Category Archives: 360|iDev

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.

Conference Signage V3

IMG_2523So I wrote a while back about Conference signage, and what my “version 1” looked like, and where I wanted to see version 2 come in.

Turns out V2 came sooner than expected. The awesome team at Essemble, who built the conference app, were able to quickly work up. rough version 1 of a conference signage AppleTV app.

It wasn’t fancy to start, I have a few things I’d like to change for next year, but overall it was awesome. Of course training people to look at this vs. the crappy little monitors hotels install outside conference rooms might be a bigger challenge than I expected.

IMG_2542Each room had a large monitor out front, and an AppleTV. The app had a list of rooms, you selected the room the TV was in front of and that was it. The app polled the server that drives the conference app, so any changes I made to the schedule in the app, were reflected almost immediately on the screens. Certainly faster than I could update the website.

 

As a first cut of this, done in … I think 2-3 weeks at most, I’m thrilled. The information I wanted to present was presented. I didn’t have to print out session signs for every session in every room, and have volunteers running around to change them. I was able to quickly move sessions based on capacity, and everything I needed to reflect those changes, did so quickly.

IMG_2540There were a few hang ups, the way the app pulled data left the previous evenings listing until 15 minutes before the next mornings event, vs. starting wth the first thing that day. Not a big deal, and easily addressed.

I loved that general sessions were able to be called out as basically “Not in this room” so anyone walking in, not only knew it was a general session, but where it was, and that it wasn’t in the room they were standing at.

I’d love to have them run in portrait, mostly because hotels don’t have small screens, and nearly 50″ is a lot to have sitting there in landscape. Not a deal breaker.

I’d love to have a bit more styling on the display, maybe using the header image for the event along the top, or as a full background, again not a deal breaker.

Down the road, a bit down the road, I’d like to own my own displays (probably smaller, 46″ was nice, but I felt it was a bit overkill) so I have more control on size, and placement, etc. but even using hotel kit, it worked out great.

I’d love to make conference signage more valuable and realistically more trustworthy for attendees. Hotels have small monitors that they use, but those changes aren’t in my control, they’re scraped from the schedule and any changes require emails to be sent, delay, etc. Updating the website is something I do as we go, but it’s also not as fast as simply changing the data the app uses, and not just updating the app, but the room signs at the some time.

Keeping Conference Attendees Informed.

We moved to re-usable signage to save money. looks awesome!

We moved to re-usable signage to save money. looks awesome!

For years we invested in these really nice stand up banners for room signs. Each one listed the entire 4 day conference line up for that exact room.

Great in theory, not in practice.

Speaker backs out last minute, sharpie out their session, tape a folded piece of paper of that slot. Two speakers need to swap rooms, now you’re taping paper, WITH sharpie written information onto this nice standup vinyl banner. Now by the 4th day of the conference, the nice room signs look like shit.

Add to the overall shabbiness they now show, they aren’t the best at providing information. I’d watch people all day, each day, walk up to a sign, stand in front of it. I realized they were walking up, figuring out what time it was right now, then seeing if they wanted the current session, or maybe the next one.

I was presenting too much information.

Capture 2016-07-15 at 2.05.51 PMEnter room sign version one.

Several improvements:

  1. Not date specific, I can reuse these signs over years, WAY economical.
  2. Provide the exact amount of information someone needs, “What’s in this room now.” and “What’s in this room next”. Want more detail use the app to see the whole schedule
  3. WAY more green (see 1). no more annual vinyl banner cartridge replacement.
  4. Easy to manage. Volunteers swap out printed pages, and should something be moved, it’s easy to move the printed page. Canceled talk? Leave it blank, or quickly print up a “cancelled” sign. Easy Peasy.

Version One?

I run technology conferences. I want to leverage technology whenever I can. A lot of conference technology sucks, hotels usually under invest and over charge, hotel internet is well… we all know. While these poster boards are great and re-useable, my ideal Version Two is a monitor or TV, on it’s side. Either running an AppleTV or iPad. (Or something else)

I’d be able to (from my laptop or iPad) control what each monitor is showing, set up the schedule so the signs change without human intervention.

Definitely not a cheap solution, but very much a build once and reuse until the equipment dies solution, which i like. Also I like that it’s a technology solution, for a technology conference.

V 2 is a ways away probably, but it’s on the radar.

Conference lunches…. They don’t have to suck

Conference food… There’s typically two types of conference food;

“Oh my god, this conference has really good food” and,

“Let’s just go somewhere else (and spend our own money), this event has crappy food”

More often than not 360|iDev (and 360|Flex in it’s day) were usually the former. I’ve always thought that conference food shouldn’t be gross, it shouldn’t be rubbery chicken, and steamed veggies. It should be something that people go back for seconds for, it should be something people actually talk about, as much a valued part of the event as the content. I’ve mostly been successful at that.

That’s not to say I’m batting 1000 (I think i used that reference right), there are times when the meal fails to deliver, either i picked poorly, or the venue wasn’t up to the task.

The last two years I’ve taken my approach to conference lunch a step further, offering something few events offer; choice.

While having everyone eat lunch in the conference space has value, I think it’s more valuable to get attendees outdoors. For a few reasons, in no particular order;

  1. Attendees have more choice in what they eat, which is either impossible or stupid expensive within the conference center.
  2. They can meet new people by ending up at the same place as others, but not so many that it’s daunting.
  3. They get to enjoy what the host city has to offer
  4. I get to support local businesses, which is a huge part of my business. 360|Conferences is a Denver, CO company and whenever I can I want to support other Colorado businesses.

 

It’s easy to do an event, it’s harder to do events that don’t suck.

360|iDev 2015, What an amazing thing we did.

So i just finished my big event of the year, 360|iDev and wow. What a rush (as always).

TL;DR; So honored to share a room with so many awesome people being awesome. Making amazing things, being parts of amazing teams, etc. I honestly feel this event not only has a positive impact on my life each year, but also does on others, which is humbling to say the least.

There’s an amazing photo pool here.

Now the long form.

I start planning 360|iDev the moment the preceding event ends, so yes, I’ve already begun work on next years event.  A 4 day conference with 55 speakers, 400 attendees and a handful of sponsors isn’t something that comes together in a few weeks.

There were a few good, and one bad thing this year. One of the things I like about doing 360|iDev is that we bring about 400 people into Denver, more than 85% of whom aren’t local to CO. Many who aren’t local to the United States. Sure when compared to city wide events, that’s nothing, but to me it’s a big damn deal.

360|iDev is my bread-n-butter. It keeps enough money coming in, my wife hasn’t forced me to get a job… yet, LOL. I get to see people from around the world that i may only see once (maybe twice if I’m lucky) a year. I get to show off my home town (by claim, if not birth), and show everyone why Denver is so awesome, why it’s where I’m where I am.

There was a lot of great stuff this week, much of it conference specific, so I’ll talk about it on the conference blog, but some of it more personal and Denver specific.

Lunch (good)

Last year we ate lunch outside the hotel because yeah $50/person for conference lunch is stupid and well hotels are often stupid. One place however can’t handle 400 ppl, no matter what they think or say. Lunch last year wasn’t awesome. Long lines, long waits, etc. As experiments go, it failed.

This year I had 3 (4 on Tuesday because of Civic Center eats) options for attendees. Lunch tickets were available for each place, people picked what they wanted to eat. It was awesome to see groups form on the fly each day to explore someplace new. We spread the lunch tickets, so no single vendor had more than 150 people a day. So far (bills are still coming in) it looks like i spent half as much this year as last, and had 3x more options for people. That’s awesome!

The only thing that went a bit sideways was my failure to account for vendors not being open on weekends. Out of 3 only 1 was open on Sundays. Oops.

Local Community (good)

One of the things being downtown has afforded was the opportunity to spread some money around vs. bottling it up in a hotel chain. This year we spread about $18,000 to local restaurants in the downtown area. I think that’s pretty awesome, i know i’m not a rain maker, but i think any time I can give money to local businesses, that’s a great thing. Not only am i not paying for over priced hotel food, but I’m boosting (in a small way, sure) the local economy.

While small, i think every dollar helps. I think as a conference organizer, it’s my job to not just dump money into the pockets of a massive hotel chain. It’s my job to better the city that is hosting my event. Whether that’s financially or even just from exposure like not keeping everyone indoors all day and night.

Police (Bad)

During lunch on Tuesday, the attendees ate lunch at Civic Center Eats. A few attendees were enjoying their meal on the grass when some Denver PD officers came over. Sadly instead of assuming these folks weren’t criminals, vagrants or some type of malcontents, they treated a group of international visitors to Denver like criminals, demanding they all present ID while telling them they were sitting in the wrong grass. Not cool Denver PD, not cool. I get we’re trying to revitalize the grass in the park, but maybe wrap that section in tape, vs. the handful of tiny ass signs. Also maybe, just maybe assume people (wearing conference badges, even!) aren’t trying to kill the grass or break the rules and start with “Hey guys, can you move elsewhere, this grass is off limits for now.” vs. oh i dunno, accosting people eating their lunch, making them all present ID before letting them go.

back-side-black-textAs someone who brings people from around the world to Denver, i’m not super thrilled that happened. Small incident, yes? bad experience for people in Denver the first time ever, yup. In the end we all joked about it, but is that really what Denver wants people to remember about it?

I have much respect for law enforcement, I know their jobs are hard, but that’s not an excuse. Be better please Denver PD.

If you’re one of this years’ attendees, thank you, really, truly, thank you. Being able to do this event, and make even a small living is huge! I can’t thank every single speaker, sponsor and attendee enough for being a part of something so truly amazing. Conferences are hard, harder still when balancing making a living, with making an awesome experience. I already can’t wait until next year.

I built an app.

IMG_0627Ok I didn’t. I guess I product managed an app :)

Tom and his team worked with me on “Edit Me“. I’ve helped get lots of apps launched (no shortage of 360|iDev and Flex apps out there, that I helped with), but this is the first “not a conference attendees app” app.

Edit Me, serves a real purpose. Ever had a text message, tweet, Facebook post, etc  that you wanted to run by someone before sending? Maybe you’re a bit too heated, maybe too sad. Maybe just to check your tone, or make sure it’s not wildly offensive, etc. Or just to have a friend proof read it for you. Well that’s what we set out to solve with Edit Me.

The idea is pretty straightforward, i’ve got some short form text i want to run by someone before sending it, (Flying Spaghetti Monster knows I often need it)

3-5_1You fire up Edit me, pick your friend who’ll be the editor, throw in a title, and add your text. Off it goes. What’s cool is you and/or the recipient don’t need to register, the exchanges and notifications are bound to device not yet another set of user credentials. When they get the email it’s got an app URL (if they don’t there’s a link to get the app first) and it’ll pull up what needs to be edited.

Something more robust like users may come later, same for more granular edits, right now you offer up your edits and they’re accepted or rejected en masse. There’s no (yet) “Change this word or sentence” it’s “here’s my version of the entire text you sent” even if the change is only one or two words. We wanted to launch what we thought was the most useful version one we could, with plans to do a lot more cool things to the app as we go.

4_5I’m really excited about Edit Me, and find it really useful.

We also want to make a Mac version, which I think is going to be even more useful. While I do often need short form editing/proof reading, I do that a lot more on my mac than my iDevices.

Price: Not free. We went with $.99 because well free isn’t a sustainable model. We think Edit Me has value and utility, and is worth something. Plus really, isn’t not saying something stupid on the internet worth $.99?

NO IAP. While I won’t use the blanket “IAP is the devil” I will say when I am looking for new apps and games, seeing the “Contains In-App Purchase” label makes me think twice before even tapping to see the details. We wanted to make an app that was useful as it is, and requires no extra purchase.

If you’ve ever sat and looked at your messages, twitter or facebook app, and wondered “Should I send this, is mom going to get mad?” Edit Me is probably worth $.99 to you. Because then you could easily ask your sister or friend.

“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.