A Conferencing We Shall Go

Ah….. hard to believe it has been almost 4 months since my last post. There always seems to be just one more thing that needs to be done.

The most recent and exciting item was a recent conference. A few months ago, myself, Oliver, and Chris were invited to a local conference called The Student Edge. The conference was partially organized by an ex-DSU president, and he kindly gave us the opportunity to talk about our experiences building software for the DSU. The conference was somewhat different than other ones I have been to, with roughly a third of the time spent on ad-hoc information exchange sessions, where the attendees basically shared their own stories (Societies Anonymous!), and the other 2/3rds more traditional talks.

Our talk, titled “Help Societies Help You: Using the Internet to Build a Better Campus” was well received by about a third of the attendees. We tried to not only tell our own story, but to convey the message that if 3 students can build some applications for the DSU, then maybe they can leverage their own student population in order to do some cool stuff.
A lot of work was put into this from the slides, to the videos that Chris put together, to the new site and demo that Oliver put together, as well as some kick ass business cards that Oliver managed to make at the last minute. Our talk ended up being almost exactly the length we expected (a somewhat new experience for me, maybe I am getting the hang of this conference thing!) partially due to the fact that Oliver went into some additional detail, whereas I talked a bit too fast again (ok, maybe my conference habits could still use a little work…). We had a little brainstorming/Q&A session after, which ended up being mostly Q&A, though there were several comments about things that people liked in what they saw.

The more interactive part was the Tech Showcase that we set up for the following day. This was where we received the bulk of feedback, conversation, and ideas. Many people were fairly positive about the systems we had. One individual who attended the talk brought over someone else from their student union at the demo station we had set up. Part way through our talk and demo, the person that had attended the talk kinda jumped in and demoed the functionality himself. I was pleasantly surprised by this, as I wasn’t expecting someone to become engaged so quickly.

Other people came over to talk about where we want to go with this, and where we think we stand with other systems, notably Facebook. This is a topic we anticipated and brought up in our talk, and some of the dialogue was pretty interesting. Mainly it comes down to access and community. Whereas Facebook is centred around an individual, and you find things by who you are friends with (for the most part), whereas our work centers around the community, and providing individuals the ability to find information without jumping through any hoops. There was also talk about integration and Facebook widgets, and what are take on those topics were.

Finally, we also got a glimpse of ‘the competition’. UWO’s student union apparently contracted out a similar system to ours (with a few key differences) and it was on display at the Tech Showcase. It was also a contrast to our showcase. UWO was shown as an organization willing to buy, and we were shown as an organization willing to build..

All in all it was a great conference and a great opportunity, and I am glad I was able to take advantage of it.