Whitepaper: Org-mode at Sakura-Con

This article explains use of Org-mode in a context of convention management.

Who am I?

I am Japanese Guest Manager appointed by relations department of Sakura-Con 2012. My duty at Sakura-Con involves management of Japanese guests of honor for Sakura-Con 2012; everything related to Japanese guests, from schedule managements, human resources, to the field management of the team consisting of a little less than 30 managing 17 guests of honor and their associates — about 60 in total. The team consists of Japanese guest liaisons assigned to each guest as well as 3 of event interpreters assigned to events such as panels.

The team managed more than 80 hours of programming spanning three days as well as times outside of convention hours.

Objective

Managing Japanese guest relations at Sakura-Con involved multiple considerations. Here are some aspects of such managements:

Sakura-Con used its own scheduling system, which is mainly used to schedule events on the global calendar, thus making it possible to coordinate scheduling between multiple departments. You can imagine this as a big conference room scheduling system. Unfortunately, the way the schedule is presented and solely chronological and was very hard to glance. (It was better designed to see what time tables are open but not designed to follow what each resource are assigned for.) Japanese guest relations required customized solution as we had to need of further digesting this information.

Japanese guest relations issues schedule sheet which consists of formatted schedule for each guest of honor as well as staff. This process was assigned to one of my staff, however this had to be handled somewhat concurrently while schedules were being finalized.

Aside from liaisons, Japanese guest interpreters had their own assignment. It is because they were assigned to events rather than guests. This presents interpreters different set of requirements in their scheduling. As the schedule called for many events concurrently occurring but greatest number of such concurrency were constrained by available resources. This also had to be updated on the fly when pertinent changes occur in the scheduling process.

Sakura-Con 2012 particularly hired many new staff due to its number of guests. Each of member had to be accounted for their availability for as well as number of “checklist” for signing them up.

Each staff is assigned to guest to manage. Assignments are done taking their ability in account as well as their preferences.

Management Using Org-mode

During the preparation of Sakura-Con 2012, there were so many type of information to process. Because Org-mode allows variety of output from its org file, it helped to produce output necessary for consumption by our staff.

Schedules had to be constructed so it is easy to glance as well as to have detailed information within. To carry out this, under heading for each guest, information contained table of events, which contained name of the event as well as time (with inactive timestamps) and venue. I can then sort this table based on the time, which generates chronological time table to each guest.

Furthermore, the list required some more information, therefore, it would contain subheading which lists each event by its type, but alphabetically for easy lookup.
This heading had active timestamp. This allowed each of those entry to be exported as iCal calendar file; this file can then be used by interpreters to schedule their assignment.

The following is the sample segment from the real schedule: (Due to confidentiality issues, some of information from the example are eradicated and does not show real schedule of the convention.)

Org-mode sample used at Sakura-Con

Yes, this is probably redundant having two representation of same event, but given calendar output from table seems to be not possible, this was a middle ground I had to reach.
Also having these sectional event subheading means they could be marked with various TODO field. I used this feature to label status of each event to signifying events still requiring changes.

From this file, I could derive HTML output for printed schedule as well as calendar file for interpreter schedules.

Other than some errors originating from input mistakes, the process supported the preparation effort very well.

When the convention added a guest, it involved multitude of process, such as guest invitations. These were managed using mainly by checkbox on Org-mode, among with relevant information linked to. Again, all those information could be converted to HTML and other format for sharing.

Staffs are managed same way as guests, except they had different type of checklist. Their contact information as well as interview processes were logged and amended as the process continued. Staff directory was also published utilizing same data compiled in this process.

The Team Website

Utilizing same data set above, the team website containing guest schedules, staff information as well other miscellaneous information could be produced and maintained very rapidly. Utilizing smartphones browser, everything from guest schedule to assignment information could be referenced everywhere there are coverages. While being static site, onsite update to the contents were very simple. Backend featured Git and new revision could be pushed to update the site from local machine. This was mainly done by a laptop with Clear hotspot. I have also designed emergency USB thumbdrive which contains all the necessary tools (including complete version of Emacs, SSH, Git, etc.) which could be used to continue updating the site in the event that laptop would be out of order. Fortunately, I did not have to resort to use it.

The team website was not only utilized by the team itself, but its reference was expanded to entire department as well as relevant personnel outside of the department, logging more than 3500 requests on the convention week alone, which would have been additional inquiry to the department otherwise.

Future Considerations

Org-mode was an integral part of Japanese Guest Relations at Sakura-Con 2012. While model based on static webpage has worked very well for the purpose, perhaps I can perhaps develop or utilize frameworks that can parse org file input to generate format better fit for many of use cases.

Also mobile integration utilizing tools such as MobileOrg was not within the scope of the project, this is certainly something I will want to explore in the future.

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