Frustration

10:06 am community, maemo

I wonder if it was a mistake to adopt the “evaluate as they come in” method for Maemo Summit presentations. As we received proposals, for each proposal on its merits we said yes, no or maybe. If you were a yes, you were added to the schedule. A no got a nice email. A maybe stayed in the queue.

We set a deadline for submissions of September 13th, but this was a deadline for us to finish the schedule, not for people who wanted to give presentations to submit. I said as much in the call for content: “The final deadline for submissions will be September 13th but the sooner you submit your proposal the better chances you will have to get a slot”.

After Nokia World, a bunch of people came out of the woodwork to propose quality presentations, and after reviewing pending proposals last week, we now have an agenda which is almost full – there are 5 open slots and about 8 open lightning talk slots, about half of which are potentially taken already.

So it’s slightly frustrating to see 16 new submissions come in over the past 2 days as people saw the deadline arriving and the schedule filling up. If they were all there before, our choices might have been different, but now we will unfortunately be obliged to reject otherwise great presentations, simply because the proposers waited too long to ask for a slot.

It’s a tough problem to solve, though – if we had set an earlier deadline, we would not have received many of those presentations, or they would have been vague proposals like “can’t say much yet, but this’ll be a cool presentation about something related to Fremantle”. Approving presentations early allowed the council to have better information for travel subsidies and allowed people to book travel earlier and thus cheaper. But we’re going to miss out on some presentations I think would be pretty good. Pity.

16 Responses

  1. Rusty Says:

    A general recommendation would be

    1 – specify date for submissions to be in by
    2 – specify a later date for final determination of schedule
    3 – Make it clear that “Not getting a rejection before the submission due date is not an indication that your talk is accepted, criteria may change.”

    Post tentative schedules with an explanation that the schedule is subject to change, including replacement of apparently scheduled talks/presentations.

    If you can use a piece of software that can forward iCal updates on scheduled events to people who ‘subscribe’ to the event, including cancellations, you can get reports from the software on what topics are gathering a high level of interest, and which might be good candidates for replacement as well. Lock it in on the final ‘schedule’ day, and that schedule goes to publications for inclusion in the program.

    Of course you will end up with situations where for whatever reason an event is canceled at the last minute. That’s what ‘at the convention’ updates are for. Right?

    Yes it is a tough nut. Worst of all is that no matter how you schedule things, some people will be unhappy. That can be intentional. If you know that there are two events that pretty much everyone wants to go to, but you don’t have a presentation space large enough to hold the entire attendance, schedule them against each other so that people will have to decide, and can even decide pretty much at the last minute as they realize there is no space at their first choice, they can go over and discover there is no space at their alternate either.

    It might not work for this year, but some things to consider for next.

  2. Mathias Hasselmann Says:

    Nokia also is to blame for this issue: Many people could not submit proposals earlier because of the NDAs they have with Nokia.

  3. Zeeshan Ali Says:

    Mathias!

    Sorry but thats quite a lame thing to say. We don’t force people to sign the NDAs. If you sign it, it’s your fault if you get into some trouble because of it.

    The Maemo summit was almost entirely organized by community so the organizers didn’t know when exactly would it be possible for NDA people to submit their proposals. Also, if you had this issue, did you discuss it with Quim Gil?

  4. Murray Cumming Says:

    And note that there’s plenty that NDAed developers still can’t talk about, and there are plenty of NDAed developers that can’t be at the Maemo Summit at all because they are too busy working on Maemo Fremantle. I don’t see a solution for this though, other than a major reschedule around product announcements.

  5. Marco Barisione Says:

    To be honest Maemo Summit is the first conference I heard of that publishes the schedule before closing the paper submission and this looks really wrong to me. Can I ask why you didn’t think this would have been a big problem?

  6. Claudio Says:

    It is a failure in the organization to start accepting works before the end of the submission period.

  7. Texrat Says:

    I think the deadline date should have been a little sooner, and then wait until all proposals are in before evaluating (maybe next year).

    Even though I submitted mine early, if it’s under consideration and there are better candidates in the recent bunch I will be more than happy to step aside. Mine is, after all, a “soft” talk.

  8. Texrat Says:

    Oh, although by “step aside” I don’t mean give up the sponsorship… I mean a presentation slot. ;)

  9. Mathias Hasselmann Says:

    @Zeeshan: Guess it’s more a missunderstanding. Was not aware that the summit is almost entirely organized by the community.

  10. Quim Gil Says:

    This was discussed publicly months ago, see around http://talk.maemo.org/showthread.php?t=29466&highlight=summit&page=4 . That was the decision made by the organizers. I think the system itself works for the reasons given in that thread already.

    BUT the system was proposed in a way that a proposal arriving before the deadline would have anyway chances to get in the schedule based on own merits. I firmly believe we need to stick to this basic principle, and see what can be done to address it even at this point. I’m happy to help being a bad cop if you want. At the end it was me who proposed the idea (that worked extremely well last year, let me remind you).

    I can’t find the place now where I commented to the content committee (or at least Dave, around August I think) that perhaps they were going too fast filling the schedule. Yes, the Maemo 5 / N900 launch being in September didn’t help but you realize that those things are decided well over our heads.

    You can blame Maemo Devices for not having sorted out before who were the Nokians with the travel to Amsterdam approved. Who was not extremely busy developing Maemo 5 was extremely busy organizing the launch.

    Anyway, looking at the schedule I see that there are many things that can still be done:

    – There is some people with 2 sessions. Sorry, choose one and blog about the other one.

    – There are some sessions scheduled at 30′ and maybe their presenters would be happy anyway converting them to a lightning session.

    – There are some sessions so specialized that probably they can be moved to the 4th room (25 people) without much problems.

    – We can decide that this situation is exceptional, there is plenty of content pretty good and extend the Saturday and Sunday schedule 1h. If someone is tired at that time he or she can always go to the hotel or enjoy the city. Less generic and more specialized sessions can be moved there since we know that committed people will stay at that time.

    – There might be even sessions that look too weak now that we are getting some last minute heavy-weights. No problem, if they refuse to move to a lightning session or a 4th room session we can keep the sponsorship to those speakers (if requested), have an extra shirt for them and also an extra apology.

    Can be done. As said, if you need help I can help. If only by helping you accommodate the cools sessions landing these days, victims of travel approvals and NDAs.

  11. Tomas Says:

    “First come, first present” makes absolute no sense when organizing a conference. You owe it to the people attending to choose the best, coolest, most relevant presentations. The audience couldn’t care less which was submitted first, and you should be putting the audience first.

  12. Jfkcro Says:

    Well as many things this is “1st come 1st serve” …

  13. Dave Neary Says:

    First: lots of conferences start filling the schedule early, with keynotes, invited speakers, etc. Perhaps they don’t have an explicit “Call for content”, but there is certainly something along the lines of “Contact the organisers if you want to speak”, and if you get there too late, tough titty.

    Second: This wouldn’t have been a problem if we didn’t have a deadline. Because we had a deadline, we had a lot of people who didn’t submit until just before it.

    Anyway, it’s not a big problem, but it is frustrating.

    Dave.

  14. Dave Neary Says:

    No, it isn’t. It was a promise of the content committee that if your presentation comes in in August, we’ll try our best to let you know in August if you’re going to be speaking at the conference. We turned away many proposals in August and already in September. More accurate would be to call this system “first come first considered”.

    Dave.

  15. Dave Neary Says:

    There are definitely ways to resolve potential issues. The first thing is to evaluate the presentations coming in and decide which ones we want in the schedule. Then we can find space in the schedule in any of the ways you mention. Some easy things come to mind – if there’s more than one talk about an application or technology, perhaps one of them should go.

    I don’t remember you saying we were filling up the schedule too fast, I do remember you saying that you weren’t worried that presentations weren’t flooding in in early August. So we waited until September, and when we didn’t know how many more proposals we’d get, we decided to do what we said, and give people who submitted early a definitive answer. More often than not, it was no.

  16. Quim Gil Says:

    About “It is a failure in the organization to start accepting works before the end of the submission period” and similar comments. The Maemo Summit is first and mostly the gathering of the Maemo community, and communities can organize their gatherings in the ways that they decide.

    The call for participation was discussed and agreed by June 16th

    http://wiki.maemo.org/index.php?title=Maemo_Summit_2009/Call_for_content&oldid=14324

    and when the call for participation was announced few days later everybody had agreed that was the way to go – http://maemo.org/community/council/maemo_summit_2009-call_for_content_now_open/

    So no, I don’t think this is a failure of the organization but just work as advertized. Note that most conferences have their call for participation closed long before than a month before the event. We are giving more flexibility but at the same time encouraging early submission for better planning.

    Actually thanks to this system some of you could get into the schedule even a week before the event last year. So please, don’t blame the organization. If anything blame the company with the travel approvals and the NDAs, or just yourselves. :)

    … and at the end I’m sure things will get sorted out. We’ll see in a week or less.