Event software by Expectnation

Expectnation launches on-site lead retrieval

We were excited to launch our new lead-retrieval badge printing system at O’Reilly Media’s recent Where 2.0 conference.

Using Expectnation’s on-site check-in system, attendees were able to check themselves into the conference, receiving a credit card type badge, with their details encoded in the magnetic stripe.

Exhibitors at the conference used Bartizan Leads2Go terminals to scan badges and gather leads. Kiosk computers and Leads2Go terminals were supplied by Global Event Services.

Where 2.0 check-in Area
Check-in kiosks and badge printers at the Where 2.0 conference

Example badge
Screenshot of Expectnation’s badge preview screen

Find out more

If you’re interested in Expectnation’s on-site solutions, whether for plain card badges or magnetic stripe cards for lead retrieval, please get in touch.

Check-in and lead retrieval systems are available as an add-on to any of our regular packages.

The technical bits

If you’re interested in the technical details, read on!

We used two Mac mini servers, running Ubuntu Linux, as the satellite check-in systems. These machines stay in sync with the main Expectnation server over the internet, but enable check-in to continue should the network become unavailable.

The check-in kiosk software uses the Opera web browser’s kiosk mode, talking to a Ruby on Rails application on the server side.

The magnetic card printers are Evolis Dualys 3 models, which support duplex printing and magnetic stripe encoding, connected by ethernet to a CUPS print server.

Kiosks and printers can be dedicated to particular uses, e.g. exhibitor or speaker check-in, or available for general attendee use.

Templating your events in Expectnation

Giving your Expectnation events a custom look-and-feel is simple to do, but also has the power to let experienced web developers completely customize an event site.

Expectnation’s templating system is composed of two layers: templates and Liquid components.


Templates, the first layer, allows straightforward theming: use custom page headers, footers, sidebars and CSS. You can enter HTML to go in the various places on the page, and use the navigation editor to create a menu. CSS and Javascript can be stored in the template, and images and other resources stored in the assets module.

You can do a lot with the template system, but sometimes designers will want to “break out of the box” into a more flexible page layout.

Web 2.0 Expo screenshot
A screen capture of Web 2.0 Expo, designed by O’Reilly Media in Expectnation.

Liquid components

The second layer is the Liquid components, which form the underlying mechanism for how the theme templates are actually turned into web pages. The name “Liquid” comes from the fact that Expectnation uses the Liquid templating language.

Liquid components give you free rein over the HTML content of your event site, allowing you to do simple computations and dynamic content. Many parts of Expectnation’s standard pages, such as schedule listings, can be customized via Liquid components. Data such as speakers, proposal and timings are available for you to insert into pages.

One advantage of the Liquid templating system is reuse: you can create a component which can be reused repeatedly over events and articles. Experienced web developers will find Expectnation’s Liquid components a mature and scalable approach to creating event web sites.

Expectnation’s online help has detailed reference material on the various components, data objects and filters made available to Liquid. To find out more about Liquid itself, visit its web site and read their getting started guide.

As much or as little as you like

Because templates and Liquid components work together, you don’t have to choose between them in producing your event web site. Most customers find templates can do 90% of the work, with just a little Liquid added for fine-tuning the pages.

Liquid support is in ongoing evolution inside Expectnation as we drive it deeper into the system, so we’re very open to requests for enhancements and new features.

Screencasts now available

We’ve started to publish screencasts — demonstration movies — of Expectnation in action, to give you a feel for how the system works and teach you the basics of operation.

The first two screencasts cover creating events In Expectnation, and setting up a Call for Participation.

Keep an eye on our screencasts page, as we’ll be adding more regularly.

Tip: Publish session recommendations

Expectnation’s personal scheduler provides a way for attendees to put together their own timetable for your event, choosing which sessions to attend.

Using this data, we are able to produce recommendations to attendees about sessions related to those they are interested in, shown highlighted in the screenshot below.

To enable this feature for your event, visit the Schedule -> Settings screen and ensure that both “Personal scheduler” and “Display recommendations” are enabled.

Announcing Expectnation's new registration support

We’re pleased to announce that Expectnation now supports online registration for attendees.

Capabilities of the registration module include:

  • Multiple registration packages
  • Early-bird, regular and walk in pricing
  • Flexible discount codes
  • Registration options for managing things such as tutorial signups or activity choices
  • Survey system to gather custom marketing or logistical data per attendee
  • Online credit card payments
  • Sales reporting and data exports
  • Press registration
  • Optional organizer-approval stage on registrations

For more details, take a look at the registration section in the Expectnation tour, or contact us now by emailing sales@expectnation.com.

Tip: Recruiting a review team

Reviewers are users who are signed up to an Expectnation account, and have reviewing privileges. They will see a “Reviewing” tab in the Dashboard view for the event for which they’re a reviewer.

There are two main ways in which you can recruit a team of reviewers in Expectnation. The first of these is using a Reviewer Request, which automates a lot of the process for you, and the second is by manually setting the reviewing properties on a user.

Using Reviewer Requests

Reviewer Requests let you send a customized message to a user, giving them a Yes / No choice of whether to participate in the review. If they respond positively, the request will lead them through creating an Expectnation account if they don’t already have one.

Creating a reviewer request

To create a request, visit Mailroom->Requests and click on the create new reviewer request link. You will see a space for the request subject, which will appear as the subject line in the outgoing email, and three text areas. These allow you to customize the request text, and the message the user sees when they response positively or negatively.

(All of these text fields allow you to use rich text, but bear in mind the first will be converted to plain text when sent in an email.)

Once you’ve created the request, you’ll see it pop up in the request list. Click on its title to see more detail, and a preview of how the outgoing request email will look.

You will see that your request text is inserted in between some standard text which tells the recipients how to make their response via the Expectnation site.

If you’re not happy with the text, use the Edit tab to change it.

Figure 1. Review request overview screen, showing responses.

Sending a reviewer request

To send a request, first select the “Send to a user” tab from the request overview. Then use the search to look for the user in the user database. When you find them, just click on the “Send request” link by their name.

If the user doesn’t exist in the user database yet, which will happen a lot for your first events, then use the “Add new user and send request” form instead.

Sending the request has two results:

  • The user gets an email with the request in, giving a link to click on to send you their response
  • The request is listed on the “Home” tab of their Expectnation account dashboard, so they can find the request even if they lose the email

If you’ve sent the request via the “Add new user and send request” form, then any user accepting the request will be taken through the Expectnation user account signup process at that point.

Handling replies

When a user responds to a reviewer request, they are taken to a form which displays the same request that went in the email. They can then select either “Yes, I accept” or “No, I decline”. In addition there is a text field presented to them.

  • If they accept, they can use this area to indicate which subject areas they are interested in reviewing
  • If they decline, they can use this area to send you a note of explanation

You can get a quick snapshot of the progress of the request by viewing the overview tab: you’ll see a pie chart giving a breakdown of responses. The responses can be viewed in detail via the “Accepted”, “Declined” and “No response yet” tabs.

When a user declines a reviewer request

If a user answers “No, I decline”, that is the last action that will happen. You can find any note they added in the “Declined” list.

When a user accepts a reviewer request

If the user answers “Yes, I accept”, then they receive a thankyou note, along with a message telling them they’ll be able to find proposals in their account Dashboard. You’ll be able to see their positive response in the “Accepted” list for the request you sent.

If you click on the user’s name in the accepted list, you’ll be taken to their user overview. In their “Reviewing” tab you’ll see their acceptance note has been copied to the “Expertise area notes”, and you can edit this for your convenience. When allocating reviewers to a proposal, you can search by keywords mentioned in the expertise area notes, as well as reviewer name.

The user has now been activated as a reviewer and can be added as a reviewer for proposals in the normal way, through the “Reviewing” tab of a proposal.

Alternatively if you wish them to see all proposals, or all proposals in a certain topic, you may configure this from the user’s “Reviewing” tab.

Resending requests

Many people need a reminder that you want something from them! To resend a request, visit the “No response yet” tab of a request, and check the “resend” boxes against those people you wish to remind, then click the “Resend checked” button to send the request out.

The recipients will receive the same email again, and the time of sending will be noted in the “No response yet” list, so you know when you last contacted someone.

Manually creating reviewers

If you don’t wish or need to use a reviewer request, e.g. the review team is a small number of people who you’ve already contacted, then it is possible simply to enable them as a reviewer by looking them up in the User list, and visiting their “Reviewing” tab.

On that tab you’ll be able to set them up as a reviewer, and additionally indicate if you wish them to see all proposals or all proposals in a certain topic. When allocating reviewers to a proposal, you can search by keywords mentioned in the expertise area notes, as well as reviewer name, so you might want to put terms in here to make this easier for you.

The only complication is if the user concerned isn’t already in the database. You’ll then need to add them. The easiest way to do this is go to Users->Invite, which lets you send a signup invitation by email to the user. Note that this message won’t explictly say anything about reviewing, just signing up for a new account.

The final step: communicating with reviewers

Once your team is recruited, you’ll probably want to tell them how and when to get started. To do this visit Mailroom->Compose and write a batch email to all Reviewers.

You can also use the Mailroom to remind reviewers who’ve not yet completed assigned reviews.

Tip: only ask users for information you need

The information you need to collect about participants will vary depending on the event you’re running, and the nature of the participants’ involvement. For example, you are likely to want to a contact phone number for a speaker, but this doesn’t matter for your reviewers.

The danger is that you’ll either end up with too little information and have to collect it manually, or have too stringent information collection, putting off potential participants.

Fortunately, Expectnation provides you with a way of avoiding this dilemma.

User information disclosure

Whatever the nature of their interaction with your event—attendee, speaker, reviewer, etc—every user must register for an account with your Expectnation site. The information collected here can also be changed by the user at any time through their Dashboard.

Expectnation makes it possible to control user information collection through the “Disclosure” feature of the “Users” module. This feature is available in two places:

  • at the top-level, which controls default disclosure settings, and
  • per-event, allowing you to vary the default settings.

While some fields are considered basic essentials to Expectnation (name, email address and opt-in to further mailings) all the other fields can be in one of three states:

  • not shown to the user,
  • shown, but not required,
  • required.

The screenshot below shows how this is controlled. You can simply click on the level concerned to cycle it through its available values.

The top-level information gathering settings for the User role is special, hence the darker line to the right-hand side in the grid. All participants are subject to these requirements, whatever else their role. For example, if you make the “Bio” field mandatory for users, you cannot loosen this requirement for attendees or other roles.

When a user takes on a new role (e.g. submitting a proposal will assign them the Proposer role) then Expectnation will ask them for any additional information that you require for this role.


What if I increase the amount of information required after a user has registered?

Next time they log in, Expectnation will direct them to a page asking for the extra information.

What happens if I decrease the required information levels?

Expectnation will still store the information added previously, but it may not be shown to user if you prevent a relevant field from being shown in the user details form.

What’s the difference between top-level and per-event settings?

The top-level settings:

  • control the global minimum information collection for all users, via the User role.
  • set the defaults that will be applied to events that haven’t got customized disclosure levels

The per-event settings:

  • allow loosening or tightening of default information disclosure levels
  • are subject to the top-level User settings, and cannot loosen these

Tip: use session types to organize presentations

Most conferences have more than one type of session. For instance you might have panels, tutorials, and regular presentations. Right from the proposal stage you can separate these inside Expectnation to make managing the sessions convenient.

To get started, head to the Session types option inside the Proposals module. You’ll then be able to add a new session type, similar to below.

Once you’ve added all the types you want, you’ll end up with a list like that below. The types marked with “Yes” under “Evals?” will enable attendees to submit session evaluations online. For instance, evaluations make sense for tutorials, but might not for freer discussions.

If you’re operating a call for participation (CFP) and review cycle for your conference, you need to indicate which session types a particular CFP offers. The image below shows how you do that in the CFP creation stage.

There are several reasons you might want to operate different CFPs for different session types:

  • differing time scales, e.g. refereed papers vs. late breaking news
  • different reviewing models, e.g. peer review vs. single-person choice
  • different communities of participation, where you want to distribute the CFPs separately

Once the proposals are starting to enter into the system, the benefit of separating the session types is realized by using the session type filter in the proposals search. Among other things, you will then be able to perform batch operations on sessions of a particular type.

Using sparklines to aid reviewing

When assessing proposal reviews, quite often there’s a much deeper story than the average grade alone will tell you. Expectnation adds sparklines to the summary of each proposal to quickly illustrate the variety of reviewing opinion.

Here are some real world examples, drawn from the reviews for XTech 2007.

High fliers

Reviewers are pretty unanimous about this proposal, as 4.0 is the top grade in the scoring system used for this conference. The lack of variance suggests that we ought to ensure that all the assigned reviewers put in their scores — this could be just one person voting.

These next two are the pretty typical distribution for highly graded proposals: mostly top marks and a few average ones.

Middle ranking

Some of the more interesting trends show up when the scoring isn’t biased to either the top or bottom ends of the scale.

The reviewers are unanimous about this paper’s soundness. It’s not made anyone go “wow”, but there’s nothing to grumble about either.

This proposal clearly polarises opinion, and is such stands a better chance than the unanimous 3.0 above. Perhaps the subject matter or approach is controversial or timely.

Another proposal that divides the reviewers’ opinions. It’s also worth checking here that we don’t either have a pathologically strict reviewer, or at the other end, a reviewer with a wild passion for the cause this paper advocates.

Low scoring

If the quality of submissions is good, we don’t have to give low graded proposals much attention, but the sparklines could alert us to potential oversights.

This proposal seems to polarise opinion between “rubbish” and “ok”, so it’s interesting to me to check out the subject matter and see if we’re missing something with potential.

These proposals were not received at all well.

Archived articles

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