Should web “conferences” be free?

April 29, 2006

Yes. And no.

A post at the ACRLog explores the issues of cost and conferences — in particular, web conferences.

“Free” is a bit much. The problem with offering something for free (or even really, really cheap) is that a lot of people will sign up and not come, and you’re left with a big bill for unused infrastructure based on bad numbers. This helps no one.

On the other hand — and this is the important point, I think — I don’t know anyone who considers going to a conference an excellent opportunity to donate money to the organization. Only the organizers think of a conference as a money-maker. For the rest of us, a conference is a money-sink.

I’m of the firm opinion that:

  • Conferences should strive as much as possible to break even
  • Anything that needs funding should be funded through dues increases, which provides for a much better mechanism through which ROI can be analyzed.

Obviously, nothing is this cut-and-dried. Profit-making conferences are the toll-roads of the professional world: those that make the most use of the resources pay more. That’s fair, in its own way, but it’s essentially a regressive tax and hence should be avoided.

I can postulate two ways in which this would hurt a conference. First, the obvious: a percentage of your population can’t afford to come. If you’re not concerned about losing the input of that group, well, you’ve got no business running an organization. You can’t lose money on everything, of course, and I know everyone believes they’re cognizant of financial issues, but I think a lot of organizers aren’t aware of how much that extra $100 is to a lot of people.

The second is a concern about presentation quality and the pressure to get butts in seats. I’ve seen conferences where I really, honestly wondered whether many of the papers/poster were accepted simply because it more or less guarantees that the presenters will show up.

The primary goal of a conference has to be to help disseminate information and provide professional contacts. Secondary goals should be just that — secondary.

Goin’ to the chapel

April 27, 2006

Jane is getting married — big congrats go out to her! We just celebrated the anniversary of our engagement — it was three years ago…well, ok, three years ago last week. We both forgot.

Love is not caring when you miss these little things, 'cause you know it doesn't "mean something."

Of course, I'd just as soon it hadn't been my mother that reminded me, but still.
Happy whatever-the-hell-you-call-the-anniversary-of-getting-engaged, wife!

Are your patrons “passionate”?

April 25, 2006

Are your users passionate? I'm not talking about the occasional run-in with overly-friendly folks in the stacks. I'm asking if they give a crap about going to the library.

Creating Passionate Users is a blog that deals, incredibly well, I think, with the problem of trying to make your users come to you for the experience of buying/using/whatever your product.

Do your patrons love to use the library? Do they talk it up to their friends, try to get other people involved, try to find like-minded zealots wherever they may be?

Video games can do that. TV shows (Buffy, or Lost) can do that. Hell, VW can do that with a car the size of a freakin' park bench.

Libraries have things no one else can offer. Are you delivering an experience that promotes passion in your users? Or are you delivering an experience that is not quite frustrating enough to drive patrons away.

Or, are you in fact delivering an experience that is frustrating enough to drive most of your users away. To Google. To Amazon. To almost anywhere but your website or your front door.

First Mover Disadvantage

April 21, 2006

Standards compliant library websites over at pulls together a few pleas from the sometimes-excellent Web4Lib email list.

This is one of those situations where MPOW definitely has a First Mover Disadvantage. In a lot of ways, we were cutting edge before it was cutting edge to be cutting edge, and now we pay the price. The standards weren't around, and certainly weren't attended to by anyone, when an awful lot of our content and systems were produced. So now I'm left with a gigundous website, the vast majority of which is horrible underneath, systems that produce crappy/faulty HTML, nothing that has any sort of REST or SOAP interface…it's a mess. And a mess that's so big it's terrifying to think about cleaning it all up, not to mention all the individual files.

Hmmmm…I wonder how many there are?

find . -name \*html | wc


20234 21352 840277

For those of you keeping score, that's 20,2034 separate files that end in .html on our server. Oops. Even when I throw out the obvious doesn't-need-to-be-CMS'd (statistics, reserves documenent, cache files, newsletters, etc.) it's stil over 11,000 files.

I'd love to put it all into a CMS. But that's a lot of cutting and pasting and cleaning up, even if we had a small army of people to do it, which we don't. Not all of the files are still used, either, but figuring out which ones are legacy, which ones are supposed to be accessible, which are actually used…it's easier than the conversion, but sooner or later there needs to be people making decisions. People whose job is not to sit around trying to figure out which of the pages set up by their predecessor in 1997 still need to be online.

Don't try to tell me that I can just look at the access stats. Do you really think a librarian is going to get rid of something just because it hasn't been accessed in the last year?????

And making people responsible for their own documents doesn't help, because if they knew how to produce compliant output we wouldn't be in this spot to begin with.

Someday, when we all live in a land where you can eat the rainbows and everyone owns their own pony, the big vendors will provide systems that produce good, compliant output. And I'll still be sitting on ten thousand documents that barely render correctly.

Throwing research down the drain

April 20, 2006

ACRLog » Blog Archive » Censorship at the Department of Education?

I come out of the world of education, and the storm brewing over ERIC is just beginning. The purging of articles that have a postmodern bent is a very real worry, and this lastest brew-ha-ha doesn’t make me any more comfortable about it. The damage this administration has done to science (both hard and social) is very real. It’s not the death of science and it’s not the only cause of what feels to me like a strong wave of anti-intellectualism, but it’s real and it’s happening and it keeps me up at night.

Only for a few minutes, mind you. I leave for work pretty early. But still.

Welcome to OPAChyderm

April 20, 2006

I’d like to welcome you to OPAChyderm.

Of course, there’s none of “you” out there at this point, but why quibble with who’s imaginary and who has delusions of grandeur? This whole blog, really, exists mostly because I thought the name was extremely clever, in a high-school boy sort of “my knowledge of Dungeons and Dragons and Monty Python is more extensive than yours” sort of cleverness. The kind that, at best, will only impress other 15 year old boys.

The idea is to talk about technology in libraries. Not only how much it usually sucks, but what we can do about it. Why it’s like that. What the bottlenecks are. I’m new to the world of libraries, and the relationship between libraries, the internet as an information repository, ubiquitous technology, and the existing culture of librarianship is freakin’ fascinating. So we’ll cover some of that stuff here.

Plus, my wife is pregnant, so I imagine she’ll come up every now and then, too 🙂

A Pachyderm is something that, to put it gently, is fat and thick-skinned. An elephant, for a majestic example. A hippo, for a less-majestic example. I chose the name, like I said, beacuse I thought it was clever, but also because I’m finding that a lot of librarians right now are pretty thin-skinned. They don’t want to hear about how great Google is (I’m looking at you, President Gorman). They don’t want to hear about how successful the Amazon API is. The times are a-changing, as Dylan and the WanderingEyre both know.

This is my first anonymous blog. Why be anonymous? Not because I’m planning on saying anything awful about the library where I work or the people I work with. Things are, for the most part, peachy.

But I do occasionally want to rant a bit. Not about things in particular, but about things in general. And I’ve found that I censor myself when I probably need not.

I don’t take this as an opportunity to reject any responsibility, but rather to experiment a bit more with my thinking.

So, anyway, welcome.