

[360|iDev min] have been a mixed bag for us. We went to Vegas a few years back, it was meh. Nothing specific was wrong, just not the place for us. This year we tried going someplace we’d never been. Greenville SC. It was great. We had an amazing line up of people who spoke at 360|iDev in Denver and folks who hadn’t so the content was fresh and meaningful. It went great. So great we’re working on the 2015 version. It’ll be better than 2014! Stay tuned!

Hong Kong is a long ass flight from Denver. That said the trip was worth all nearly 30 hours of travel. What an amazing place. You can read about my trip here, but suffice to say for this post, it was time/money well spent. Tom is one of my best friends and it was a great chance for us to re-connect and hang out.

Amsterdam is one of my favorite places. Helped by the fact that three people I adore live there. Nicole and I spent my birthday in Amsterdam. The upside of going in February, no tourists. It was amazing and not crowded with americans :). The downside, it’s cold. it’s winter, LOL. Sadly all we got was rain, no snow. It was worth packing the extra layers though. Any opportunity to hang out with Mike and Judy and Samuel I’ll take. Spending 10 days in a foreign place with my awesome traveling companion and wife Nicole was also pretty great. I can’t imagine us not traveling together.

RWDevCon is my first time doing event consulting. It’s gonna be a great event, i’d say grab a ticket, but it sold out already. Ray and the raywenderlich.com team are great, the content he’s got planned is amazing. I’m excited to run this event!

I started Ignite Denver in like… 2009? I honestly don’t know, we’ve done some 20 events so far. Ignite Denver was the first Ignite event in Colorado, and up until this year I’ve been the head of the organizing team (sometimes that team was just me and Nicole). I’m super stoked that folks like Terry Cabeen, Dan Stones et. al. are involved and want to take Ignite Denver to the next level. I’m excited to attend Ignite Denver and not be the sole driving force behind it continuing. I’m immensely proud of Ignite and the stuff we’ve done, it’s only gonna be more awesome in 2015.

All in all, a busy year. Not without it’s challenges, but a good year. I hope yours was good, or at least didn’t suck too bad. I’m excited for what 2015 has in store for us all. See you there!

Free isn’t Free

There’s a popular saying, “When something is free, you’re the product.” That’s always true, maybe you being the product is as innocuous as hearing a short speech to welcome you to a meetup, maybe it’s getting some logo emblazoned swag, maybe it’s being signed up for a mailing list, or having your facebook details used as demographic data. Whatever the case may be, if you’re not paying for something, you’re the product, and that’s not always bad, but something to remember.

Another type of “Free isn’t Free” is when you don’t support something, but expect the by product to be available, i know that reads weird, here’s an example.

I’m doing an event, for a relatively small dev community. It used to be huge, and my biggest event, but has since become a bit more niche, by no means small like hundreds of people, it’s still in the thousands or so I’d guess worldwide. I decided to do a smaller scale version of my regular event. On one of the lists i’m promoting it on i got this question, “Will the session recordings be available afterward”

Which raised an interesting point, sure they will, if the event happens. Somebody has to support the things that are free. If no one buys a ticket to an event, the recordings won’t exist to be free.

It’s easy to lose sight of this kind of thing, and just assume “Someone is paying” and to sit and wait for the benefits to show up. Free isn’t free. There’s always a reason you can’t support something, and that’s fine, but I think if more people kept this in mind, we’d all be better off.

 

This has been in “draft” status long enough that the event took place, the session recordings are free, and released. I hope the asker of the above question enjoys.

That’s a lot of session recordings

So, around the middle of the year, or so I decided to put conference session recordings on Vimeo. Up until then I’d been keeping them on Amazon and selling them through Fastspring, occasionally making one free on the conference website. I decided after 360|intersect 2013 that I wanted to simply make the session recordings free. Selling them wasn’t bringing in gobs of money so I wasn’t losing much revenue by going free, but I was keeping the number of people who saw the videos low, and I think it’s just better for the community and the conferences to share such awesome content with anyone that wants it.

This data is as of 12/6 but i think I was right in my decision.

Screenshot 2013-12-06 15.41.37

 

That’s for less than 70 (69 to be precise) videos across 3 events.

The geographic distribution isn’t too bad either.

Screenshot 2013-12-06 15.44.40

 

I’m really happy with this data, I think it shows that the conferences make for great content that people enjoy watching. Monetizing is of course important and it’s tough to link a video play to a conference ticket purchase, but web traffic is definitely increased, so anecdotally it’s positive. More visitors, should equal more ticket sales. I hope to be able to drill down into more data and create a stronger link.

I’m always working to increase and improve the data I can collect and analyze to help me make decisions, but if nothing else, these numbers make me smile that content I helped bring into the world is being enjoyed by folks. (and liked by a whole 113 people!)

I can’t wait to add 2014’s conference recordings!

An Open Letter to Last Friday

Well what a shit storm that was. Almost entirely all of my own making, I’ll admit. This post is to clear a few things up and re-iterate my apology.

I absolutely don’t want to start another internet rumble with this post, so I’ll just say, if my previous post offended you, I’m sorry. My intent wasn’t to offend or be sexist, or in any way belittle anyone, male or female. My post was meant to be inflammatory and instigate some discussion. To that end, mission accomplished :)

To Anne and Jane, I’m sorry you got vilified, for no reason and accidentally. My intent was never to point you out as the bad guys in my post, and really I shoulda not even mentioned you guys. So for the public record on this blog, I can’t apologize enough to you guys, and if we’re ever in the same place i owe you a drink or sandwich or something of your choice :)

Daniel Jalkut suggested I should go into more detail on the selection process we use for 360|Conferences events, since it was a footnote in the last post. I agree completely.

We do a call for papers, we don’t invite. We sometimes solicit submissions but those are still evaluated with all submissions. That’s how we do it, and how we’ll keep doing it. I know there’s debate on whether that further institutionalizes the problems women in tech face, but that’s a discussion for another time, I don’t feel that’s “the” solution. Here’s how we do it for the record.

We make 2 sometimes 3 passes over our submission spreadsheet. The first pass we scroll over so the name, email and twitter ID of the submitter can’t be seen. We read each title and session description, and place a check mark next to it. The checkmark is simply a “this sounds interesting” indicator.

Then we do a second pass a few hours later with names visible. Sometimes one that didn’t sound interesting alone, becomes interesting because of the presenter. IE “Ok, he or she can rock that topic and deliver it really well”. It can also lead to, “You know he or she might not be the best to present this topic”. Another column, checkmarks indicate interest. No one loses a checkmark, that’s why there’s another column. They may not get a second one though.

This only happens sometimes, but on occasion we’ll ask people who’s opinion we respect beyond measure to help. Each will get a column, and will do the same process as step 2. They can add notes, or simply go through and place checkmarks.

The last pass we look at those sessions with 2 (or more) checks. Those are most likely to get on the schedule. Then we move down to the 1 check sessions. A check in either column gets further review, and could end up on the schedule.

The idea was to keep ourselves honest. One of our main complaints with some events is how narrow their speaker line up is. Either from a single publisher or a very clear “Friends and family” type line up. By making the first pass anonymous our hope is to keep us from accidentally filling the line up with names we know and love, or even just recognize. Part of what we like about our events is we give new members of the community an opportunity to share. Sometimes that means bigger names don’t get to present, but it’s important we continue exposing new blood to the community and encourage participation. When we get an email after a conference with “I loved X event, i can’t wait until next year, I want to submit something so I can give back” it makes everything we go through worth it and then some.

So that’s our process.

Another awesome suggestion that came out of last week was that should have a clear code of conduct for the conferences. I’ll be honest that’s one of those things I took as a given, and so far so has everyone else at our events, but I see the importance of making it clear to all. So all the conference sites have a link to the overall Code of Conduct page. My hope is that this also helps to assuage any fears that anyone has about speaking, or attending the conference. If it does, then that’s awesome.

That last thing I wanted to clear up was three fold. The first version of my post had a lot of “I” which was bad. The company is co-owned by my wife, and I should have spoken as the company, since that’s what I ended up doing. So I edited the “I” to be “we”. Those “I’s” also made the post sound super douchy which I got called out for too. So there’s that. There were a few “you should just take the post down” suggestions. I didn’t and am not taking it down. I don’t do that. That’s not honest. Yeah the post isn’t awesome, depending on how it’s read I’m a complete arse, but that’s me. Those are my (ill chosen in some places) words. Transparency and honesty mean a lot to me and pretending I didn’t write it is as bad as anything else that happened last Friday.

Also, to be clear on how we thank our speakers for speaking. We cover 3 nights hotel (4 if they’re doing a sunday hands on session), we’ve been doing that for a few years now. Starting this year for 360|iDev, we’re offering an honorarium. That’s been a long time coming, we’ve wanted to do as much for our speakers as we could, and we’re not done, but the next step as far as our budget goes is this honorarium. We’d love to cover more, and I really hope we get there, but by keeping the conference affordable we’ve had to take things slow, since this isn’t a hobby, it’s our job and pays our bills.

 

Some Thoughts on the ‘App Developers Alliance’

I had an interesting, albeit short twitter conversation today about the App Developers Alliance. I’ve been watching this group/site/organization for a little while now, debating whether I should reach out. I think 360|iDev and even 360|Flex could be great partners for an organization focused on those making apps, since, well you know that’s the focus of those conferences. But I’ve held off. Namely because I could never tell who I’d be talking to, or what they had to do with App Development.

Lately they’ve added to the Board of Directors which is what caused the twitter discussion. I should be clear I have no problems with anyone on the list, and actually really respect Joel Spolsky. However no one on that list represents the “app maker” community. Sure many of them employ and manage app developers. Some of them make money from developers leveraging their platform, some of them love talking about apps. But for something called the “App Developers Alliance” I’d expect people actively developing apps to be on the BOD. And that doesn’t seem to be the case.

I mean as a comparison, Appsterdam is run by people making apps. Not people managing people who make apps, or people who invest in apps, or who want to sell ad networks to app makers. It’s run by coders.

It seems the whole point of the alliance is to bring together those who have platforms they want developers to use (buy), and then, well I don’t know what after that. Looking at the service discounts, it’s a mix of companies that represent the BOD’s employers or investments, which seems a little shady to me.

They’re also not open to criticism it seems because After Tim and I made our points the conversation went dead. I personally avoid companies who can’t operate transparently, ESPECIALLY when it comes to criticisms. It’s also worrisome that when confronted on the lack of app developers on the BOD, the conversation ends.

I’m not (yet) condemning the concept of the App Developers Alliance, but I am seriously questioning it’s motives, and will be watching with great interest. I think things like 360|iDev and 360|Flex would be a perfect fit. Not from a sponsor standpoint (they do mention loving to sponsor events, but I suspect that’s just for marketing purposes). I think events that are really and truly focused on the developer community make a ton of sense for an organization that also claims to be focused on the developer community. If our focuses align, it seems like a great fit. The “if” is the big question right now, and I’m waiting to see if there’s an answer.