Two weekends ago, we were back in Wolverhampton for the last ever LugRadio Live rock conference. After 5 years of the fortnightly LugRadio podcast, last Summer, the presenters called it a day and announced that LugRadio Live UK 08 (July 2008) would be the last ever LugRadio Live.
And then they agreed to do another last ever LugRadio Live – in October 2009. And it really is the last ever this time. It was, as usual, a brilliant event with some great talks (including Matthew Paul Thomas (@mpt) on reporting usability bugs in Ubuntu, and Gervase Markam on his first computer program) and the premiere of Tony’s Don’t Listen Alone documentary about LugRadio; all followed by a highly amusing geek kareoke in the basement of the Connaught Hotel in the evening.
It was, however, unlike previous LugRadio Lives, a one-day event. So the Ubuntu-UK Podcast and the Linux Outlaws podcast teams joined forces to put on a second one-day event, OggCamp, on the Sunday.
Because we had absolutely no idea, at the start, how many people might be interested in coming, Tony did some hunting around for venues but came to the conclusion that the official LRL hotel, the Connaught, would be best. And it would be free. That way, LRL attendees could stick around in Wolverhampton for a few hours more and nurse their hangovers in company.
I just found an email Tony sent to the OggCamp gang back in July:
In the interests of making it easy to organise…, I was thinking that some sort of unconference…would be best. We’d need to agree (and fund) a venue with ‘net access and set up some sort of website, but that should be about it. And a pithy title, we’d need a pithy title.
And that’s where it started.
Tony booked the venue, three conference rooms in the Connaught, on the collective understanding that we may never see that money again but also the hope that enough people would stick around after LRL that we’d have a respectable number of people turn up out of curiosity.
As I say, the OggCamp team of seven people (Tony, Ciemon, Popey, Daviey, and me from UUPC, and Fab and Dan from LO) agreed that the venue cost would be shared between us and we accepted that we may never recoup it. But if we could recoup the costs, then we would. Also (and moreover), we wanted the day to be a little less spartan than just three conference rooms in a hotel. So we contacted people who we thought might be interested in sponsoring OggCamp, hoping that we might be able to get someone to pay for things like free soft drinks or tea/coffee for attendees throughout the day. And souvenir mugs to put the tea in.
In the end, we couldn’t provide hot drinks but the venue were fine about us bringing loads of soft drinks. Andy Smith from Bitfolk offered to sponsor the drinks. And then a couple of our sponsors said they could lend us enough digital projectors between them that we could have one in each room plus one for a TwitterFall display. It was starting to look like this could turn into something.
Over the following weeks, we got an incredible response from people and companies interested in sponsoring this brand new event. (The full list of sponsors is on the website.) By the time we got to LRL/OggCamp weekend, we had gained enough sponsorship money to cover all the costs we had incurred apart from the venue hire itself. This included things like the free drinks and stationery (little things like a cash tin and bucket for voluntary donations if they were made, and marker pens, paper, and sticky notes for the schedule sign-up grid).
We had also all agreed that we’d really really like to have the OggCamp mugs. So when we knew what sponsorship money we had, Dan found a company who could print Fab’s design on to mugs and deliver them to Popey’s in time for OggCamp weekend. We worked out that if we sold some of the mugs, we could make back the last bit of non-venue money and, if we sold a lot, we could start to make a dent in the venue hire. At any rate, we could give free mugs to the people who volunteered to help out on the day as crew, and we could each have one as a souvenir whatever happened.
Several of our sponsors had given us material prizes, like a couple of Viglen MPC-Ls (mini, low-powered computers), some Ubuntu laptop bags and hoodies, and an Arduino Mega. We hit on a great idea that would distribute the prizes in an interesting way and might help us pay for the venue: we’d have a raffle.
I’m not sure whether an Open Source event has ever taken the village fete approach to fundraising before but it seemed the perfect solution for us. So into our stationery stash went a book of 1000 raffle tickets.
Meanwhile, Fab was getting us all sorted in the digital world. He speedily knocked up an OggCamp website and a very cool logo, as well as some digital badges for us all and others to strategically place in blog posts to publicise the event. Somewhere along the way we’d had a vote on names and OggCamp came out on top – it fitted the ‘pithy title’ requirement, and it chimed nicely with the fact that the two podcasts focus on the open source world and both release a .ogg (open standard) format of their episodes (the ‘camp’ part nods to the unconference/barcamp style of scheduling we were planning to adopt).
Very early on, before anyone could back out, Fab also registered an @oggcamp account on both Twitter and Identica so that we could start tweeting and denting about it.
Next, Tony, Daviey, and I figured we could do with finding out a bit more about how this unconference/barcamp lark works in practice. So we used it as an excuse to nip over to Dublin to attend Laura Czajkowski’s one-day OssBarCamp. Although Laura hadn’t gone for the full unscheduled unconference event, it gave us a good idea of what you can achieve in terms of a community event on a reasonably small budget and lots of enthusiasm and community spirit.
Meanwhile, Tony was also joining regular LRL planning calls because, as in previous years, he was in charge of the AV crew for that event (sound, videoing talks, making sure speakers’ laptops work). So he was building on his insight into how the seasoned LRL organisers did things. Also, we’d all attended LRL several times, and most of us had crewed for LRL at least once. So we had that experience in hand at least.
Unfortunately, the one thing we really couldn’t research, because of the lack of time and the distance from Hampshire to Wolverhampton, was the venue itself. Tony had had to base the booking on disjointed email discussions with the hotel and printed room dimensions. All we knew was that what would become Room 1 was on the fourth floor (fifth floor if you’re in the U.S.) and the two smaller Rooms 2 & 3 were on the first floor (second floor). That separation made us slightly nervous but the hotel assured us that there was a lift right by the rooms so we envisaged people being able to nip up and down between sessions without too much trouble.
As I’ve mentioned already, Fab got us Twitter and Identica accounts early on, as well as the OggCamp website so that we could post details about the venue and plans as we got them. We also set up a Facebook event page, which turned out really useful, if only by giving us a sense of the order of magnitude we should expect in terms of numbers (though even Facebook underestimated in the end).
We also recorded a cheesy but fun trailer to play on the podcasts to advertise OggCamp. One late night after a UUPC recording at Popey’s house, we each recorded a script that the Dan had written. Dan then produced the trailer that features in each of the episodes of UUPC and LO in the last few weeks up to OggCamp weekend.
Probably (at a guess) the most effective marketing was by the lovely LugRadio guys themselves who gave us a place on the LRL Weekend page of their website. We certainly got a few emails at the end of September from disappointed LRL fans who couldn’t get tickets for that event and wanted to let us know either that they couldn’t come to OggCamp because they hadn’t got tickets for LRL or that they would come to OggCamp despite not having tickets for LRL and could we guarantee them entry after travelling so far? We did also get emails, tweets, and dents from people who were planning to come to both events or even just for OggCamp anyway. Which was really encouraging.
We’d been pimping the event on each of the podcasts from the time we had confirmed the venue, and both podcasts had had positive feedback from listeners about the event. On the whole, we’d estimated that between the two podcasts (in particular the Linux Outlaws podcast which, like LugRadio, has an active online community based around the podcast – although UUPC has a large listener base, it was hard to know how much of our fairly diverse listenership would make the trip to Wolverhampton), we could probably rustle up at least 50 people.
By the end of September, more than 60 people had signed up to the Facebook event page to say that they would attend. Althought that’s no guarantee at all, it did suggest that we’d get a good attendance. LRL by this time, though, had given out more than 200 tickets. So we knew there’d be maybe 200 geeks in Wolverhampton on the morning of OggCamp, and while we weren’t expecting them all to stay on for OggCamp by any means, there was the possibility that they might! Our maximum capacity was 170. And we knew there were people who were coming only to OggCamp on the Sunday.
LRL at least knew that they were oversubscribed and were able to say ‘no ticket, no entry’. We of course had no idea how many might turn up and wouldn’t know until the morning itself. We did start to get a little nervous at this point about having too many people turn up instead of too few. Which is kindof a nice situation to be in but also not.
In saner moments, though, we figured we could possibly get about 100 people. Which would be a very nice, and very satisfying, number. Even more so if they each bought a mug so that we would break even and so that we wouldn’t have stacks of OggCamp mugs left over to store indefinitely in someone’s house.
And finally, our most impressive marketing came courtesy of Linux Format magazine who kindly ran a free full-page ad for OggCamp. Unbeknownst to us, they also featured us in their Community News column on the opposite page from the advert. Which was all very cool and exciting.
The final week
Aside from Tony (who’d been organising AV stuff for LRL in tandem and was, therefore, very conscious of the LRL/OggCamp weekend moving ever closer), this was when it things got really busy. All the big things (apart from when Daviey’s new baby would make an already overdue appearance) were fine (Dan had AV sorted, Tony had the venue, Fab’s design work was all done, the mugs had turned up in time and were now stacked next to the trays of soft drinks cans at Popey’s, the UUPC team all had new t-shirts and they’d arrived at Ciemon’s in plenty of time) but there were still a few things left to sort out.
So that week, most of my evenings were spent re-learning how to use Scribus and creating, with Popey over IRC and email, a set of direction signs (reversible arrow design idea ‘acquired’ from FOSDEM), signs to warn people that they may be photographed and/or recorded and not to hurt themselves while at OggCamp. As we’d not seen the venue layout, we had no idea how many we’d need so Ciemon and I just printed *a lot*. Ciemon also knocked up some cool CREW badges so that the voluntary crew members would be identifiable.
Fab came over to the UK early to do a live recording of Linux Outlaws with Dan (they’ve only met a few times in person; the first time was only last year at LugRadio Live).
And then it was just a case of packing and hoping that we hadn’t missed anything really important.