The last PASS board meeting for the year has happened, and the portfolio handovers are well under way.
Sadly, having new board members elected means having existing board members step down, and this last board meeting was the last one for both Allen Kinsel (@sqlinsaneo) and Kendal van Dyke (@sqldba). In 2012, these guys had the portfolios of local chapters and SQL Saturdays, respectively.
Newly elected board member Wendy Pastrick (@wendy_dance) is taking over from Allen on local chapters, while I'm taking over SQL Saturdays from Kendal. In 2012, my portfolio was 24 Hours of PASS, which is being rolled into the Virtual Chapters portfolio, headed still by Denise McInerney (@denisemc06).
I have to admit that I'm really excited that the 24HOP portfolio is being merged with Virtual Chapters, as the two are so linked. I had been on the 24HOP committee before I joined the PASS board, and had recommended that the two portfolios be merged around the time I was elected to the board. During my term I even recruited Virtual Chapter leaders to be on the committee for 24HOP, as I believe their experience in the online experience makes them best suited to influence PASS' premier online event – the semi-annual 24HOP.
2012 was a good year for 24HOP, although it was the riskiest for some time as well.
Two of the more obvious changes that we made were to look at a new platform, and to return to the 24-hours straight format (rather than two 12-hour blocks). This more continuous format meant that numbers dropped (the largest audience is in the US, so any sessions that are overnight for the US are obviously going to have smaller attendance). However, this format meant we reached over 100 different countries, which I think was really significant. Comparing the first 2012 event with the first 2011 event (which used the 2×12 format), we jumped from reaching 54 countries in 2011 to 104 in 2012.
While I was still on the committee, we had discussed the need for a new platform, as the LiveMeeting platform wasn't coping well with the numbers we were seeing. A number of options had been considered, some too expensive, some not capable of scaling sufficiently, and a decision had been made to use a platform called IBTalk. It was obviously more expensive than LiveMeeting (which had been available for free), but looked like it was going to scale much more nicely. We used it for both 2012 events and it will also be used for the next event (on Jan 30). The decision to use IBTalk was very risky, but as an experiment it seemed to work okay. There were both good and bad elements of the platform, which I'm not going to go into in a forum like this, although the second event that we used IBTalk for ended up being much smoother than the first, and I anticipate that the Jan30 event will be event smoother still.
I felt like the first event of 2012 was dominated by the new platform. It was held two weeks after the SQL Server 2012 launch, which had also been a large virtual event using a new platform. I guess experimenting with new platforms was a large topic of discussion that month. One thing that didn't really work for us was the closed captioning. It turns out that when you have someone providing closed captioning live, any typos that come through, or anything that is misheard by the person providing the service, etc… well, it doesn't always work for being able to feed a translation service. We tried, and it was good to try – but it didn't work so well. Despite all that, PASS members can view the session recordings at http://www.sqlpass.org/24hours/spring2012/Home.aspx
The main 24HOP event in the second half of the year was the annual Summit Preview event. We didn't try to pursue the closed captioning again, but we did continue with IBTalk. Going back to LiveMeeting was never going to be an option for us, and we wanted to take a second look at the platform, in light of the various things we'd learned from the experience in Q1. It was a better experience from a number of perspectives, and we certainly got to test the scalability.
Over the course of the day, we had good numbers – only a handful shy of 10,000 attendees across the course of the day (okay, a handful if you count fingers, toes, and were inbred – we had 9979). The lowest attendances were around the 100 mark, but the largest reached 1421 attendees. The highest from any previous events was around the 800 mark, so this was a significant improvement – and the platform handled it just fine. If we'd had that many people trying to access the LiveMeeting platform it simply wouldn't've coped, and the IBTalk platform deserves praise for that.
The platform decision isn't over yet. A new search has taken place in light of what we've learned in the past year, and including a lot of what people have expressed to us on platforms such as Twitter. There are platforms that are way out of our price range (it can be very expensive to present 10,000 man-hours of content using some platforms), and there are ones that won't cope with some of the things we would like to do. With some of the Virtual Chapters growing fast, a new platform needs to be able to cope with them too, with a wide variety of attendances needing to be handled. I wish Denise all the best for that, and have been able to happily assure her that the PASS HQ team that does most of the work behind the scenes for 24HOP (particularly Jane and Vicki) is excellent and will make her look brilliant this year.
Another change in 2012 was the sponsorship story. For a long time, Dell had been a major sponsor of 24HOP, and I want to thank them for that. However, 24HOP wasn't a priority for them in 2012, and new sponsors needed to be found. The first event saw sponsorship come in from Microsoft, SQL Sentry and Idera, with Idera being replaced by RSSBus for the second event. But what really excited me was to see a second tier of sponsors join the fray, with Melissa Data and Confio joining Idera as 'Alliance Sponsors'. It was really good to have six fantastic companies sponsoring the event, and providing extra options for them.
I haven't even mentioned the non-English events that have taken place! PASS has seen 24HOP events in Russian, Portuguese and Spanish this year, although my personal involvement with those events have been somewhat less. Again, the PASS HQ staff have been great in enabling these events, and helping them run smoothly.
So I leave 24HOP in capable hands.
Instead, I pick up the SQL Saturday portfolio – another fast-growing facet of PASS. Already the 200th SQL Saturday event has been scheduled, and I'm finding myself getting onto a moving train. Luckily, I won't be battling anyone on the roof Bond-style, but there are a lot of things that will need attention to make sure that the SQL Saturday model can continue to be successful.
The PASS HQ staff most responsible for the SQL Saturdays that happen all around the world are Karla and Niko. If you've ever met either of these two, you'll know that they run quickly and are nothing if not achievers. I suspect that I could just tell them to keep doing their thing and the portfolio would be considered successful. This is incredibly useful to me, because I should be able to focus on identifying and solving some of the things that might need to change as these events become larger in both size and number. I'm keen to look into some of the edge cases, such as international events (including non-English), and both the larger and smaller events that are around – but all the time trying to serve Niko, Karla and all the community leaders in what they do.