How hard can it be - organising a conference

2014-03-15 19:37
Setup a CfP, select a few talks, publish a schedule, book a venue, sell a few tickets - have fun: Essentially all it takes to organise a conference, isn't it?

In theory maybe - in practice - not so much. Without scaring you away from running your own here's my experience with setting up Berlin Buzzwords (after two years of running the Berlin Hadoop Get Together, putting up a NoSQL half day meetup).

Disclaimer: Though there's a ton of long-ish posts in my blog, this one is going to be exceptionally long. It's years since I wanted to write all this up for others to learn from and in order to point others to it - never got around to it though.

Venue booking

Lets start with the most risky part: Booking a venue. If you are a student - great - talk to your university to get your event hosted. As much hassle this may entail when it comes to bureaucracy this is by far the largest monetary risk factor in your calculation, so if there is any way to get rid of this factor use it. FOSDEM, FrOSCon, Linux Tage Chemnitz and several other events have handled this really well.

If this is not an option for you depending on the number of targeted attendees you are faced with a smaller (some 500 Euro for 100 people per day and track) or larger (some 20.000 Euros for 300 people, two days and two tracks including chairs, tables, microphones, screens, projectors, lighting, security and technicians) sum that you will have to pay up front, potentially even before your attendees purchased any tickets (here's one reason why there is such a thing as an early bird ticket: The earlier money flows in the less risk there is around payments).

In Germany there's three ways to limit this risk: You create a so-called e.V., essentially a foundation that will cover the risk. You create a GmbH, essentially a company that assumes limited risk, namely only up to the 25.000 Euros you had to put into the company when founding it. The third way is to find a producing event agency that assumes all or part of the risk. After talking to several people (those behind Chaos Communication Congress, those setting up the Berlin Django Con back in 2010, those working on JSConf, those backing Hadoop World) for me it was logical to go for the third way: I had no idea how to handle ticket sales, taxes etc. and I was lucky enough to find an agency that would assume all risk in turn for receiving all profit made from the event.

One final piece of advise when selecting your venue: Having a place that is flexible when it comes to planning goes a long way to a relaxed conference experience. As much as it is desirable you won't be able to anticipate all needs in advance. It also helps a lot to keep the event on your home turf: One of the secrets of Berlin Buzzwords is having a lot of local knowledge in the organising team and lots of contacts to local people that can help, support and provide insight:

By now at Berlin Buzzwords we have a tradition of having an after conference event on Monday evening. The way the tradition started relied heavily on local friends: What we did was to ask friends to take out up to 20 attendees to their favourite bar or restaurant close to the venue in turn for a drastically reduced ticket price. This approach was highly appreciated by all attendees not familiar with Berlin - several asked for a similar setup for Tuesday evening even. Starting from the second edition we were able to recruit sponsors to pay for beers and food for Monday evening. Pro-Tipp: Don't ship your attendees to the BBQ by bus - otherwise the BBQ cook will hate you.

Something similar was done for our traditional Sunday evening barcamp: In the first two years it took place at the famous Newthinking Store - a location that used to be available for rent for regular events and free for community events. Essentially a subsidary of our producer. In the second year the Barcamp moved to one of the first hacker spaces world - c-base. Doing that essentially was possible only because some of the organisers had close contacts among the owners of this space.

The same is true for the Hackathons and meetups on Wednesday after the main conference: Knowing local (potential) meetup organisers helps recruiting meetups. Knowing local startups helps recruiting space for those people organising a meetup though themselves travelling e.g. from the UK.


Another risk factor is providing catering: If catering is included in your ticket price, the caterer will probably want to know at least one week before door open roughly how many people will attend (+/-10 people usually is fine, +/- 100 people not really). When dealing with geeks this is particularly tricky: These guys and gals tend to buy their tickets Saturday/Sunday before Berlin Buzzwords Monday morning. In the first two years that meant lots of sleepless nights and lots of effort spent advertising the conference. In the third night I decided that it's time for some geek education: I suggested to introduce a last minute ticket that is expensive enough to motivate the majority of attendees to buy their tickets at least two weeks in advance. Guess what: Ever since we the problem of "OMG everyone is buying their ticket last minute" went away - and at least I got my sleep back.

The second special thing about catering: As much as I would like to change that Berlin Buzzwords has an extremely skewed gender distribution. When dealing with caterers what they usually only want to know is how many people will attend. If you forget to tell them that all your attendees are relatively young and male they will assume a regular gender distribution - which often leads to you running out of food before everyone is fed.


Except for tickets - are there any other options to acquire money apart from tickets? Sure: convince companies to support your event as sponsors. The most obvious perk is to include said company's logo on your web page. You can also sell booth space (remember to rent additional space for that at your venue). There's plenty of other creative ways to sell visibility. For package sizing I got lots of support from our producer (after all they were responsible for budgeting). Convincing companies to give us money that was mostly on Simon, Jan and myself. Designing the contracts and retrieving the money again was left to the producer. Without a decent social network on our side finding this kind of financial support would not have been possible. In retrospect I'm extremely glad the actual contract handling was not on me - guess what, there are sponsors who just simply forget to pay the sum promised though there is a signed contract...


So, what makes people pay for tickets? A convincing speaker line-up of course. In our case we had decided to go for two invitation only keynote speakers and two days with two tracks of CfP based talks. Keynote speaker slots are still filled by Simon and myself. In early years where CfP ratings, schedule grid (when and how long are breaks? how many talks will fit?) and scheduling itself were on Simon, Jan and myself. As submission numbers went up we decided to share the review load with people whose judgement we trust - ensuring that each submission gets three reviews. All after that is fairly algorithmic: See an earlier blog post for details.

A note on review feedback: As much as we would like to give detailed feedback to those who didn't make it: We usually get three times as many submissions as there are open slots. So far I haven't seen a single submission (except for very clear product pitches lacking technical details) that wasn't great. So in the end, most feedback would boil down to "It was really close, but we only have a limited number of slots to fill. Sorry."

Back in 2011 we tried an experiment to fit more talks into the schedule than usual: Submissions ranked low that were supposed to be long talks were accepted as short versions forcing speakers to focus. Unfortunately this experiment failed: Seems like people rather get a reject mail than getting accepted as a short version. Also you need really good speakers who prepare exceptionally well for the event - in our case many shortened talks would still include all introductory slides even though the speaker just one slot earlier had covered those already.


Next step is to tell people that there is going to be an event. In the case of Berlin Buzzwords this meant telling people all over the world and convincing them to not only buy a conference ticket, but also a hotel room and a flight to the venue (we started with only half of all attendees coming from Germany and pretty much kept this profile until today). As a first step this meant writing a press release and convincing local tech publishers (t3n, heise, Golem, Software und Support, Open Source Press and many more) to actually publish on the event. For some of these I am an author myself, so I knew which people to talk to, for some of these newthinking as the producing event agency could help. It was only years later that I participated in a media training at Apache Con by Sally Khudairi to really learn how to do press releases.

From that day on, a lot of time went into convincing potential speakers to submit talks, potential sponsors to donate money, potential attendees to make it to the event. With a lot of event organising experience on their back (they are running a multiple thousand attendees new media conference called re:publica each year - in addition to many "smaller" events) newthinking told me upfront that they would need half of my time to cover those marketing activities, essentially as I was the only one who knew the community. The offer was to re-imburse 20h per week from the conference budget. I was lucky enough to be able to convince my manager at neofonie (the company I was working for back then) though that sponsoring the event with my time in turn for a silver sponsorship would be a great opportunity. One of the reasons for doing that on their side was that they were themselves providing services in the big data and search space. Without this arrangement though Berlin Buzzwords 2010 would have been a whole lot harder to do.

Now how do you reach people for a tech conference? You talk to the press, you create and promote a twitter account. I still have the credentials for @berlinbuzzwords - by now though it is fully managed by our social media expert, back until 2011 I was the face behind it. Ever since my twitter client is set to follow anything that contains bbuzz, berlinbuzzwords or "berlin buzzwords" - so I can still follow any conversation relating the conference. You create and maintain LinkedIn and Xing as well as Facebook groups for people to follow. You use whatever channels your target audience are reading - in our case several Apache mailing lists, a NoSQL mailing list, sourceforge hosted lists - remember to sign up for these before posting, otherwise your mail won't get through. Also make sure that people at least roughly know your name, trust you and you provide enough context in your mail for others to not view your invitation as plain spam.

Finally you go through your personal address book and talk to people you know would be interested personally. As a result you will wake up to 20 new mails each morning and answer another 20 new mails every evening. For me this got better after having shaped all contacts into a format that I could hand over to newthinking. However even today, every single mail you send to [target], every comment you submit through the contact form, every talk wish you submit through our wishlist still ends up in my personal inbox - as well as the inbox of Simon and everyone involved with the conference at newthinking.

Essentially you need this kind of visibility once for announcing the event, once for filling the CfP with proposals, once the schedule in published, once to convince sponsors to support the event and finally once to convince people to buy tickets.

As for the website - the most frustrating part is being a technical person but lacking the time to "just do things right". Drupal, I'm sorry, but I have learnt to hate your blogging functionality - in particular the WYSIWYG editor. Your administrative backend could be much simpler (I gave those rights away I believe in 2012). I learnt to hate comment spam more than anything else - in particular given the fact that I pretty much would have loved to get everyone involved and able to contribute content. The only thing that helped accepting the deficiencies here was to force myself to hand of any and all content handling to the capable event managers at newthinking.


Videos: Great way to get the word out (and follow the talks yourself, though organisers may find time to go to talks they'll never remember the actual content due to information overload). Make them free - people pay for tickets to take part in the live event. If you fear selling less tickets as a result, make them available only a little while after the event is over.

Pictures: Get someone with a good camera - can be a volunteer, can be a professional or anything in between. I've had it many times that it took half a year for me to go over the pictures again and suddenly realise how many nice people attended Buzzwords without me knowing them when they did - except they remembered my face when we met again (sorry if you are one of those people I should have remembered once :( )

Inbox: Your's will never be empty again. Especially if as in our case your mail address was used as primary point of contact and reference in the first few years. It took two editions to train people to use instead of my personal mail address. Trust me - this mail address actually does get attention: Mails sent there end up in my private inbox, they end up in Simon's private inbox and most importantly they end up in those event managers' inboxes involved with Buzzwords at newthinking. Answers typically don't take much longer than half a day even during holidays. Today there is no reason left to contact neither Simon or myself privately - using info@ is way faster. If you still aren't convinced: Even I'm using that same address for general inquiries and proposals.

Incentives: Think early about which behaviour you would like to see. On site behave accordingly. Pre-conference set incentives: Two weeks before doors open our ticket prices go up drastically to motivate people to buy tickets before our catering deadline bites us. Speakers get travel support and hotel room paid for. However it costs us nothing to list their employer as travel sponsor should they decide to pay for the speaker - and it provides an incentive for the speaker to get their employer to pay for travel costs.

Ticket prices: You will get people arguing that ticket prices are too high. Know where you stand in comparison to other conferences of the same type. Clearly you want students if the main focus of your sponsors is to recruit - provide drastically reduced student tickets to anyone with a student id, that includes PhD. students. For everyone else: Buying early should be rewarded. Also you'll need help on site (people moderating sessions, keeping full rooms closed, people helping with video taping, networking etc.) - hand out free tickets to helpers - if those complaining aren't willing to help their need for a cheap ticket probably isn't large enough.

The "they are stealing our attendees syndrome": Unless there is a clear trademark infringement there's no way to stop other people from running events that on first sight look similar to yours. First of all start by making it hard to beat your offering - not in terms of prices but in terms of content and experience. After you've done that follow the "keep your friends close but your enemies closer" principle by embracing those who you believe are running competing events. What we had in the past was events close in topic to ours but not quite overlapping. Where there was enough overlap but still enough distinction we would go out and ask for partnering. This usually involved cross-raffling tickets. It also meant getting better visibility for our event though different channels. Usually the end result was one of two: A) The competing event was a one-of or otherwise short-lived. B) The seemingly competing event targeted an audience that was much more different from ours than we first believed.

On being special

What makes people coming back? I have been told Berlin Buzzwords has a certain magic to it that makes people want to come back. I'm not sure about the magical part - however involving people, providing space and time for networking, choosing a venue that is not a conference hotel, always at least trying to deliver the best experience possible goes a long way to make attendees feel comfortable. As a last note: If you ever once organised a meetup or conference you will never attend other events without at least checking what others do - you will suddenly see all the little glitches that otherwise slip from your attention (overly full trash bins anyone?). On the other hand each event brings at least one story that when it happened looked horrible but turns out to be hilarious and told over and over again later ;)

Berlin Buzzwords - Associated Events

2014-02-13 17:00
Back in 2011 I had a weird idea: Berlin Buzzwords as a core event kicks off on Sunday evening with a Barcamp but closes on Tuesday evening. There's way too little time to meet with all the interesting people. On the other hand the organising team really was all tired on Tuesday evening, so just adding another day at the end wasn't really an option.

Now Berlin is known as one of the hottest European Startup Capitals. There's literally at least one meetup for any topic you can imagine. There's co-working spaces and companies happy to welcome developers for a one day meetup or Hackathon. So the idea was born to invite people to organise meetups, hackathons, workshops, unconferences or any kind of dev session of their choosing on Wednesday after Berlin Buzzwords - the goal being to keep Buzzwords speakers and attendees in town for longer.

In the mean time several meetup groups actually started by having their first event on Wednesday after Berlin Buzzwords. It's grown increasingly easy to find meetup space for these Wednesday meetups.

So how does it work? Essentially it's very easy: All that is needed is one person interested in a particular technology who is willing to organise a meetup for 20 to 120 people in Berlin on Wednesday after Buzzwords (or the weekend before, or the weekend after, it's really up to you).

It'd be greatly appreciated if you get in touch with or even submit your meetup through the official CfP. In return it will receive marketing help and will be included in the official schedule page. (Note: Meetups are accepted as they come in - no review phase, no nothing).

If you need help finding a venue for your meetup (either for free or for rent, up to your preference) talking to will help you. We'll get you in touch with local startups, co-working spaces and event venues.

Also remember - you don't need to be an expert in the topic you are organising the meetup for. All you need is justified interest in the topic. Don't be shy to invite your favourite developers as speakers for your meetup. Don't shy away from even approaching some of the Berlin Buzzwords speakers.

If you are a developer yourself think about turning your Wednesday event into a hackathon - either in order to get more users familiar with your project or to gt the next release out the door together with other people working on your project also attending Buzzwords. This kind of approach really is the reason why there is a correlation between the date Berlin Buzzwords takes place and Mahout release dates in summer. (If you need inspiration on what it takes to organise a well working Hackathon - a quick search on your favourite search engine for "hackathon howto" should surface plenty of documentation.)

How to get your submission accepted at Berlin Buzzwords

2013-05-07 11:21
Disclaimer: Intentionally posting on my private blog - these are my own criteria, not general advice from the review committee.

Berlin Buzzwords is in it's fourth year. Probably the most tedious task of all is having to select talks to make it into the final schedule. With roughly 120 submissions and roughly 30 slots to fill the result is that three quarters of all submissions have to be rejected. Last year I shared some details on how we do talk ranking given reviewers have provided their input.

Now the mechanics of ranking are clear, people have asked me what goes into the reviews themselves. Here I can only speak for myself: After doing reviews ourselves during the first two years, Simon, Jan and myself decided to spread the work of reviewing submissions among a larger team of people. As nearly all of them had attended Berlin Buzzwords in the past already (or had at least followed the conference remotely) we could assume they were roughly familiar with what kind of content would be a good fit. As a result review guidelines that we send out tend to be rather light:

Berlin Buzzwords is a conference from geeks for geeks: The goal is to get the people actively working in the field together to meet and exchange ideas. Content should have some technical depth - in particular pure marketing talks and obvious product placements without further technical value are not welcome. We usually invite both, interesting case studies as well as talks highlighting the technical details a project is built upon.

In the end judgement is up to the individual reviewer - so I can speak only for myself when listing what you should do to get your talk accepted.

  • Be on topic. There's always a handful of submissions that look and sound like pure marketing, product placement or simply aren't related to software engineering at all. Those tend to be easy to spot and weed out.
  • Tell us what you are talking about. An abstract is there to provide some detail on your presentation - don't be just funny, promising overly generic content. In order to decide whether or not your talk is relevant please provide some details on which direction you'll be heading.
  • Don't be too detailed in the abstract neither - there's no need to list the content of every slide. Make sure the abstract correctly summarizes your talk, making it catchy and nice to read usually helps if the content is solid.
  • We try to find those speakers that have not only an interesting topic to talk about but are also a pleasure to listen to, who can successfully get their point across. We cannot know every potential speaker in person though. As a result it helps if you list which conferences you've spoken at in the past, any videos of previous talks is helpful as well. As a general piece of advice: Choosing Berlin Buzzwords as your first conference to speak at ever usually is a great way to disaster. Get some practice at local meetups like the Berlin Hadoop Get Together, the data science day, the Java User Group Berlin Brandenburg, the RecSys Stammtisch Berlin or the MongoDB User Group Berlin to name just a few.
  • Make sure your talk is novel - submitting the same topic in 2012 and 2013 is a great way to ensure getting rejected. Also it is fine to submit a talk you have given at another conference earlier. However if everyone in the Buzzwords audience is very likely to have watched the exact same version of your presentation earlier already, we are less likely to accept your talk.
  • Finally: When drafting your bio make sure to include details that explain why you are the perfect expert to talk about the topic at hand. As much as I'd like to I don't know every project's committer by name. Provide some help by pointing out explicitly what your contributions have been or in what context you have used the technology you are presenting. Don't be shy to list that you are a co-founder of a successful project. Not only does this information help with selecting talks, it also provides some background for the audience to judge the claims you make.

Two words on the role of free software at Buzzwords: There is no explicit requirement to only talk about software that is publicly available under a free software license however if some project or framework is presented it helps to be open source to raise the applicability for the audience. Most projects discussed at Berlin Buzzwords are developed openly. In order to get the maximum out of these projects it pays to know how they work internally, how to get active yourself, how to contribute. As a result discussions and talks on project governance are generally welcome.

A parting note: With way more than half of all submissions to reject making a final decision will always be hard. Being rejected doesn't necessarily mean that your proposal was bad. Following the above advise may raise chances of being accepted - however it is no guarantee. We could raise the number of accepted talks by extending the conference by another track or even another day - at the cost of raising the ticket price substantially. However we want not only "big corp representatives" but a diverse audience, attendees that get active themselves, that help shape the conference:

There's plenty of space and time to get active in addition to the main conference program. Use the time and space to shape the conference.

Preparation done - clock is ticking

2012-05-31 21:24
The clock is ticking - only one more weekend to go before Berlin Buzzwords opens its doors for the main conference (check out the Wiki for the Sunday evening Barcamp and the Sunday Movie Hackday). Looking forward to an amazing week with awesome speakers and great attendees.

One word of warning before: Given all the buzz around that conference as of now until mid-next week I won't take any major decisions, most likely I won't be able to follow through with any additional organisation, probably I won't remember everyone I meet on-site.

In case I do take decisions - don't trust any of them. If you do need help organising some meetup or dinner - I'm happy to help out with recommendations on where to go and who to ask, I'm also happy to get you in touch with people relevant to your area of interest. However when it comes to selecting the restaurant, deciding on the day and time, booking a table and informing everyone involved you are on your own. In case you have any questions, requests or advise please make sure to send a copy to my inbox to make sure it will be dealt with (though it might take some time for me to get back to today's inbox zero level I'll make sure I'll get through all of it).

Other than that - thanks to ntc and Nick the Barcamp is all setup, the conference is well on track, thanks to many external helping hands we've again got a convincing line-up of satellite events. In addition I made sure the Apache Mahout people got a time and place to meet, I managed to review all proposals that sounded interesting at Strata London (great stuff on the business side of big data - go there if you want to learn more on the business side of the topics covered by Berlin Buzzwords and more). Everything else will have to wait at least until end next week.

CU in Berlin - bring sun and warm weather with you :)

Presentation shortening

2012-05-15 20:23
In an effort to make more room for more talks in our schedule for this year's Berlin Buzzwords we've asked quite a few people to shorten their presentation from 40min down to 20min. The thought behind it is to not only give more people a chance to talk on their work but also have those shorter talks focused down to the absolute essential information for people to learn.

However I've seen people give awesome 45min presentations fail miserably when forced to cut down their talk - and have myself delivered a very weak presentation at a 5min Ignite presentation.

As a result I thought it might be a good idea to share some thoughts on how to go about shortening your talk and still deliver a convincing performance:

First of all, don't take your usual 40min talk and cut away slides. As obvious as it may seem that this will result in poor slides it's still all too tempting to take a working long presentation and just throw away some content to make it shorter in time. What really happens however is that people either cut out the meat - which leaves you with a shallow brief introduction and not much else left - or the meat is left in with not much around to help listeners understand what the talk is all about. Also speakers might be tempted to leave well working jokes in: Don't without thinking twice - there are things that do take long to prepare, if you cut away all preparation the fun is gone as well. Some people cut down demos to just briefly skip to the browser and than switch back to the slides - if you like the demo and think it's worthwhile: Take your time to demo and shorten elsewhere. Noone benefits from briefly seeing a browser window with not much like an application in there.

So how to go about when asked to cut down your slides? First of all: Think about what is the main message that you want to deliver. What is the core piece of knowledge people should know when leaving your talk. From there build up your story and provide all the necessary detail for the audience to understand your talk.

That does not necessarily mean throwing out all greek symbols because math is just to hard to explain briefly - if they are needed, leave them in, take the time for explanation and build up equations as you go.

Also it doesn't mean that you should cover the very basics only. Clearly label your talk as advanced whenever that is both appropriate and possible - build on your audience's knowledge without repeating all nitty gritty details. It can help to openly ask at the beginning simple yes/no questions and ask people to raise their hands to find out whether they are familiar with a certain technology or not. Knowing your attendees background can save you a lot of time when preparing a talk.

One final piece of advise: There's one book that once helped my a lot improve my own talks called Presentation Zen - if you don't know it yet, it certainly is well worth reading.

PS: Dear speakers, if you are reading this but have not yet fully read the speaker acceptance notification mail - please do so now - I promise it does contain information that is valuable for you to know in particular if your employer happens to sponsor your travel to the conference.

Traveling to Berlin in June? Update: No airport changes!

2012-05-01 09:23
Update: Seems like there won't be any airport changes for Berlin Buzzwords: German article at Tagesspiegel on postponing airport opening.

If you are planning to travel to Berlin in June – e.g. to attend Berlin Buzzwords – note that there is a major change to airports happening on June 2nd:

Saturday, June 2nd will be the last day, both Schönefeld Airport (SXF) as well as Tegel Airport (TXL) are going to be open. All planes departing TXL that day will arrive at SXF in the evening.

The morning after (Sunday, June 3rd) airport Berlin Brandenburg International (also known as BBI, IATA code BER) is going to open. This airport is located very close to Schönefeld, there will be trains and busses connecting it to the city.

Airlines should handle this change transparently. However when arriving at TXL make sure to check which airport you are departing from to avoid ending up in front of closed doors ;) Also should you be arriving from the US keep in mind that there will be a few more direct connections to Berlin starting June 3rd – e.g. Air Berlin will offer multiple daily flights to and from New York and Miami.

When travelling from the airport to the conference by public transport, keep in mind that for TXL you only need a ticket covering zones A and B – for SXF and BER your need to purchase a ticket that is valid for zones A, B and C.

Travelling from TXL to the conference venue and speaker hotel by cab is roughly 30 Euros. For BER the fare is roughly 50 Euros.

Berlin Buzzwords Schedule online - book your ticket now

2012-04-30 10:29
As of beginning of last week the Berlin Buzzwords schedule is online. The Program Committee has
completed reviewing all submissions and set up the schedule containing a great lineup of speakers for this years Berlin Buzzwords program. Among the speakers we have Leslie Hawthorn (Red Hat), Alex Lloyd (Google), Michael Busch (Twitter) as well as Nicolas Spiegelberg (Facebook). Checkout our program in the online schedule.

Berlin Buzzwords standard conference tickets are still available. Note that we also offer a special rate for groups of 5 and more attendees with a 15% discount off the standard ticket price. Make sure to book your ticket now: Ticket prizes will rise by another 100 Euros for last minute purchases in three weeks!

“Berlin Buzzwords is by far one of the best conferences around if you care about search, distributed systems, and NoSQL...” says Shay Banon, founder of ElasticSearch.

Berlin Buzzwords will take place June 4th and 5th 2012 at Urania Berlin. The 3rd edition of the conference for developers and users of open source projects, again focuses on everything related to scalable search, data-analysis in the cloud and NoSQL-databases. We are bringing together developers, scientists, and analysts working on innovative technologies for storing, analysing and searching today's massive amounts of digital data.

Berlin Buzzwords is organised by newthinking communications GmbH in collaboration with Isabel Drost (Member of the Apache Software Foundation, PMC member Apache community development and co-founder of Apache Mahout), Jan Lehnardt (PMC member Apache CouchDB) and Simon Willnauer (Member of the Apache Software Foundation, PMC member Apache Lucene).

More information including speaker interviews, ticket sales, press information as well as "meet me at bbuzz" buttons are available on the official Berlin Buzzwords website.

Looking forward to meeting you in June.

PS: Did I mention that Berlin is all beautiful in Summer?

Music in Berlin early June

2012-04-18 18:20
A little bit of inspiration on what to do the weekend before and after Buzzwords in Berlin:

With just a tiny bit of luck there is no need to pre-book your tickets - in most cases there are several seats left even an hour before the official starting time. Pre-ordering tickets does have an advantage though when it comes to prizing. One easy way to get your ticket it to book via

If you happen to be younger than thirty consider buying yourself a Classic Card - it costs 15 Euros but allows you access to several locations for 8 Euros only (no pre-booking, tickets can be purchased only an hour before the official start).

Berlin Buzzwords scheduling - behind the scenes

2012-04-17 21:23
Since roughly a week the Berlin Buzzwords schedule is available online. Tickets are still available at the regular rate - make sure to book your ticket now - you've got another three weeks to purchase tickets at the regular rate, last minute rate will up the prize by another 100 Euros starting May 20th.

I thought it might be interesting to share some background on how Berlin Buzzwords scheduling worked out this year. We changed it quite a bit - adding more people to the conference committee, upping the acceptance rate while at the same time reducing speaking time for quite a few talks. This is to share some background information on some of the reasons and provide some detail on how rating was done.

Let me first state some constraints:

  • We are hosting the conference in a venue where we can have 3 tracks at most - there aren't any other large rooms. We don't want to do another round of well- or rather not-so-well-informed random guessing of which talks will be un-popular stashing them in the small room. Switching schedule during the conference itself really isn't particularly professional nor is it very simple to do when you have to move about 200 people around to have them go to a different room than what the printed schedule says.
  • We are trying to keep the prize for the conference as low as possible to be able to attract the average developer who is not able to pay some 1.5k Euros to go to a conference. We are tech focused, no business involved - our attendees don't have big budgets for travelling to expensive conferences. With current attendee numbers for each day every attendee has to pay roughly 50% of the current regular ticket prize to make the budget work out. That means two things: a) We need all of you to pay for all days to make the budget work. b) If you would like to add another conference day because talks are so interesting, add another 50% of the current ticket prize and decide whether you'd be willing to pay that extra money. c) Increasing the number of tracks obviously means increasing the ticket prize which we would rather avoid.
  • Berlin Buzzwords was established as an event for professionals - quality of talks is high, attendees joining the conference know what they are talking about, we are happy to have students as well (did you notice there's a student ticket?) However that focus means that we are different from pure-open-source-community events. If you think there is too few coverage on scalability topics at existing community-only events please talk to them to increase that coverage or lead the effort of establishing such an event yourself - that isn't easy, but neither is it impossible. You could get started by hosting one of our meetups/workshops/hackathons - or alternatively run e.g. one of FOSDEM's DevRooms.
  • Buzzwords is organised by a team of several people. On the one hand there are volunteers (as in people not making a profit from the conference, working on it during working hours donated by their employer at best - Thank You Nokia**! Thank You Searchworkings!). They are familiar with what's going on in the search/store/scale space - you can find them on the program committee page. All administrative work is being done by newthinking communications - they have people very dedicated to what they are doing (there's even one girl who joined a Ruby-On-Rails getting started course last weekend to learn more on what Buzzwords people are working on*) - their main focus is that the whole conference runs as smoothly as possible.

Some of the assumptions above mean that we have to limit the number of talks we accept. Acceptance rate of last year was roughly 30%. Doing that again this year would have meant sending out decline mails to quite a few vital developers - many of them committers on the project they were talking about. That's not because the talks were bad or anything, it's just that there were way too many good talks. So we did an experiment this year: We upped that acceptance rate to 50% - but in turn had to reduce the length of many of the talks that were submitted as 40min versions. The result was that in order to fit more talks into the same space and time we had to shorten quite a few submissions. I did a bit of math this morning, of those reduced to 20min we would have had to reject 70% had we gone with a different schedule format w/o shortening submissions.

Talks selection was done according to a very simple algorithm:

Each talk was reviewed by at least three members of our program committee. Talk to reviewer assignment was done according to a pseudo random number generator - more precisely this one. Reviewers assigned scores ranging from 5 (want to have and am going to fight for it) to 1 (don't want to see and am going to fight against). After looking at the schedule constraints we decided to accept n talks in total, x of which would be 40min, y of which would be 30 and z of which would be 20.

We sorted all talks by mean score and selected the top n for acceptance. Of those we took the first x/3 tagged as search, x/3 tagged as scale and x/3 from store to be accepted as 40 min talks. Same was done for the 30 and for the 20min slots. A mixture sort, grep, awk, head, and cut was quite helpful here and gave us n - 2 talks accepted. In our list of scores the following 5 talks had equal score, so we chose 2 of those at (pseudo-) random. Finally acceptance notification were sent out (Thanks to the Python mail support - that made things easier!). We asked speakers to confirm that they would still be available. Most got back right away, about 12 needed another nag mail or sms a week later to actually confirm.

Scheduling itself was done in a purely analog way: Take a pen, write all n talks on little pieces of paper, add information on track and length. After that those pieces of paper were arranged into the pre-defined schedule grid on a kitchen table: Re-arranging paper is just so much faster than anything you can do digitally - if only it wasn't for the creation of post-it notes beforehand ;)

Finally the schedule went out earlier this week - together with an appropriate press release, tweet etc. Again Buzzwords is a two day only conference. Most likely we won't grow the main conference beyond that any time soon. However in effect you yourself can extend that conference to any length you want. We have asked local companies to provide us with meeting space for at least 20 people each for free. We have several community members organise workshops, meetups, hackathons, code-retreats and barcamps in these areas already. If you think your topic is not covered well enough at the main conference, you'd like to learn more on a particular topic - please talk to us on how to organise one of those meetups yourself. You don't need to talk there if you don't want to - all you need to do is get an interesting schedule together that draws people to your meetup. Also if you think your talk should have been accepted - talk to us to get a meetup going on your topic and related themes to get them covered.

The main goal of Berlin Buzzwords is to involve you. We are very open to any ideas on how to collaborate or grow the conference. We do have several partner events throughout Europe this year. We offer companies the option to co-located and co-promote their trainings after Buzzwords. We offer community members the option to co-locate and co-promote their meetup with the conference. However we do need your time and dedication to make this work. Or to use a phrase that is well-known at least in the Apache world: Patches welcome!

* Her conclusion: Even w/o prior coding knowledge the course was easy enough to follow and at least made clear to her the difference between frontend and backend work. Observation: Buzzwords is very clearly backend. :)

** In particular Hannes Kruppa and the whole search recommendations team!

Reasons for you to visit Berlin Buzzwords

2012-01-15 19:59
I've heard of several people who are not quite sure yet whether they should visit Berlin Buzzwords or not - in particular when having to travel far and cross 9 time zones to attend. My general recommendation is to plan to spend some more days in Europe. The conference is conveniently scheduled on Monday and Tuesday which gives you one weekend before to explore the city and the whole week afterwards to go and see more either in the city or around.

In case you are wondering whether the city is a worthy destination when travelling with children - below is a list of things to do and places to go I sent to someone recently. Hope it helps with your decision as well. In general the city is pretty green, there are several locations specially amenable to a visit with kids - so treat the list below as what it is: An incomplete listing of some of the most obvious locations that might be of interest collected by someone who knows a few parents and their children. Also in case you speak German make sure to check out one of the many guide books for Berlin with children available in local book stores - Dussmann and Hugendubel generally have the largest selection though Chatwins is my preferred one for anything about travelling.

In the city

In case of good weather:

For bad weather:

  • If your kids like tech go to Technik Museum (it features one of the first computer (the one built by Zuse that is))
  • If you kids like nature go to Naturkunde Museum
  • If you are interested in science - make sure to be here for the long night of science (web page may need google translate unless you speak German.)
  • For a city tour check out the following scribbles - they also include some interesting parts of the bus line 100 and 200

Close to the city:

If you have some more time to spend make sure you also explore the closer surroundings:

  • 80km north: rent a canoo and explore Mecklenburg
  • 200km north: visit Rügen, spend some time swimming, some time to see the amazing chalk cliffs, some time to see the isle by bike
  • 250km south: go hiking or rafting in Elbsandsteingebirge
  • 80km south: rent a canoo and explore the canals in Spreewald

Recommendations from friends

  • Dawid Weiss: Badeschiff - a pool-on-the-river thing. It's not something you get in any ordinary city :)
  • Steve Loughran: My son's favourite part of a trip to berlin (age 9) was actually the Bauspielplatz: Smaller kids get a play area where they can use the sand + water to build streams, dam them and generally make a mess, while the 8+ get a playground where they actually help build it under adult supervision. They also run a good open air waffle/pancake/coffee shop. They're open in the afternoons.

Hope to see you in Berlin in June. If you need more information or recommendations don't hesitate to ask.