DPC Retrospective

I spent most of last week and the weekend in (rather rainy) Amsterdam for the Dutch PHP Conference. This is an event that is in its 4th year, although I was attending for only the 3rd time. Two years ago, I spoke at DPC - my first conference talk. This year, I hosted the event, which was quite a different experience. The event is organised by my employers, Ibuildings, and I was astonished to be asked late last year if I would like to be its host. Hosting an event is quite a different set of anxieties from speaking at one, and although there were a few minor emergencies along the way (lost speakers, really "interesting" CfP submissions, a moment where only half the venue would have wifi and some sessions failing to run to time), nothing worth getting stressed over!

The event was great (can I say that myself?) and with a world-class schedule, excellent speakers who all delivered on the day, sponsors who supported the venture and of course the attendees who showed up, took part, joined in with the uncon and generally made the whole thing into the fun it was - I could not have asked for more. As for the community friends who kept on sneaking up on me with a hug or a word of encouragement ... I can't ever thank any of you enough. On a very personal level it was fanstastic - I've enjoyed DPC for a few years and although the weather in Amsterdam was not so kind this year, the friends at the event (both the people I had already met and the friends I made while I was there) made it more than worth it.

DPC10 Has an Uncon

As the Host of the Dutch PHP Conference this year, you can imagine I'm squeaky-excited about the whole event. This story goes right back to last year though, when someone (Ivo? Cal? I don't know who) conceived the idea of including an unconference in this year's event. DPC is easily one of my favourite conferences and although I work for Ibuildings, I wasn't directly involved with its organisation last year. In the autumn I wrote a proposal for running the unconference, and it was agreed that we should do it. Fast forward a bit and I became the host of the main conference, which is great news but left a slightly abandoned unconference behind - until the PHPBenelux user group stepped up and will be hosting the unconference alongside our main event (thanks guys!)

I'm so excited about the unconference, although I don't know how our wider attendees will take to it as it hasn't been done before locally. In order to include as many people as possible (and to keep the admin overhead to a minimum) we'll schedule during the conference, on a first-come, first-served basis. This avoids the in-crowd getting voted into all the slots in advance; the uncon is for everyone to take part, not just for the people who are already well known! The uncon will also give us space to include extra on-demand sessions where people are wanting to see more about a particular topic, or see a demo of something a speaker mentions in a talk. Managing a changing schedule in real time will be interesting, we're planning a two-pronged approach with twitter and Joind.in and I'm hoping this will allow attendees to hear about things they want to see in time to actually see them!

Its a new venture and I'm really interested to see how it turns out ... if you're coming to the conference then I hope you will give the uncon a look (in between the other awesome sessions on the schedule of course) and also take the time to share your thoughts on this and on the event as a whole. If you're going to be there - leave a comment and let me know :)

Importing Data to Joind.In

Update! This post is now outdated - the import functionality on joind.in has been replaced with a CSV import.

As a conference organiser I work extensively with the site joind.in, which allows attendees to comment on sessions at a conference. Recently the site has also started supporting sessions with both times and tracks, making it indispensable as a way of keeping track of all the sessions during an event. The only downside is entering all the data into it!! Joind.in does have some import functionality, which I recently rebuilt to reflect the timings and track changes, however this only accepts XML at present, so there is still some preparation work to get your data ready to import.

I know I'm not the only conference organiser who will have this problem so here's my step-by-step guide to getting talk information into joind.in, easily and quickly. For up-to-date documentation on the joind.in import process and the official data format description, see http://joind.in/about/import.

Set up Event and Tracks

Step one is to submit your event to joind.in. When it is approved by the administrators you will receive notification and it will appear publicly on the site (joind.in also supports private events, see the website for more information).

Once it is approved, make sure the timezone is set correctly by editing your event. For me this is Europe/Amsterdam, since I'm setting up data for the Dutch PHP Conference.

If you are going to include information about the different tracks, either rooms or subject tracks, you can set these up now (if not, then skip to the next section). When viewing an event, if you are logged in and have admin rights on that event, you will see an "Event Admin" box. The "Event Tracks" screen will let you add, edit and remove the tracks for your event.

Prepare Your Data

I had the talks in a spreadsheet and I found this was a good starting point. Each row is imported independently so each one needs to contain all the information about the session. My spreadsheet had the following columns:

  • Date
  • Time
  • Track (string name matching the track you set up earlier)
  • Type (either "Social Event", "Talk", "Keynote", or "Workshop")
  • Speaker
  • Session
  • Abstract

There was a lot of duplication here, for example lots of copied and pasted dates, but for each row to be evaluated separately, we need it to look like this. At this point I exported the spreadsheet to .csv format but joind.in currently only supports XML so I still had to built the format it could understand.

Generate the XML

I wrote a little script that processed my CSV file and spat out the XML that joind.in was expecting. There are a few pitfalls with this step:

  • I'm British, so my date formats assume dd/mm/yyyy
  • The import doesn't support languages (see http://github.com/enygma/joind.in/issues#issue/91)
  • The script contains a function copy/pasted out of the joind.in codebase to handle the timezones calculation (because I already had it working once, I just stole it)
  • The first row in the spreadsheet is assumed to contain titles and is ignored
  • The script has a hardcoded timezone in it for Europe/Amsterdam

By now you can guess this use-once script is a bit of a mess but in case it is useful I am uploading it here (if nothing else, I guess I might use it again!). I considered adding support for CSV files into joind.in itself (I'm a contributor) but I was short on time - if this would be useful to you or if you have any other comments on the process then add them here and I will do my best to reply!

Resources

  • Conversion script for CSV files to Joind.in XML format (use at your own peril!) csvToXml.txt - change the file extension to .php
  • My original spreadsheet, in case an example is helpful talks.csv - this is the data for DPC 2010

Dutch PHP Conference: Call for Papers Now Open

There is an announcement over on the DPC (Dutch PHP Conference) website - their Call for Papers is now open (so go submit!). What's remarkable about this announcement is that I wrote it, and its signed with my name and the words "Your host this year" ... yes, I'm hosting DPC.

I'm pretty excited about this, I love getting involved with events and I also love DPC as an event, so together these are pretty special. DPC is organised by my employers, Ibuildings - so I actually get paid to get involved with this conference, which is pretty cool :) The submissions have already started coming in to the call for papers and the quality and variety of the talks, from people I know well and others I've never heard of, is staggering. I'm hoping that this trend continues right through until the CfP closes on 31st January. The task of choosing the tasks will be very difficult but we have a panel of selectors ready to step up to the challenge - and I'm already excited about how good this year's event is going to be!