So 360|AnDev 2020 Online was last week. It went well. Really well.
The biggest compliment was that several people said that while it wasn’t the same as in-person, it still felt very friendly and community-focused. That means a lot to me!
Let’s dive in!
We used Hopin.to. They’ve more or less become the de-facto platform for online events. Which is a shame, because they’re clearly not event people. The platform is mostly fine, for sure an 80% solution, but where it falters, it falters big.
To get around a few of hopin’s shortcomings, we used Streamyard, which I like a lot. It’s not perfect, but it wasn’t meant for online events, it’s a live streaming platform.
The biggest problem we found was the sessions, which are barcamp style in nature. The organizer can create them, put them in the schedule, but they can also be created on the fly by attendees. I like that an attendee can stand up a session, that’s kind of like, “Let’s go to the lobby and talk about your idea.”
Except, sessions don’t show up as viewable, until the minute they’re set to start. If you click into the “sessions” section of the site, and it’s a minute before a session starts, no sessions are visible… WEAK. This is fine for the ones attendees created, but kinda weak if you’re trying to use sessions as your second track.
Overall the sponsor support is pretty weak, but better than most others I found. Thankfully (I guess?) Many sponsors have pulled out of events this year.
Hopin found themselves the big dog and I think weren’t prepared. Their support is lacking, their sales channel is give us all your money or walk away, we don’t want to talk to you.
- Want to embed their ticketing on your site, can’t.
- Want to have a second stage (for two tracks)? $12,000/year for Pro.
- Want to use your own ticketing system and import attendees? Cough up that twelve grand.
- Want an answer to your support email? Maybe the twelve grand will do it? Without it, you can expect a week or more for a reply, if you get one at all.
- The Pro thing includes a few other features, none that are worth that price.
[Edited to add]
Hopin provides mostly useless data. I had assumed I’d get views by hour (to sync against the schedule), who went into the ‘sessions’ area. Who visited sponsor booths. NOPE.
Honestly, overall Hopin does the barebones job I need it to do, but that’s it. My sponsors certainly aren’t thrilled since I couldn’t even tell them who came to their booth.
Streamyard is a great backstage/TV Studio experience. You can upload overlays, banners, tickers, logos, etc. and add them into your stream at will. This was great for doing sponsor lower/side thirds.
My Co-host and I were both logged in so each of us could mange these aspects, turn speaker streams on, etc. It was very nice.
I found only two things that I didn’t like about Streamyard. The first is just inconvenient; You can upload animated overlays, but the file size limits were, for me impossible to meet. No movie file I created was even close to the max Streamyard can handle. So all my overlays are images that just “pop” in and out of existence, which is not awesome, but not bad. I’d have prefered for them to slide in and out nicely.
The other issue was bigger. They don’t have a way to support pre-recorded conference talks. This is annoying but understandable. Streamyard is a live streaming platform. I’m sure online conferences are a new thing for them (Thanks COVID-19!). Several 360|AnDev speakers recorded their talks so they could answer questions in Slack, or because they were in India and their talk time was 3am.
So… I collected the talks, then opened them locally to stream through streamyard. That worked for 1 or 2 talks, then fell on its face because my home internet was not remotely close to up for the job of streaming video out. Scrambling ensued. My first thought was, “Ok, I can re-encode these recordings to be stream friendlty. Wait no. I’m not technically streaming these. They play in a chrome tab that is screen shared. Damn”
(Insert Golden Girls theme song) I uploaded the remaining files to my friend who has gigabit internet. That saved the day, big time. The day one stream was plagued with trouble. I set up an extra computer in my office to watch the live stream on mute as QA. Day 1 required several refreshes of the browser when the stream would degrade enough that the player stopped. Day 2 did not have those issues. The stream ran nonstop on that machine all day, almost 8 hours.
I suppose it’s an upside, I’ve upgraded my home internet :)
Picture a venn diagram of three circles. The circles are; your internet, the speaker’s internet and the attendee’s internet. Any one can be a problem, any two can be a disaster.
Pre-recorded talks, remove one circle, but put a heavier load on another.
A lot of the chatter was :
“I lost audio. Refresh fixed it”
“Stream stopped. Refresh fixed it.”
It’s difficult to troubleshoot to say the least.
Non-Tech, AKA People (Golden Girls Theme plays again)
Have help! Chiu-Ki was my co-host both days and it was a huge help. We split up the schedule so I didn’t have to be ‘on’ all day long. I could grab a bite, check my garden, etc. She had it. That was invaluable! When she went to lunch I was there.
I can’t say enough how important having someone to backstop and take some of the load, is.
I found that it’s both more and less stressful than an in-person event. Less, because the expenses are nil, and you’re at home. More because you have no idea if the speaker is awake, you don’t know if your internet will crap out, or theirs will. Once we got started though, the stress drained away (mostly), and we could have fun.
As I mentioned I offloaded the pre-recorded talks to a friend. Tom signed in to Streamyard as “Videos” There was a little coordination on Slack for “Hit play when I say X” but otherwise he was right there in the studio to see what was going on, etc.
So, next steps?
Well, I’ve upgraded my internet (yay all the other things I do that will benefit). That should be a big win for 360|iDev and Chicago Roboto.
I’ll work with speakers on pre-recording their talks. 360|iDev is two-track, so for better or worse, we have to rely on Hopin’s janky way of doing sessions. So I’ll have to make sure attendees know what to expect there.