InterCon. What? How, even?

What was that and how did we do it.

For the uninitiated, InterCon was a virtual conference held on Friday the 13th. It was the first of many such conferences, organized as an immediate reaction to the domino style cancellations starting to rock the event calendar. 

Note: If you came for the how-to, scroll down to tl:dr. If you want the full story, read ahead!

D-Day

To kick-off the conference, we had an hour & a half of Mandarin speaking sessions led by Leo & Typto in the House of DAOs, running in parallel with Luis Cuende talking “Lessons from Aragon & The Flying Chili” followed by Griff Green on “Funding Open Source & Public Goods” in the House of Defiance.

Sounds like we were off to a good start, but in the background - things had already started falling apart. To explain why I came close to renaming the public InterCon channel into “Fyre Festival”, we’ll have to travel back in time - just a bit.

Pre-story

Some time back in February, Kay deploys his baby, Interspace - a conferencing tool he built with a friend, on a month-long hack-along in the Liminal Village.

We skin it with the primitive graphic, add a radio station & a way to help mother nature, and we love it. Of course, we start having our meetups there and immediately think; huh, what if we organized a conference?

Timeline Up To Showtime

  • 2 weeks before InterCon; we have a call and decide to go for it. As it’s “just a virtual conference”, and we only plan on having 6 speakers per stage for ~20 people to attend; should be plenty of time… 

  • I fire up a Telegram  channel and announce Intercon in a tweet, linking to the channel. Others pick it up, retweet it and write announcements of their own. Soon, we have a whole bunch of likes, retweets, and ~60 people join the chat, alles gut.

  • 12 days before InterCon; I board a plane to ETHCC. I don’t have my laptop with me because... It got partially melted and cannot be folded, don’t ask. 

  • 9 days before InterCon; I finally write the full announcement blog post announcing InterCon, on my damn phone...

  • 8 days; I wake up to XY notifications, 200+ people inside the telegram chat & ~30 people asking to speak, clogging my already-clogged Telegram  inbox.

  • 7 days; the day of the Unhacked hackathon. The notifications aren’t stopping, the number of people is nearing 300 and I have at least 50 speaking submissions. I spend the hackathon hacking through my telegram inbox, trying to get everyone inside a sheet. Over my phone - having the time of my life...

  • 6 days; by now it’s painfully obvious there is no way Jitsi will be able to handle this number of people inside the calls, as originally intended. Luckily, Hammad steps up to set up livestreaming to YouTube, and Drew, to set up Mozilla Hubs as a virtual space for people to hang out in and watch the streams.

  • 5 days; wait, the website should probably be updated with all these new links, let me contact the only dev with any free time. Says he’s actually really busy...

  • 4 days; with so many people coming now, we can’t embarrass ourselves with this current ugly-ass graphic I hacked together in 15 minutes.

  • 3 days; I finally kick-off the voting period for the speaking submissions & others help me realize the obvious fact I won’t be able to put together the agenda without knowing the timezone/time available for every speaker...

  • 2 days; I make the submissions into an agenda. It is to last 14 hours on dual tracks.

  • 1 day. I’m still manually notifying some of the speakers of their time & the new graphic arrives.

  • 12 hours before InterCon. We don’t have enough moderators, we realize that we can’t even give moderators moderating rights, and I’m told we shouldn’t rely on Jitsi’s integrated live streaming service as it tends to break (stream breaking even once, breaks the youtube link on the website and to the VR Hubs). “We should be using OBS”, a piece of software I never even heard of let alone used. Fuck. At least Paco & Damjan step up to implement tabs with links to YouTube streams & VR Hubs into call windows & a warning/instructions screen when opening the website.  Before I go to sleep, 1 moderator cancels...

  • 30 minutes before InterCon. I wake up from my brief sleep, to see one of our moderators decided to test the livestreaming function. Good idea, except it also meant the link from YouTube to Hubs was broken, and worse, the livestream link itself on the website is useless too. As I am personally useless on the technical side of things, this also meant I couldn’t do anything about it… On top of this delightful situation, there were now people asking to be reshuffled around the schedule & some cancelling altogether. 

  • 5 minutes before InterCon. Situation assessment: The links to livestreams and Hubs are all broken. It means people will only be able to join Jitsi. It means too many people will join Jitsi & and our “moderators” are powerless. The agenda is still problematic. Should I just rename the public telegram chat into “Free Fyre Festival” and call it a day?

  • Soon enough, Jitsi’s bandwidth becomes problematic. Luckily, Kay appears, submits a pull request to switch the hosting of Jitsi rooms to his private hosting (yes, we did that mid-conference), & fixes one of livestreams.

  • Hammad & Drew wake up and start fixing other livestreams & the corresponding links. Things start looking better.

So What

Apart from a few more problematic speakers and a bump or two here & there, it was mostly smooth sailing from here on.

We had: 

Here’s a few:

“Building Strong Web3 Communities” by Simona Pop

“Building On blockchain With No Code Tools” by Dennison Bertram

“Strategies For Surviving in a World of Continuous Legal Uncertainty” by Marina

You may check out the full list of talks in this timetable sheet, or watch some of them on our YouTube channel


Apart from the fact people just decided to organize Mandarin speaking sessions, the favorite part for me was when Matteo Tambussi of ETHTurin decided to play us a song on his guitar before talking about local impact hackathons:

The weirdest moment - aside from Hammad shaving his head - must have been James Waugh being in two places at the same time. I still don’t understand how this happened, but James somehow succeeded in talking in the Stress Test Arena and the House of DAOs at the same time. Lacking other options, Decentralion had to move his Sourcecred presentation to the House of Adoption.

tl;dr

So, how did we do it?

  • I spoke to a few people, and we had a group call to discuss it.

  • Everyone shilled the idea to their community & I wrote a blog post which we all shilled.

  • The blog post invited attendees to a Telegram  chat and speakers & helpers to contact me.

This was definitely a mistake. You don’t want every speaker to contact you personally then manually get all of their info into a sheet. Note to self: next time build a form and have people apply through it.

  • We set the talks to last 20 minutes, but start 30 minutes apart. 

This was one of the best decisions as it left plenty of space for the unpredictable, for the speakers that were late, for the ones that like to talk over, for Q&As & even just for attendees to talk about whatever they wanted and socialize in-between the talks.

  • We set up live-streams with OBS to YouTube, and directed those streams to Mozilla Hubs for people to hang out in.

  • Jitsi itself was facing more traffic than usual with people going remote, so we decided to host our own Jitsi servers, and switched it mid-conference.

  • We appointed multiple moderators to each room. Even though they didn’t have actual power to mute or kick people, they filled an essential role of introducing speakers, asking participants to mute themselves or ask questions as needed.

In short, how to run virtual conference the way we did:

  • Starting with what should have been obvious; take more than 2 weeks to prepare a virtual conference & take speakers and other submissions through a form.

  • People will want to help but don’t expect adding them to your OPS channel is enough. You need to make it clear what needs to be done and make sure each role/task has a person assigned to it. You don’t want the “everybody thought somebody will do it” situation.

  • You’ll need someone or multiple people to: write an announcement, put together a submission form, shill it, filter the submissions, make them into a timetable, stay in charge of changes, manage & update both chats, figure out OBS for livestreaming, set up a youtube channel, set up Mozilla Hubs & hook them up to youtube, make graphics, introduce the speakers & moderate the show, make & distribute POAP badges, cut down the videos, make the feedback form & write a reflection post.

  • The above is if you already have “the main venue” set up. If not, you’ll need to fork it and adjust it to your needs or get someone else to do it for you (get in touch). Alternatively, use interspace.metagame.wtf itself - if we’re aligned enough.

  • In total, it is likely to require between 150 and 200 hours of human time.


NOTE:

This was all done free of charge by volunteers. Huge thank you to everyone that helped in any way possible. We will be distributing MetaGame Seeds to all of you, as it’s the least we can do. If you helped, make sure to get in touch and claim them :)

Finally:

  • Seems like not many noticed rTrees & loft.radio, go back to Interspace

  • We’re co-organizing another virtual conference, April 3rd, NONCON

  • We’re co-organizing a virtual hackathon with the MetaCartel, Dragon Quest, April 1st.

  • Get in touch with us if you need help organizing a virtual conference or a hackathon, just give us a few weeks :’D

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