C.I.T.O.K.A.T.E.

Penguicon Problems We Will Solve At The Code Sprint

2/26/14 01:20 pm - Penguicon Problems We Will Solve At The Code Sprint

Here are some of the pain points we hope to solve by creating a scheduling web app for Penguicon. Come out and help us this weekend! More details at: penguicamp.com

1. Errors And Hassle From Data Duplication

For years, Penguicon has planned the schedule using two systems, and kept them in sync manually.

In a spreadsheet, we represent rooms as columns, and times as rows, so we can catch conflicts. But it doesn't store the event description, the topics, whether or not it is "just an idea"/"probably happening"/"confirmed", and other important data.

A database lets us store and present a schedule with all the details associated with each event. But the databases we have used could not catch conflicts in which two events are scheduled in the same room at the same time, or a presenter in two places at one time, or duplicated events or presenters.

We need one solution which stores all the data we use, and also alerts us to conflicts.

2. Unresponsiveness From Penguicon

Our diversity requires that we get a lot of people to plan our various tracks. Most of them work incredibly hard. Unfortunately, due to unexpected changes in their lives, about ten percent of them per year do not respond to communication for months at a time.

There is understandable anger from some program participants that they submitted an event and heard nothing back, or didn't receive a response for months at a time. Someone on the team has silently quit, or plans to do all their work at the last minute, or after the deadline.

What is a hard-working and active staff member to do? The problem is hidden in someone else's @penguicon.org email inbox. The conchair and head of programming don't find out this is happening until there is a flood of public complaint. Believe me, I've done both of those jobs, and I can tell you, it's incredibly challenging to distinguish who is "Quit" and who is just "Quiet". We have lacked the tools to solve this.

Event requests should be public, and a public system should let us track which ones received a response. This way, the Penguicon staff has the ability to know when something is not getting done. They can then delegate tasks to someone who is willing to send an email saying "We heard you and we are working on it."

Normally, communication to Penguicon should receive a timely response, even if the response is "I don't have the answer yet." Silence is never acceptable. The solution is to delegate and rely on the rest of the team. For this, we need to know which communications are not followed up.

The Penguicon staff has some amazingly active and attentive members. They stand at the ready to fill in for someone for a week, a month, or perhaps the rest of the year. They are willing to help when someone needs to take a break. Let's make it possible for them to go to a site and find the overdue work that needs doing.

3. Penguicon Workers Get Discouraged To Work For An Event That Mistreated Their Friends

When the hidden problem of unresponsiveness bursts into the public limelight in a torrent of frustration, it can de-motivate and discourage our staff. Early detection will let the group work as a team to respond to the public before that happens.

4. Program Participants Want To Know What Their Status Is

Presenters, game masters, performers, panelists, and teachers would like to look up the answers to these questions:


  • Did Penguicon receive the event I submitted?

  • Is it approved yet?

  • How many events did I submit? I don't remember. There were a lot. I might have overbooked myself.

  • Am I scheduled too early or late in the day?

  • Is my itinerary spread out so I have time to rest and eat?

  • Do I qualify for a reduced registration rate or other rewards?


It would be good to be able to do this without having to email Penguicon and wait for a reply. Many of them are frustrated that these questions remain mysterious for far too long, due to overworked staff. (This also would take some workload off of our staff.)

Looking at a page about my own information, I can discover problems which otherwise I would not have thought to ask about.

5. Proofreading Should Already Be Mostly Done Before It Goes To The Desktop Publisher

It takes a lot of work to format a schedule into a printable schedule book. The problem is, all too often, no proofreading is done until we see a PDF of the book. That means the desktop publishing person receives a corrected version of the schedule (or worse, receives a list of individual edits and has to edit them by hand) and has to re-do a lot of work.

During the months before the publishing deadline, the proofreading should be done online. The public should be able to see the work in progress and suggest edits. The Penguicon staff can click "approve" to accept each edit.

6. The Public Wants Something To Get Excited About

When deciding whether to attend, or what to plan for, all the attending public wants is a tentative idea of things that are probably going to happen at Penguicon. Before the convention, they do not yet care what the rooms and times are. Neither do they need absolute certainty that the events are all going to happen-- they understand some things will be canceled.

Concealing the work in progress is a lost opportunity for promotion. Concealing it until a week before the convention is a frustration to everyone. We should show the work in progress throughout the process.

7. Feedback Was Not Captured

"The presenter never showed up." "A panelist kept derailing the discussion." "The show started an hour late due to negligent planning." But this report was not captured, and we scheduled the same person the following year.

After the convention, the site is still useful, because attendees should be able to comment on events. Penguicon can use these comments to decide which presenters to accept again in the future.

8. Most Of The Events You Wanted To See Were Scheduled At The Same Time; Or, The Room Was Too Packed For You To Get In

It would be nice for attendees to be able to indicate a few events they are the most interested in. If this is done far enough in advance, the site can report statistics to the staff about attendee interest before assigning rooms and times. They can use this to estimate the projected interest, and put an event in a room of the appropriate size. They can move two events out of the same time slot because the web app reports they share a very large number of attendees.

9. I Want To See Video, Audio, Slide Decks, And Other Materials For A Past Event

It would be nice after the convention to look up an event, and find links to the video taken during the event, or a link to a slide deck or other documents hosted somewhere. (We don't have to host them on our own site, just link to them.)

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