OSHWA: How We Made the Open Hardware Summit All Virtual in Less Than a Week

From OSHWA president Michael Weinberg:

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How We Made the Open Hardware Summit All Virtual in Less Than a Week

First, thank you again to everyone – speakers, participants, and sponsors – for a fantastic 10th anniversary Open Hardware Summit.  We knew the 10th anniversary Summit would be one for the ages, although we didn’t quite expect it to be because it became the first virtual Summit.

Thanks to the timing of the Summit, the 10th anniversary Summit ended up being many people’s first virtual summit of the Covid-19 era (that includes the organizers).  Unfortunately it looks like it is unlikely to be the last. In the hopes of helping event organizers struggling with the same challenges, this blog post outlines the decisions we made and the steps we took to make it happen.

Quick Context

The Open Hardware Summit is an annual gathering of the open source hardware community held by the Open Source Hardware Association (OSHWA).  This year OSHWA partnered with the Engelberg Center on Innovation Law & Policy at NYU Law to host the event in New York City.  The event usually brings together hundreds of community members and speakers from around the world.  It was scheduled for March 13, 2020.

While the situation has been evolving for some time, as recently as March 5th (8 days before the Summit) we thought that holding a reduced in-person version of the event was the right decision.  By March 8 (5 days before the Summit) that was no longer tenable and we announced that the Summit was going all virtual.  That was the right decision, but what does going all virtual mean?

Priorities

We had two major priorities for the virtual Summit:

  1. Online streaming video of all of the speakers and panels.
  2. A community space for discussions and coming together.

Video

The live stream of the Summit had to be both accessible to our viewers and easy to join for our speakers and panelists.  After considering some options and consulting with experts in our community (huge thank you to Phil Torrone at Adafruit for the guidance), we concluded that a combination of YouTube and StreamYard would be the best option.

YouTube worked for our community because it is easily accessible on a wide range of platforms in most of the world.  That meant that just about everyone would be able to see the Summit from wherever they were.

StreamYard made it easy to manage the backend.  Speakers could join a virtual green room before their talk and our technical testing the day before the Summit made it clear that it was easy for them to share their slide presentations as well.  One of the members of the Summit team was able to easily add and remove people (and their screens) to the live feed, along with stills and slides for introductions, sponsors, and everything else.

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Community Space

We also looked at a number of options for online discussions.  We decided that a discord server would be the best option for the open source hardware community. Discord allowed us to open the space to anyone who wanted to join, while at the same time giving us moderation control over the discussion (huge thank you for Lenore Edman from Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories for jumping in as a moderator).  Many community members were already comfortable with discord, which was also a bonus.

We also decided to use discord for a version of Q&A for the speakers.  One option would have been to try and integrate video questions from the audience into the live stream. That would have been technically possible with StreamYard (probably…), but it seemed like an unnecessary logistical complication for the organizers.  As an alternative we decided to set up separate discord channels for each of the speakers. That allowed the speakers to end their talk and move to their discord channel for further discussions.

One unexpected and welcome development was that the discord server grew into a larger community hub, with channels devoted to solutions to Covid-19, community announcements, hacking the conference badge, and even virtual conference tips.  We may decide to maintain the server well beyond the Summit as a community space.

It Mostly Worked

We scheduled brief runthroughs with all of the speakers the day before the Summit. Everyone had a chance to get comfortable with the process and work out any last minute problems.  On the day of the Summit we embedded the livestream in the Summit site, along with a link to the discord server for discussion. There were a few audio glitches where speakers had to briefly drop out, but all things considered it went pretty smoothly.

Once the Summit was over the entire livestream of the Summit was posted automatically to OSHWA’s YouTube channel.  Within a day or two we had broken out all of the individual talks into a video playlist and pulled the audio from our panel discussion into a stand alone podcast episode.

To the extent that things worked, one of the big reasons was the nature of the OSHWA community.  Besides being generally great and supportive (no small thing), the open source hardware community already sees itself as a community and is already comfortable with connecting via online tools.  That made it easy for them to enthusiastically watch the live stream and jump into the online discussion. Not all types of events have this starting point, which may suggest that they are not great candidates for this type of virtual structure.

If you are reading this because you are working on your own virtual event, good luck!  We are happy to answer questions if you have them. Email us at [email protected] StreamYard also has a referral program, so if you drop us a line at [email protected] we can give you a $10 credit if you want it.

OSHWA: How We Made the Open Hardware Summit All Virtual in Less Than a Week

How to join the virtual Open Hardware Summit tomorrow

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Due to the COVID-19 virus, the Open Hardware Summit has been moved from NYC to cyberspace!

2020.oshwa.org

 

How to join the virtual Open Hardware Summit tomorrow

The 2020 Open Hardware Summit is Going Virtual

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IMPORTANT UPDATE FROM OSHWA:

In our last update we promised to continue to monitor the coronavirus situation and to update the community as things evolved. Today we are announcing that things have evolved, and explaining what that means for the community and the Summit.

  1. We are switching to an all-virtual summit for 2020.  We are coordinating with speakers to move all presentations to streaming online video.  You can expect a schedule similar to the one we have already announced, as well as a robust set of online chat options for the community to discuss the day’s events.
  2. We also still plan on holding the pre-party happy hour the evening of March 12 for community members who are in NYC.  The happy hour is free to anyone who is able to attend. If you are in the area we look forward to seeing you there.  However, we do not recommend traveling to NYC just for the happy hour.
  3. We continue to offer full refunds on tickets to anyone who has purchased tickets to the Summit.  Contact [email protected] for more details.
  4. We will be sending full swag bags to all ticket holders.
  5. Next year’s summit will be in NYC again on April 9, 2021. Mark your calendars!

While we are sorry to have to make this change, we are still excited about this year’s Summit.   We have a fantastic lineup of speakers and even more OSHWA announcements planned. While we know that many members of our community will be disappointed not to be able to see each other in person this year, we look forward to seeing all of you virtually on Friday and in person in 2021.

Thank you all again for being part of the open source hardware community!

The 2020 Open Hardware Summit is Going Virtual

The Open Hardware Summit Is Still On

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An update from OSHWA on the Open Hardware Summit:

In light of ongoing news related to the coronavirus we want to provide the community with an update about the Summit scheduled for March 13 in NYC.

  • The most important update is that the Summit is on and we intend to hold it as planned. 
  • The second most important update is that OSHWA is monitoring the situation.

The Summit is always an important event to open source hardware community. This year’s Summit is doubly special because it is the 10th anniversary of the Summit and we were forced to skip the Summit last year.  In light of those factors OSHWA is committed to holding the Summit next week as long as it is viable to do so. Even a somewhat smaller Summit is an opportunity for the community to come together, discuss open source hardware, and connect in person.

We are aware of concerns related to the coronavirus and do not take them lightly.  We also recognize that this is an evolving situation. We will continue to monitor the situation, as well as guidance provided by authorities,  and may revisit our decision if it is warranted. That will be especially true if our host venue of NYU Law decides to suspend events – a decision they have given us no indication of making as of now.  However, at this point we do not believe that the situation warrants the cancelation of the event.

We do recognize that many members of our community have purchased tickets to the Summit and now find themselves unable or unwilling to attend.  We ask that you notify us if this is the case so we can accommodate and adjust accordingly. As always, we will stream the Summit live and invite all members of the community who are unable to attend for any reason to join us virtually the day of the Summit.  We are also happy to provide refunds to those ticket holders who now feel unable to attend. If you would like a refund for your ticket, or have other questions about the Summit, please contact us at [email protected].

Finally, we look forward to seeing many of you next week.  If you have been considering coming but haven’t purchased your ticket yet, now would be a great time to decide to join us!

The Open Hardware Summit Is Still On