Mar 102011

It seems that the northern hemisphere spring is the regular season for submitting papers for two of my favourite conferences. So I guess that means it’s the regular season for reminding y’all, and being reminded of the different styles of conference.

First up, because the deadline for abstracts is Monday March 14, is Northern Voice, Vancouver’s personal, non-work, conference aimed at helping people find their voice online, whether that be through blogging, twitter, facebook updates, or photos. I’ve been on the organising committee since the beginning of Northern Voice, and have been consistent in wanting a conference that isn’t corporate, doesn’t give sponsors keynote slots, isn’t oriented towards business and making money. What Northern Voice is oriented towards is what people find important for their personal lives, whether that be the perennial question of blogging under a real or an assumed name, or giving advice on how to cope with too many emails (ok, that one could also be useful in business). More details at the web site.

In contrast there’s Balisage, which is not at all about how to get good photos of your cat, but rather a venue for deeply technical talks about markup in all its forms. It still isn’t corporate in the sense of selling keynote slots to big sponsors (you notice a trend here?) and its audience is limited to those who do enjoy intense discussions of how best to structure their information, and for whom the finer details of the XML specifications are not insignificant. For this conference abstracts aren’t enough, you need to write the full paper, in XML, and submit by April 8th. I review papers most years, and look forward to seeing what’s happening in the bleeding edges of XML-related technologies.

Hmmm, it’s probably not a coincidence that both of these conferences are small, and run by people who care passionately about the conference and the respective communities that they serve.

Nov 202009

The XML Summer School in Oxford at the end of September was the usual mix of interesting presentations, punting, good discussions in the pubs, and wandering around old buildings. The photos I took have none of the first, little of the last, and an over-proportional number of punting and pubs, mostly because that’s when the camera did its job best. These are all part of the XML Summer School 2009 group on Flickr, if you want more photos of that week in Oxford.

Sep 042009

This year the XML Summer School in Oxford is at the end of September, rather a change from previous years, when it was in July. This morning on the organising call we decided that we need to go punting on the Monday before dinner rather than after dinner, since the evenings will be dark sooner, but that’s about the only drawback to the late-summer timing.

Apart from being heavily involved in organising the event, I’m chairing two courses this year. There’s Trends and Transients, a fun day with lots of discussion and debate about hyped, over-hyped, and current technology issues. This year we have Tony Coates talking about how XML could have saved us from the current financial crisis (somewhat tongue-in-cheek), Paul Downey ranting on what’s wrong with Rich Internet Applications, and Rich Salz telling you what to look for and avoid in cloud computing. The day is capped off by unconference sessions in the evening where everyone gets to have their say in as much length as people will listen to them.

New this year is the other course I’m chairing, the Semantic Technologies course, where Bob DuCharme, Leigh Dodds, Andy Seaborne, and Duncan Hull are joining forces to teach classes in Linked Data, OWL, RDF, SPARQL, and all those other acronyms that are forming the basis of what some people are calling Web 3.0. I’m looking forward to catching up on what’s new in all of these, and figuring out whether some might be useful for a project I have in mind.

I haven’t decided which other courses and classes I’ll sit in on yet; they all look good.

Aug 042009

I’ve been asked by a couple of people involved in organising conferences why they should have a conference Twitter account, so I figure it’s a general enough question to be worth blogging. Basically, it’s all about starting or continuing your conversation with those who attend, or might attend, or have attended, or are interested in the subjects your conference covers.

If we take that as a starting point, then that answers the “why”, and Twitter itself answers the “how”, so we’re more or less left with the “what” (as in, what to tweet). Of course it depends on what sort of conference you’re running. One way to look at them is pre-, during, and post-conference.

Pre-conference: use twitter as an adjunct to the conference web site, to remind people of impending deadlines, tell them of the new speakers who are signed up, or the new tracks that have been added. Even the fact that you’re getting the planning committee together is tweet-worthy, as it tells people the conference is being planned, even if the web site doesn’t show it yet (and we all know how long it often takes to update the conference web site). If the hotel is about to sell out, let people know. If fun swag has arrived for the attendees, let them know that too.

This is also the right time to tweet about articles or blog posts the speakers have written (pointing out they’re speaking, of course), or news items related to the subject of the conference.

During the conference: you can remind people about today’s social events, tell them of changes to the schedule, remind them where the exhibits are if you have an exhibit hall. Point to people who are live-blogging the event, if any. Remind people which tag to use for photos. I’d advise against tweeting so much information that people are paying more attention to the conference tweets than the speakers; contests and the like can be dangerous for this reason (unless it’s a conference based on twitter).

Post-conference: point to blogs, write-ups, and photo pools from the event, let people know when planning for the next one starts, ask for suggestions for speakers and topics for the next one.

A couple of tips about followers: follow people who follow you, except for obvious spammers or marketers. Consider following all the speakers you can. Don’t worry too much about how many followers the conference account has; if every speaker retweets only the tweets about them, you’ll still pass the word around to people who by definition should be interested in the conference content.I’m sure there are other ideas for content, but these will at least get you started.

Apr 212009

One of my current projects is as Course Director for the revamped XML Summer School in Oxford, England. John Chelsom asked me to help out and I was only too happy to say yes; I have many fond memories from previous years. It will be more a late-summer school this year, being from September 20-25, but that does free up more of the summer proper for other things, not to mention giving us more time to figure out the schedule and speakers.

Another advantage of late summer for the XML Summer School is that it doesn’t clash with Balisage in Montréal, Canada, which is on August 11-14 (with the symposium on processing XML efficiently on the 10th). Papers for that are due on April 24, so you don’t have much time to get them in if you’re planning on speaking. Any markup-related topic is welcome, as long as it is of sufficient quality and depth.

It’s interesting comparing the two – Balisage is a geek’s conference, unapologetically aimed at people who are think deeply about the issues, even if they’re not applying them at work. The XML Summer School is more like training, aimed at less expert practitioners of and newcomers to XML, and more likely to be attended by people who want to go back to work the next week and apply what they’ve learned directly. A few of the speakers are the same, of course, and the discussions over dinner tend to veer in some of the same directions.

And, of course, both conferences are on Twitter; Balisage at and the XML Summer School at

Mar 182009

I’ve never been to one of the really big conferences with thousands of people; I’ve heard the energy can be amazing, and there is always something interesting going on. I tend to find myself at smaller conferences where you have a chance to see people again whom you saw in the last talk, and can ask a question of a speaker in a quieter moment than the immediate post-talk rush.

Which is a way of reminding those interested in the finer details of markup technologies (XML, SGML, and other related technologies), that submissions for one of my favourite small conferences, Balisage, are due in a little over a month (April 24th, to be precise). I’ve signed up to be a peer reviewer, though I haven’t been active enough in markup research and technologies recently to submit a paper myself.

If you are writing a paper, I have some requests to make my life as a peer reviewer easier (and make it more likely that I recommend your talk be accepted). Please explain what it’s all about clearly, defining terms that may not be familiar to everyone, and above all, explain why it’s interesting! Too many papers I’ve seen assume that outsiders will magically understand what’s valuable; usually a poor assumption. Spell-check the whole paper, and get someone else to proof it looking for grammatical errors, sentences that ramble on for too long, and phrases that make no sense. The tone should be professional but not boring, as I will be making assumptions as to whether you can give a good talk based on the paper you submit (it’s a blind review, so I won’t know who you are when I review your paper). And do follow the guidelines; they’re there for good reasons.

And the most important thing, failure to observe which resulted in my recommending talks not be accepted last year despite potentially interesting topics: make sure the paper is long enough! A brief summary with details to be filled in later is not sufficient to let the peer reviewer know whether there is real substance that can stand up to 45 minutes of presentation and discussion.

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