And I bet I can do this whole thing for free, without charging attendees or speakers. Although I’m not betting too much – I’m a huge believer in the Lean Methodology, which means you risk as little as possible when you’re building something up from scratch.
Here’s the tools I used to do it.
WordPress – it’s free, powers something like 25% of the web, is crazy extensible, and has an amazing number of plugins available. Pretty much anything I build online involves WordPress in one way or another. Right now, it’s hosted at WPengine, but we’re in the process of moving all our sites over to Pressidium.
Gravity Forms – WordPress plugin to build forms and do stuff with the output. I’m using it for:
- The account registration page because I wanted to optionally capture the user’s location in case we start notifying them about nearby in-person events like user group meetings.
- The session submission page uses it for form field validation, and then to combine several form fields into a WordPress post, and email me for a heads up. I wish I could just instantly publish every submission, but I’m worried about spam initially.
- The attendee registration page, which calls a web hook at Zapier, which fires off an API request to GoToWebinar.
Impreza Theme – WordPress theme that I also use on Ozar.me and BrentOzar.com. Very customizable, responsive, frequently updated.
bbPress Forums – I was originally going to try to use Slack rather than forums, but if I’m committed to doing everything in the open for this conference, then the discussions need to be easily searchable and browsable even without accounts. Forums make that easy.
Fancier Author Box – the author box is the speaker’s profile. Right now it just shows their bio and their latest posts (abstracts), but we’ll be enabling more features in that over time, like showing how to contact them.
Buffer and WordPress to Buffer Pro – whenever a new session is posted, tweet it. Right now, it’s set to tweet the instant a post is approved, but as more sessions start to come in, they’ll just get added to the queue so that a new session is tweeted every, say, hour.
WordPress Plugins for Session Reviewers
Multi Rating Pro – WordPress plugin for ratings. Can do multiple different rating forms, each with different criteria – this was important because I wanted to be able to have one set of rating criteria for session abstracts, and then another for videos after they go live. (Neat benefit – the ratings even show up in search results.)
wpDiscuz – comments made fancy. This is the first time I’ve used this plugin, so the jury’s still out on this one.
WordPress Plugins for Session Submitters
Adminimize – reduces the number of WordPress options that session submitters see when they log into the back end to edit their posts.
Peter’s Collaboration Emails – turns out there’s a whole niche market for guest post tools. This one emails guest posters (in our case, session submitters) when one of their posts has been accepted. Right now, I’m manually moderating incoming posts just to watch out for spam or offensive material. In a later milestone, I’ll let the posts go straight through, but readers will be able to flag stuff for review to remove it from the site.
Services & Tools We Use for the Podcast
One thing I hear over and over from international folks is that they want a podcast version of user group sessions because their internet connection just isn’t stable enough to support streaming. Therefore, right from the start, I wanted all of the GroupBy sessions to be available in downloadable form.
I called on DigitalFreedomProductions.com, the same team that produces the Brent Ozar Unlimited Office Hours podcast. This is the most expensive piece out of the whole setup – they record the webcast as it happens, edit it into individual podcast episodes, upload it to YouTube and the podcast feed, transcribe it, and put the transcriptions into the GroupBy session pages. We’ll be releasing the podcast episodes twice per week, trickling them out after the live event.
In theory, we could have organized all this through volunteers, but it’s just not worth it – we only get one chance to capture the recordings, and Pavel’s crew are complete pros.
Bottom Line: Cheap & Quick
If it wasn’t for my insistence on a snappy logo and a professionally produced podcast feed, it would have been around $500 out of pocket to get set up. With the logo and the podcasts, we’ll be at around $2k of setup costs, and just shy of 40 hours of spare time invested in choosing & configuring the plugins/design/site.
I’m really pleased with the results. WordPress’s lively ecosystem makes it so easy and cheap to build useful projects that make a real difference – without writing a line of code or buying a server.