Monday, March 17, 2008

Technology is Your Friend, Part One

We have a great client (actually we have lots of them) but this one in particular inspires us to develop technology to enhance the participant experience, his experience, our experience, and to save the Earth all at the same time. His name is Bjorn Freeman-Benson, Conference Chair of EclipseCon.

I should start from the beginning... I first met Bjorn in 1994. He required me to use email for the conference planning process instead of phone, fax, or face-to-face meetings. In 1994, this was unheard of. I soon realized that planning a conference “virtually” with an international committee was not only quite possible, but also fun. No travel, no paper, no long distance charges and from the comfort of my office.

Next up…realizing all academic paper submissions and review processes were managed using paper and by hand, Bjorn knew there must be a better way. I agreed. I wanted to save lots of time, LOTS of paper, and lots of postage. Thanks to the development team, an online submission and review system was designed for EclipseCon. Now those tasks are things of the past. It is all done via the web. And boy are we thankful…in 2007 alone, 760 papers were submitted. There were 4022 reviews. 325 were accepted. Not one tree was cut for this effort.

But it gets even better. Once a paper is accepted, the sessions are automatically populated into the online conference program schedule on the website. Presenters upload their own photos, bios, and presentations. Attendees can go on the website and design their own tracks and share them with others. Before the conference, the presentations are downloaded onto USB keys instead of the paper handouts. Saving an average of 24,000 pieces of paper or 3 trees each year!

Not willing to stop there...several years ago, Bjorn and his friend, Ward Cunningham (the inventor of the WIKI) saw the applications of the WIKI as a conference planning tool. All of our timelines, budgets, committee items, etc. have been on the conference WIKIs for years. It is a convenient, time-saving and paper saving way to keep this information in a central location. It can be accessed by anyone on the committee day or night, in Europe or Japan.

Do cutting-edge technology and green meeting practices go hand-in-hand? You bet! Did one creative, intuitive, individual who cares about the Earth make a difference? Absolutely! Thanks, Bjorn!

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