2020 Mars Society Virtual Convention

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Profile photo of James L Burk

James Burk volunteers as the IT Director for The Mars Society; who are pioneering the exploration of Mars. He’s a member of the Steering Committee and responsible for keeping their online presences on the cutting edge since 2011. He also leads the MarsVR project to create research and training experiences using the latest virtual reality technologies that have direct application to human space exploration.

In 2020, he organized several large all-virtual events, leveraging Zoom and other cutting-edge online networking technologies. He was the lead organizer and event technologist for the 2020 Mars Society Virtual Convention, which had over 10,000 attendees, over 150 speakers, and was seen by over 100,000 people via live streaming on Youtube and Facebook Live. As part of the conference, he interviewed Elon Musk, CEO of SpaceX and Tesla. He also chaired the 2020 Lunar Development Conference that brought together 350 lunar scientists, advocates and business professionals and edited the conference proceedings book which is for sale on Amazon.

There is a presentation group/forum for further discussion and resources

This talk is pre-recorded, and posted below, along with the transcript. James could not appear live. The posted live session will be for people to discuss this, and ask questions. Hopefully he can address them at a later time.

Here is a rough transcript, basically copied from the auto captions. It’s here mostly so this is searchable


Jay: this is james burke he recently ran the mars society convention with it was it 130 speakers

james: we had a total of 128 talks over 150 individual speakers over a four day conference. Our final registration count was just over ten thousand and it was very successful event.

Jay: okay so how about start how did you start, when did you start putting this together?

James: yeah so we run this conference every year. This was our 23rd conference and every year around january or february we have a committee that that starts having regular video conferencing calls to to begin organizing the event. Deciding where it’s going to be and who’s going to speak at it. Usually our focus is who’s going to speak at it. We usually run through a list of here’s all the people we’d like to have and we’ll reach out to them and then we’ll see as the months go on who who confirms and who doesn’t. And talk about um who else we could ask so usually you know obviously dr robert zubrin runs that committee. He’s the president of the mars society and um there’s several people on it including myself, uh Michael Stoltz our pr director, Lucinda Offer our executive director, Nicole Willette, Susan Martin, Carrie Fay, so all those are folks that are on our steering committee and they’re sort of our senior staff at the organization as well so and we’ve been together running that type of meeting meetings for about five or so years.
That group, so um last year we had the conference at usc university of southern california. We had 400 people. We thought it was a really good event so we were planning on doing that again um you know early this year we were just gonna go back to usc and you know second year there and hopefully we’d get more people. Hopefully it wouldn’t be on a weekend that the students weren’t there like it happened you know to fall last year. Um and that was our plan and we were about to announce it and then the coronavirus happened.
And so um we noticed that other groups canceled their events, for example the national space society runs a conference that’s similar to ours called the international space development conference. i was actually part of the planning committee for that one as well and that one was going to happen in may of this year in dallas texas and that event was completely canceled and they did not decide to do any type of virtual event and to replace that and i know for a fact that a lot of people were disappointed about that including myself who was organizing the
mars track there and i had already gotten some confirmed speakers so with the mars society we decided that we weren’t going to do that that we would still try to put on a virtual event that was robert was always in favor of that was always talking about having it be an event unlike any other and he turned to me because i’m the i.t director and he said james how are we going to do this and I said well we’re going to need to get zoom we’ve been early adopters of zoom at the mars society we’ve been using zoom for about four years and using it for some of our projects committees like the mars desert research station committee that runs that the management team we’ve used zoom calls for that for several years um we used to use webex but I championed us going to zoom because it’s just a much better product much clearer sound and video so um so I said well we’re gonna need to use zoom and we’re going to need to find some type of application that will tie together everything because it’s not going to be just one big zoom call it’s a four day event we typically have track sessions in the afternoons so we’d usually have four talks happening at once in the afternoons and evening programs and it would be better instead of having just one long zoom call that we break it up a little and allow people to hop around and also I also had in mind that putting it all on youtube afterwards which is another one of the responsibilities I have for our conferences usually at our in-person events i’m running around making sure that everything’s getting videoed and making sure that the videography folks that we’ve either hired or tapped to be volunteers are doing a good job and um unfortunately over the years i’ve been doing that since 2011 at all of our conferences and over the years we’ve been a little hit and miss on that we’ve definitely had some mistakes happen where really good talks were not captured correctly where we had bat audio you know the video is great and someone’s taking a picture of the slides which is awesome but then the audio sounds horrible and so the finished product up on youtube is not a good one people complain about it so that was also top of mind for me um if we’re gonna do a virtual event let’s make sure that we can record absolutely everything in high quality and because we used zoom that’s that was also something that we were able to do um you know for the event this year we got everything up on youtube in two weeks which was a record we had 100 coverage of everything we did and it was all high quality sound and video so that was a huge win for us not just for the people that attended the event but years from now when people watch those talks on youtube they’re going to have a good experience so that was important to us as well um so that we so I knew we needed to use zoom I knew we needed to have some type of application to tie everything together and then we also still needed to go find speakers for for just like we would do for an in-person event um let me talk about that last one speakers we basically were able to get everyone we ever wanted to speak at one of our conferences um from elon musk and jim bridenstine the nasa administrator all the way down to every mars mission happening right now in the u.s was represented all the different missions at jpl were all represented at our conference and as well as many other international teams that are working on mars related missions and topics we’re all represented at our event so we were very thrilled that because it was a virtual event because people didn’t have to travel to to speak at it we got much better speakers there was a much lower barrier for them to participate and so we got the jim breidensteins and the elon musks this time um and and also from an attendee perspective there’s been people around the world that have wanted to come to one of our events but they can’t travel to the us or they they can’t afford it or whatever and they were all able to attend and participate this year and so we had 10 000 people registered and many thousands of people watching our sessions at a time um on not only on the zoom calls but on youtube because we live streamed it as well on youtube and facebook so more people were able to participate with our conference than ever before because it was a virtual event uh and then finally that application so number two on my kind of three pillars of this is um was attendify I did an evaluation of all the different event softwares out there all the all the event software vendors um that that enable you to do a virtual event and have an application that people log into to consume the event I talked to all of them um I had a spreadsheet with about 30 different vendors and I sat through a lot of sales calls starting back in february march up until october this year and what I what I learned is attendify was just a really good option for us not only because the price um they gave us a discount and they’ve i’ve talked to them since the event and they’re very interested in partnering with us long term very interested in co-marketing with us for our future events so they look like a great partner overall but their software experience was top-notch their their user interface was very easy to use very easy for non-technical people to use which was important to us and full-featured there were lots of different ways to use the software to talk to other attendees there was an activity feed kind of like facebook where you have different people posting things that you could read through there were speaker profiles so all of our speakers including for the tracks in the afternoon submitted their bio and photos and we were able to put all that into the application so along with joining the event you can actually read about the speaker and read about what their abstract was that was all in the in the software attendify and then attendees could also put in their own information make their own profile with their picture and their social media accounts and their email accounts or whatever whatever they wanted to share with others and so they could network that way just within attendify and and that was important to us to have a to make it feel like even though it’s a virtual event one of the benefits of these conferences is that you meet people and that you’re able to talk about your interests and talk about working together and make those connections we wanted to foster that even though it was a virtual event we didn’t want it to just be this anonymous audience watching the talks we wanted them to have multiple ways to interact with each other not just to ask questions of the speakers but to actually talk to each other and so the features in attendifier were very important for that we also made use of a couple other tools for to foster networking one of which was slack slack is a chat tool that we’ve used for several years at the mars society mostly for our technical volunteers we went ahead and opened that up and invited everybody that registered for the event and attended the event to go join us in slack and continue the conversations and in some cases some of the speakers were able to go into slack after their talk and continue talking to their audience which was we thought was great um and there’s still people you know even though the conference is over we wanted that to be a permanent community for the mars
society and we wanted people to continue to talk to each other in there and they and they are they’re still not to the extent they were during the weekend of the conference but there are still people in there talking to each other creating conversations and connecting in there which was great

Jay: is attendify going to keep the site up for the next year or so?

James: that’s a great question and they are going to keep it up until june because june is when we set it up last june is when we set it up and we have a one-year license so yeah the site is still up you could still log into it um I probably if I have time should go in there and change out all the links to the sessions to point to their youtube versions instead of their zoom versions because nobody’s in the zoom calls now um but we do have the the youtube videos up for all the sessions so I might go do that but uh it will be coming down in june and we will archive everything that was in there like the activity feed for example and we probably I would say right now it’s not decided yet obviously but we will probably use them again for whatever we do next year whatever type of event we have in person or virtual again next year we will probably use them again so we’ll talk with them closer to june about whether it makes sense to just clone that so that the same attendee set is still in there for example can your person who registered this year
automatically be in there for next year um it just depends what we do for next year I have the list of people and the people that registered they didn’t register and attendify they registered with eventbrite because we we set that up first in march and then later on we picked to tend to find and set that up so there was a little bit of a a little bit of scrambling we had to do because the connection between the two wasn’t working in early october late september and so um I actually had to manually import all those folks that were in eventbrite and it wasn’t that bad but that was a little bit of a pain point I talked to attendify about we will not do that next time next time we will have the same event registration application will be in the same application we use for the convention itself to eliminate that step um but we have the list of everyone in eventbrite and we have the list of everyone who logged into attendify and then a third one is our membership roles you know we have over 5000 active members we have 12 000 people on our email
bulletin lists so those are those are also an audience that will make sure that get into our next conference application no matter what we do

Jay: what were some of the back end tools in your Atendify that other things didn’t have?

James: yeah that’s a great question um the you I mentioned the ui of attendify was great their their relatively new virtual experience they call it was top-notch it looked awesome and that’s for me that was the number one reason why we went with attendify other than the price and the discount we got um but on the back end yeah there they have their own dashboard and tools that you use via the browser to set up the event to set up all the sessions and the speakers and the schedule so that’s what I that’s what I and others used to set up the conference you know we had to for example create about a hundred zoom calls and put those urls into attendify with copy paste that was a lot of work uh but we got it done and before the conference um so that was all done with the attendified dashboard just copy pasting out of zoom’s web web version um there were tools to import attendees I mentioned from uh there was supposed to be an automatic connection from eventbrite that wasn’t working they’ve since fixed that but there was a bulk import tool that we used
to pull the attendees in from eventbrite so we would export them out of eventbrite into microsoft excel make it a make a csv a comma separated value file that had all the people’s names and email addresses and then import that into attendify that was not seamless that required some some manipulation on all sides to get working and it took I think about six or seven individual import attempts or import jobs to get all 5 000 or so people at the beginning of the conference we had five thousand um to get those into attendify as the conference was happening because it was so successful we ended up getting a lot more registrations and eventbrite and from there people we just told them go to go to attendify manually and sign in like we’re not going to import you just go there here’s the code to join the event just type in the code and that’s how they got in not everybody not all the 10 000 got into attendify it was more it was probably around 5500 or so that ultimately logged in which wasn’t that surprising because we did have a lot of stuff on the live
streams and not everybody who registers for an event actually attends an event i’m sure you all are aware of that as well um I routinely have meetups where I have 25 or 30 people registered and have like six people show up so um that’s normal but um yeah back end tools it was it was doing the bulk imports it was a lot of work in the attendified dashboard and um there were other ways to do bulk import but ultimately we just did a lot of copy pasting out of out of things like we had an abstract tool that people used to submit abstracts if they wanted to speak that was a google form and it went into a google spreadsheet so I had everyone’s all the speakers contact information and abstract details in a spreadsheet and I would copy paste that into attendify as well as a couple I had a volunteer that helped me do a lot of this he’s a high school student he did a lot of that um yeah I think that answers your question

Jay: so what tools do you think the virtual events community could use, what’s like missing that nobody’s filled in yet?

James: yeah that’s an awesome question um i’ve thought a lot about this actually because one of the things that’s happened this year because there’s more virtual events because of the coronavirus the the people that sell virtual event software are new to it they’re usually people that had a mobile app that they would use for an in-person conference and they’re trying to pivot it to be used for virtual events and that’s what attendify was it was a it was a mobile app and a web version that was for in-person conferences so that you’d have like you’d be walking around the in-person conference and you’d have your phone and you could like find where your next session is and and look up the speakers bios on your on the app and maybe you there’s a way to talk to people other attendees and say hey i’m over here let’s have coffee over in the break room after this session like that was really what people would do with apps at conferences and so quite a few if not all of the people I talked to had that already that’s what their business was and so they were
trying to pivot that and repurpose that app to be used 100 virtually right so things like getting it to work with zoom and other live streaming and video conferencing apps um that was what that that was an area of focus early early this year I knew and I know attendify they didn’t have support for zoom at the beginning of this year but they added it and so did a couple of the other vendors and the way they added it was not always the same for for individual vendors I mean the way attendified did it you actually had the zoom call in line in the ui so if thing if everything worked out well and it didn’t for all of our attendees but if everything worked out well you could sign in to attendify and watch the event within attendify and not even open up zoom um and ask questions and attend defy and there was a chat and attendify and just use that now that didn’t work for everybody it didn’t work for people that weren’t using a modern browser it didn’t work for people that were um on it on different like mac and linux I think so um so that and even for
some people like myself I tried to use it on google chrome on a windows pc and I still had to go into the zoom call to see everything so it was kind of hit and miss but but at least they tried to do that at least they tried to have the the video playing in line in the app a lot of other vendors didn’t even try that they would just have like hey join join button for for zoom and you click that and it would open up zoom and that for us was less desirable than having it all be in one place because we’re kind of we were trying to optimize for the least technical person um in the aerospace industry not everybody is a tech person um starting with dr zuber and he calls he describes himself as a slide rule engineer and i’ve been supporting him from an it’s perspective for over 20 years so I could vouch for that he’s not always great with technology even though he’s a very smart guy and a rocket scientist and a lot of our attendees also fall into that pattern of they’re smart people but they’re a little bad with technology um and so we wanted we wanted to
be very simple for people to um get get into everything so that that is that is what a virtual event vendors should should do is they should optimize for the least technical person another thing that was hard which you wouldn’t think would be hard was just people logging in to attendify like if they had registered for the event in eventbrite and we sent them an email and said hey thanks for registering here’s the details to get into attendify you know click here and log in with the same email you just used like that was hard for people to do and uh and also if they if there wasn’t if they were using a different email that was fine and we had a little code they could put in rising together which was the theme of our conference rising together um they had trouble with that like i’d say rising together in quotes and people would put the quotes in i’m like why are you putting the quotes in that’s silly um so uh so yeah things like that just make it super easy for people to get into the event put as few barriers as possible like ideally you could just
send somebody an email and there’s a button and they just click the button and they log in and they have everything set up for them like that would be the holy grail and I tried to get to that as as close as I could but um obviously when you have 5 000 people trying to get into something you’re going to get the angry emails that I can’t get in and this thing sucks and we got our fair share though as I can tell you that all throughout the event um so making it easy and then um that’s that’s the big one making it easy making it seamless with zoom or whatever you’re using for the for the session making it just seamless um and then the the interactivity was important for us you know being able to ask questions of the speakers so we had uh zoom webinars in the mornings for our larger events our more prominent speakers when we use the q a panel and zoom which allows you to ask a question but it goes into a queue and the people that are running the event can review all those questions and pick the one that they want to give the speaker so that’s what we
did it was a it was questions from the audience but they were moderated and we were the ones asking them not the audience members and that was important to have as you can imagine when we had our session with elon I was fortunate enough to be one of the people asking them questions I had 500 questions to choose from at the in that moment and a lot of them were terrible questions that I wouldn’t ask elon they were embarrassing questions for elon you know and you can’t just have that be an unfiltered channel to go right to the speaker you have to put some moderation on it but you still want it to feel like it’s an interactive experience where people can ask a question and it’s really they’re a question from the audience that the speaker’s getting asked so it’s a balance um so I like the way zoom does q a there’s a way to as you’re getting questions you can kind of mark have they been answered or not you can type in answers if it’s a question that we’re not going to ask a speaker live and I know the answer to if it’s a question that’s logistical
like when’s the next session and where is it I can answer that that’s not a speaker question I can just type the answer and it’s done and and everyone could see the question and the answer even not just the person that asked it but everybody um that was that was great so having stuff like that um like the zoom q a feature that’s not what all the software has usually it’s just a chat function that is unfiltered and unmoderated and that really didn’t work for us Jay: yeah there’s an interesting split in that you’ve got the zoom q a but you’re simultaneously live streaming to youtube so you’ve got that chat and the intentify chat questions James: that’s right and attentify and facebook facebook was there too

Jay: facebook oh I didn’t even know about facebook yeah i’ve so yeah something to merge all of those questions so it becomes one community

James: yeah something i’m hoping that would be a great feature to have if you if the software was able to see okay you’re live streaming to youtube and there’s a chat there and there’s a chat inside a zoom and a q and a inside of zoom and there’s ours in in the app that’s four and I mentioned facebook we had we actually had five yeah have that b1 feed um now our volunteers did sort of keep an eye on all those we didn’t always do that obviously zoom was the primary one and we encourage people if you want to ask a question go into the zoom call and ask it don’t ask it in youtube because we might not see it but we still did try to keep an eye on those and um but yeah that would be a great feature to have so that we’re not having as the event organizers that would make our job easier

Jay: yeah I think the girl who, high school girl whose question was answered by elon musk, I think she came from youtube and she was it made her year

James: yeah that was a great moment

Jay: so you implemented Wonder.me, did anybody get a chance to go into it?

James: that’s a great question that was one I didn’t mention um that was another networking tool that we were trying out it’s a tool it’s called wonder.me it’s relatively new it’s a tool that you sign in to the browser it’s just a browser app and you have a little map and I made it like a mars base and you can you have your little avatar and you can move around on the map and you see other people and when you get close to somebody it starts a video call just like the one we’re on now you see that everyone’s video at the top and so it’d be a way for an attendee to have an ad hoc conversation with somebody that they’ve never met before and you could have it based on how you organized that map you could have topics on the map and that’s what we did and so if I wanted to talk about a topic I can go to that area on the map and find people that are talking about that topic and have this real time virtual experience you know video call with them talking about the topic we were concerned about the ability for that tool to handle lots of people before the conference um I was trying to get in touch with them they were very they’re very early a startup company they’re very early at building the tool I found out about it because it was used at an international space university alumni conference in july that some of my colleagues at the mars society helped organize and so they used it successfully but they used it with about an audience of less than 100 people so there was probably only a dozen or two in there at any given time we were concerned because we have five just you know four to five thousand people and we ended up having ten thousand is that going to handle the you know having a bunch of people in there at the same time or is it gonna be a bad experience where you’re trying to talk to somebody but there’s 30 people on this on the video call and some of them don’t have great etiquette about zoom so um so we were concerned about that uh we did end up using it we did end up promoting it a little bit and attendify but we did not have a lot of people we had some people use it we did not have a ton of people use it and I don’t I don’t think it was a great kind of use of it overall um I wish we had had more time I was trying to get in touch with the um the people that you know the people at that company I was I tried like heck to get in touch with them before our conference multiple different times but they you know at first I didn’t even have access to it because they rebranded themselves and I lost the room I had in like august I think I had a room there and they rebranded it and changed their website and then I lost access so eventually I got that back but then I couldn’t get it I couldn’t talk to anybody about hey I have a really big event what’s the best way for us to use your software I never was able to have that conversation with anyone even though I tried so we just kind of winged it and because we were concerned about the uh issues I mentioned having a lot of people in there we optimized for not having a lot of people in there and I think that kind of we shot ourselves in the foot a little bit but it’s a great concept i’d like to use it again i’d like to use it slightly differently and promote it more I think it’d be a great place to go for people that wanted to keep talking after a session if the speaker said hey i’m going to be in in wonder right after this so come find me and we can continue talking I think it’d be a great use for that it’d be better than chat and slack for sure so yeah

Jay: my girlfriend’s a neuroscientist and when she saw it, it’s like this solves the problem of virtual poster sessions because each group can do a screen share show the poster and it’s like wandering from one to another and also we’re going to have the speaker the programmer of kick chat which is similar to wonder.me and he’s gonna be talking later in the afternoon

James: yeah it’s great it’s got a lot of great potential you mentioned you can share your screen in it I mean we could have done the whole conference and wonder me if I guess if we wanted to um but uh you know and you have the video you have the share screen you have uh I think there’s a chat function as well so you get questions from the audience so it’d probably work out pretty well as a as a lightweight tool there’s a little bit of anonymity with it too because you can put in whatever name you want when you sign into it um so yeah I could see it definitely being used for some virtual events not maybe not all of them because there are some needs that it doesn’t have and it’s only going to work in the browser so you get you’re going to have to be on a computer with a a microphone and and whatnot not not your mobile device yeah

Jay: so for the most so sorry you had this session scheduled back to back without any time between them yes issues with that or would you do it again?

James: that was that was dr zuburn uh he he’s like no we’re not gonna have any any breaks just go it’s gonna be a smorgasbord of content I think it worked out fine I was pretty exhausted at the end of each day but I had help and I was able to hand off certain duties to others so I you know four days of that was a lot um I do think there is I do think zoom fatigue is such a thing I think people do get sick of sitting on zoom for hours at a time no matter who the speaker is um so I you know our events are kind of unique because we have so many prominent speakers and and so many people from around the world and everyone’s really hungry for that content so I think for us it worked out okay that we had it just wall-to-wall content I think a more normal normal quote-unquote virtual event you wouldn’t you wouldn’t you would have things spaced out a bit you would have sort of a break for meals um but for us we were trying to jam a lot of stuff in there yeah for the four days so I think it we kind of had to do it that way Jay: yeah I know it took the
first two three minutes for to go from three people in the room to 200 so had the issue of that physical time needed to switch right

James: um yeah and there wasn’t a ton of time for people to set up and if they you know if a speaker was having any type of audio issues or issues getting their presentation ready I mean that was happening during their time so they had and for the most part we didn’t have a lot of that there were a couple instances but for the most part I mean we had over 100 track talks those went pretty well um but but that didn’t give a lot of I mean there’s a lot of people scrambling and i’m sure a lot of people were a little anxious uh and our volunteers did great as well but they were also scrambling a lot to make sure all that happened seamlessly

Jay: so you based a lot of the volunteer scheduling on a google sheet um are you thinking there’s another tool that might be better?

James: oh yeah yeah there there’s there was no tool for that for for um for us organizing the event and staffing it with volunteers and making sure that we had um two volunteers in each track session at all times four tracks going on at once for a whole afternoon and for three days that was a lot of sweat to make sure that we had people and they knew what to do um you know carrie faye did an amazing job she’s a very experienced conference organizer for us has done our event now for five or six years straight um and and is just a whirlwind when it’s an in-person event she’s always running around solving problems she did a great job getting volunteers and scheduling them and then I had a couple of sessions where I trained everyone how to use zoom we had a couple people that had never used zoom before that were in charge of keeping the zoom calls going and they did great um but it’s because we gave them some training ahead of time um and i’m i’ve done training before so I knew what I knew how to do that but that was definitely like an advanced skill
that software could help with um yeah they’re having a tool to you know manage the event behind the scenes along with the actual events software would have been much very helpful we did a lot of managing spreadsheets and sharing spreadsheets with people and there were times where we were overwrote the changes I mean we had schedule changes during the event and all the way up to the event last minute changes to sessions and speakers and moving people around and whenever there was a change like that I had to go update it in like three or four different places to make sure that the volunteers were aware of it the official schedule on the website was accurate attendify was accurate the zoom links were accurate um so I i kind of held all that together and it was seamless but a tool would have been really useful for me so I wouldn’t have to do so many manual steps for that and i’m sure a lot of people would have struggled doing that

Jay: yeah this sort of issue that’s common with a lot of conferences and that’s part of the reason i’m doing this to get the word out to the vendors of what we need that’s a great point so rachel and maria do you have any questions Maria: well I uh I sent a couple things uh through chat that um attend defy so is it is attendify also an apparatus do you have to use it on your on your pc or mac

James: it is both they’re they’re oh sorry I put on there it is okay yeah I wanted to check it out so it’s it’s primarily a website that you log into whether you’re producing the event or you’re an attendee you’re going to log into the website and um there’s a dashboard for the organizer of the event there’s an experience there’s actually two different experiences for an attendee we use the virtu the one called the virtual experience that was new there’s also an older one that’s kind of lower much simpler and sort of uh a legacy version of it but then it does also have a mobile app component there’s a there’s an actual app in the apple and android app store called attendify okay and and I encouraged people to go get that and use it it’s it was slightly different than the web version had a it had a twitter module that the virtual the web version didn’t but that was the that was the only difference I saw I think also there was a way to schedule a meeting on the mobile app with another attendee if I wanted to have an ad hoc coffee or meeting with
another attendee there was a way to actually schedule that in the mobile app that wasn’t on the web version but i’m sure they’ve they’re going to blend those I mean they’re not going to have feature disparity like that long term i’m sure um and there was also we didn’t take advantage of this but we could have purchased a white label solution so we could have made attendify completely look like the mars society from the website address to the way like no attendified branding anywhere on it I see yeah to the to the mobile app like the mobile app wouldn’t say attend to phi it would say mars society oh wow could have done that but that was another like 2 000 or something that we just didn’t really see the benefit of using and I thought it was kind of nice that we didn’t do that for them because because they like we said attendify a bunch of times we talked about attendify and they really liked that uh so obvious and we kind of you know we were okay with that because we really thought they were good software um so so it kind of worked out that we
didn’t purchase the code you know the white label experience but that is an option Maria: all right thanks now i’m gonna look into this i’ve never heard of it before now

James: yeah I had not heard of a lot of this stuff before I started looking into it early this year um I should mention there was another event I organized in july for another group i’m involved with called the moon society so big difference right the moon society not the mars society but it’s a different organization it’s smaller and i’m i’m an officer with that one as well and we had a conference in july called the lunar development conference it was the first time we’d ever done a conference um since the year 2000 so like 20 years we had not done a conference and uh we decided to do that because that national space society one was cancelled we had some speakers that we were gonna we were gonna participate in that we had some speakers we lined up and so when they canceled it and said that they’re not gonna do a virtual event we’re like okay well we’ll do one we’re going to we’re going to start our own then and so we did and that was in july and it was very successful but it was a much smaller event it was only 300 attendees and about 60
speakers it was a two-day event very similar in format to the mars society because that’s how that’s how I plan it out because that’s what i’m used to and but we had lunar scientists and the lunar development community you know companies were there um not a ton of press about it not a ton like we only we really only had three months from the time we decided to do it to the event but for that one we use zoom the same way and then we also used another piece of software similar to attendify that one’s called eventery I just put that in the chat um we had a bad experience with that one so that one was hard to use it was hard to use for attendees there were some weird things that happened like we’d put a zoom link in and then it would disappear and so I had to like put the zoom link back a bunch of times um so I i’m not going to recommend that one moving forward for anybody but that is that was that was sort of I had like back in march i’m like okay i’m gonna organize two big events this year I need I need to look at all the software vendors in june I said okay eventually looks good attendify looks great but they’re still working on their virtual experience and that’s not ready and they’re also more expensive um than eventually and then eventually just gave us a free license at the moon society so it kind of made it a no-brainer at the time but after like when we did the event and after we were done I was like oh that wasn’t that great like that one I wouldn’t use that one again um and I gave that company the feedback on what we’ve what we saw so hopefully they’ve made some changes um but based on how good attendify was compared to that i’d probably just stick with them moving forward at least that’s what we’re going to do and there was there were a couple people that um were involved with me at the moon society that came to the mars society conference one of them actually spoke on a track and he was like oh wow this is like way better than what we did in july i’m like yeah I know so um so I think we’re at the back of the moon society we’re going to do that event again next july and we’ll probably do use attendify I would say at this point but we still have some time to talk about it and decide okay cool thank you sure thing and also there are a few others um but they’re more expensive like there’s one called hoova which is the number one in its category hoova um and I talked to them and and they wanted like five thousand dollars for theirs um I should mention for attendify we had a discount and we spent I think 1600 or 1700 total money very well spent I mean for what we got the fact that we had 5 000 people in there that was a good deal a lot of these companies will charge based on how many attendees you’re going to have attend if I didn’t it didn’t matter if we had all 10 000 people in there it wouldn’t be the same cost um but hoover would have been like 10 000 plus if we had used it for the mars society and it probably was comparable in a lot of ways to identify I didn’t go super deep on it because of the cost but I know a lot of a lot of people are happy with it um who was good there’s a handful of others but I i don’t know I
i would I would just go with it and attend a fight at this point i’m definitely a supporter of theirs

Maria: have you had did you have any experience with spoka spoke of me s-p-o-k-a no okay I used them uh for for an event I couldn’t stand it they were awful

James: but yeah there were there I mean like I said I looked at 30 30 or so and there were some and i’m a tech person I used to work at microsoft so I i’m I know how to evaluate software i’ve designed software for 20 years so I can see a bad piece of software from a mile away and uh or something that’s gonna be really hard to use or really hard to maintain for you know for a conference organizer and so there were some I was like oh this is terrible like i’m not even gonna go any further yeah so all right

Jay: any plans to do meetings in virtual reality? like in altspace vr?

James: hold on one second so this is an oculus quest um short answer yes uh how couldn’t tell you um that’s gonna be one of my projects moving forward is how do we do more with virtual reality um I i’m aware of certain like virtual reality chat services that are out there like alt space vr is one of them where you can just put this on and start talking to people like start talking to complete strangers um and there’s pro there is probably some event software in there too obviously we were going for people that don’t own one of these um that was our you know our audience is 99 don’t have vr but um I have a very strong interest in vr from for a lot of reasons related to mars and related like so let me give you my sort of pitch about mars society and vr real briefly um uh imagine if the first crew lands on mars and they walk out of their spacecraft and they they send out a rover and a couple drones and they sort of scan the area that they’re at and everyone back on earth puts on one of these and can like walk around with them and explore the area
and you have tens of thousands or even millions of people exploring that area of mars then you could crowd explore you could you could know that area so well by virtue of people in virtual reality looking at everything and then you could do something like let’s vote on where the astronauts should go for real to explore more to drill for for life or for water um that would be a really great way to explore mars with people where you have the backs of earth right there helping you in real time or near real time um and then from from from a public relations or public outreach perspective how exciting would it be for you to walk around with astronauts on mars and you know live in a real place on mars so that’s what we would like to do long term we have a base in utah called the mars desert research station and we scanned it we did a kickstarter two years ago and we raised some money and we scanned that base uh we flew a drone and got a square mile of the terrain in utah that looks like mars it’s desert and red rocks and we scanned the base we took
pictures of the base inside and out it’s called photogrammetry and uh so we have a real 3d model of what the base is like inside and out you can walk around in it in virtual reality so we actually did that already and so now what we’re trying to do it’s it’s really hard because we’re trying to have volunteers help us and it’s super complicated virtual reality development but we’re trying to kind of build that out and finish that out and release that as a public tool but i’ve gone to events before kovid and um had one of these and and had like middle school kids put this on and walk around at the base and they’re walking around on mars and 100 percent of people think it’s cool so it’s a great public outreach tool and i’d like to do more of that and yeah I think doing events in there that’s the long term what they’re going to be what virtual events are going to be like that’s what you know 10 years from now that’s what everything’s going to be like you’re not even going to need to have a headset then it’s all just going to be like glasses or
something or you know just stuff in the room you’re in it’s gonna have a hologram so so yeah that’s the future of virtual events is you’re basically there you know you’re sitting at a table with other people and you see them and you can’t really tell it’s a virtual event that’s the future of it all so yeah we definitely want to keep an eye on that and see where we can help enable that or help take advantage of the best parts of that for the mars society and what we do

Jay: so on going forward for more down to earth you see when there’s in-person events again going to a hybrid model?

James: yes absolutely that’s that’s my opinion of what we we should do for next year is even if we’re back at usc and we have a lecture hall and we have speakers in there and there’s two or three hundred people in the audience that there’s still an attendify and we gave it webcast on zoom and we have it on facebook and youtube and we have thousands of people watching it and asking questions which we can then relay back to the room yeah that’s that’s what I think we should do I don’t it’s going to be hard we’re going to need to have people on sites we’re going to have we need to have really good internet on site which sometimes is hit and miss at some of these venues but I know usc is pretty technically sophisticated they have um they have all their classrooms already set up to record so when we were there last year we had pretty good recordings based on just the classroom was already recording everything so so I think we could do something like that at usc but we’ll see Jay: great james thank you so much for spending this hour with us and hope to
see you in the forums

James: absolutely and I hope to see you guys on mars

Jay: you know it thank you

Things mentioned in his talk:

10 days prior to the convention, James talked about it in his interview on The Space Show

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