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Diary of a Conference Webmaster Part 2: The Infant Conference Website

At the first stage the website needs very little, but it must exist. The key goals are to:

  • Reassure people that it’s happening
  • Tell people when & where it is so they can think about going. Ideally who, what, where, when and why.
  • Tell people how to get in touch.
  • Look like you’re worth sponsoring.

Sponsors are important. Better sponsors mean a bigger event and better food. Few or no sponsors could even mean the event is cancelled. At the earliest stage your goal is to look like you are worth cutting a cheque with at least 4 zeroes in it. Don’t be pushy, but make it easy for people to get in touch.

At this stage it’s vital that you ensure you are in the loop, you want to plan your time as these sites lie dormant then have flurries of activity (always urgent, naturally).

Things to find out ASAP:

  • Who’s got the executive authority to approve stuff. Committees suck for running a website, get a single contact where possible.
  • When the “Call for Papers” is (often just called CFP). This is basically when they stick up a page with “Call for Papers” describing the academic subject of the event, and spam everyone they can with the text.
  • How many days the event is (big deal is if it’s single or multi-day) (multi day events means you need to recommend hotels etc.)
  • If the event is going to be “streamed” or if it’s just a single track all the time? (steamed events take much more planning)
  • How many delegates they are expecting?
  • Is it co-located with other events? Workshops are often specialised 1 day events in the same venue as big conferences, often before or after but booked as part of the larger event.
  • Who’s handling registrations and fees? (ie. the co-located bigger conference, hired company, or you)
  • If it’s “peer reviewed” which means that the papers are reviewed by experts to make sure they don’t suck in any obvious way. Popular conferences also use peer-review to score papers as they have to reject a percentage. Generally conferences with many submissions use “Easychair” to manage the process. It’s a bit icky, but does the job and people are used to it.
  • If it’s “Open Access”? That is, are the papers and maybe posters going to be made publicly available on the web? While this is a good thing, it can worry the committee as people may not pay to attend if the papers are free. A compromise may be to embargo them until some period after the conference. They should not be made public before the conference starts. If you want to keep these online, what tool will you use? EPrints is nice, but for a small event it’s better to use an existing repository than set one up to store a handful of papers. Ideally, set up a repository for the conference series and hand over the keys to it the year after.
  • And, most importantly, ask if you get to go. I’d never do a *bad* job, but I’m more willing to go the extra mile and work late etc. on something when I’m getting to go to an interesting conference in return. If you do go, make sure you pull your weight. It’s not a free ticket, you should make sure you earn it, then they’ll be keen to have you at the next one…

Posted in Conference Website.

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