Introducing Consli, easy scheduling and feedback for conference organisers and attendees

The number of security conferences shows no signs of slowing down, feeding an ever-growing appetite for talks, presentations and content. If you're anything like us, both attending and speaking at conferences is part and parcel of your job, even if it's one event per year. In the absence of publication channels available in other disciplines such as good quality journals, security researchers have the option of blog posts, ezines such as Phrack, mailing lists or conferences. Many choose to go to conferences.

It's a source of regular wonder that computing/IT conferences are still so heavily paper-based. Your conference pack is typically a sheaf of papers that includes, at a minimum, a schedule and a set of feedback forms. They lead to a few headaches for both attendees and organisers.

  • Larger events have schedules where multiple talks happen in parallel. Planning my conference day involves circling talks I want to see, changing my mind, scratching out talks, circling others. This makes my physical schedule my actual planner, which is danger because;
  • I usually forget the schedule somewhere, or it's packed away in a backpack. Come the end of a coffee break, my schedule isn't accessible and I must either scratch through my bag, or borrow someone else's schedule or find a printed schedule stapled to a door. Of course, someone else's schedule is also their planner, and has to be handed back on pain of glaring looks.
  • For organisers, printed schedules are a pain. Shuffling the schedule is common, all it takes is one delayed flight or traffic jam. You're now left scrambling to inform everyone of the change. For the prepared organisers, this usually means further printed notices pasted around the venue, but oftentimes attendees are simply not informed about the change.
  • Feedback. How is it that cons so often rely on paper-based feedback? From experience, speaker feedback is useful to two groups: for organisers, it provides insight into the capabilities of speakers, and for speakers there is the obvious benefit in hearing what the audience thought of the presentation. However, paper-based feedback has a high amount of friction. Attendees don't tend to fill out feedback forms, and have to be repeatedly haranguedencouraged to do so. I suspect this is a combination of disinterest, a one-way feedback process, and having little incentive to supply feedback. Organisers also face friction in the printing, distributing, collecting, capturing and collating of feedback forms. What this leads to are situations where, at best, feedback is sent to speakers months after the event and, at worst, is simply discarded by organisers without ever being processed.
This past Wednesday and Thursday we trialled a webapp at HITB AMS that scratches these itches. It's designed for mobile devices and obviously runs in a regular browser, and its main capabilities enable organisers to maintain a conference site where attendees can create personal schedules, and provide feedback easily. Being a webapp, it's accessible across multiple platforms provided a recent browser is used. For organisers, the clear wins are easy schedule distribution and feedback, but there are a number of additional features that you might like, including the ability to broadcast notices to attendees, or provide giveaways to those who fill out feedback. Everything is controlled from an organiser dashboard.

We think it's pretty nifty and we call it Consli. It's open for beta.

If you're an organiser looking for a schedule and feedback system for your conference, we can help. Send a mail to signup@cons.li.