SMWCon Organization

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This page gathers experiences and hints for the organization of SMW Conferences.


Times are guidelines.

8 to 7 months before event

  • Discuss potential location and chairs in OSDA steering committee, possibly send a call for organizers or direct invitations
  • Appoint local organizer and chairs

6 months before event

Ideally this happens before the previous SMWCon.

  • Decide which tutorial/conference/hacking days there should be
  • Fix conference dates
    • Research related conferences taking place around the dates nearby (good) or not nearby (bad)
    • Look for big events that could block the hotel availability (also check availability and prices for the intended dates)
  • Find a venue
    • Should hold 40-50 people
    • Should have a separate room for developer sessions and breakouts
    • Should have beamer, otherwise plan for it
    • Should have a PA system, otherwise plan for it
    • Should have capable WLAN to support 20+ people actively browsing/40+ devices connected to the router at the same time, otherwise plan to set up APs on top of existing LAN
    • Video recording equipment is a plus
  • Announce place and time immediately by SMW user email and site news item
  • Create the website and start filling it
  • If included, send a call for tutorials and possibly invite keynote speakers

5 to 4 months before the event

  • Find out about expected costs to prepare budget proposal
  • Find legal body to host the conference for accounting purposes
    • Considerations: EU VAT, accounting effort, internal accounting regulations for companies and universities
  • Discuss registration fees and registration types
    • Early bird rates encourage early registration and allow better planning of catering etc.
  • Find registration provider
    • Saves a lot of hassle as most people need a proper invoice. Rates are usually not higher than regular credit card processing fees.
  • Prepare and send first Call for Contributions

3 months before the event

  • Largely fix tutorials and keynote speakers where possible and publish this online
  • Fix registration fees
  • Launch online registration and announce this
  • Ensure that local information is up-to-date on the web page
    • Venue maps
    • Hotel recommendations
    • Things to do
  • Send another Call for Contributions

2 months before the event

  • Send a final Call for Participation
  • Finalize technical program and inform all speakers about this
  • Largely fix restaurants and catering

Month of the event

  • Safety check for budget based on current registration numbers and sponsors
  • Send out practical information to registered participants
  • Print schedule and other posters (e.g. sponsors, organizers)
  • Hold the event


Each event can be co-organized by various people. Not all of the below roles need to be staffed. Tasks that are not assigned to any chair or tasks of chairs that have not been chosen are the responsibility of the General Chair.

For all questions and open problems, the OSDA Steering Committee is available to assist the chairs. The approval of the OSDA Steering Committee should solicited in major decisions, especially those concerning the programme and public appearance (e.g., logos, slogans, public announcements). Controversies should be resolved in discussions among the responsible chairs and the Steering Committee, followed by a vote, if needed.

General Chair

The General Chair is responsible for overseeing the overall progress of the conference. This chair will also ensure that timely and appropriate decisions are being made, and that all issues concerning the conference are being taken care of. In particular, he/she will ensure good and timely communication between the other chairs.

Specific tasks include:

  • Make sure the above timeline is met
  • Generally support communication and help to resolve disagreements among other chairs (major disagreements should be settled with the involvement of the OSDA Steering Committee)
  • Coordinate the creation of the conference web page where not done by other chairs, create first skeleton version of the wiki page
  • Suggest further chairs for specific tasks (to be appointed by the OSDA Steering Committee)
  • Keep the OSDA Steering Committee informed and solicit approval for major decisions

Local Organization Chair

The Local Organization Chair is responsible for the practical aspects of holding the conference: conference rooms, social events, selecting and recommending hotels, registration procedure, etc.

Specific tasks:

  • Make a budget proposal (cost estimate), especially for avoiding losses
  • Set up a system for registration (fee management)
  • Provide meeting room(s) (venue) with necessary equipment (beamer, WiFi for about 50 people, maybe video recording aids)
  • Book and manage cost for all catering that is included in registration (on-site food/snacks/beverages, lunch catering, conference dinner)
  • Propose and reserve additional restaurants for social gathering on each day
  • Provide help on invitation letters (visitor's visa application)
  • Ensure that video/audio recording is taken care of (might be provided by other people, check with OSDA)
  • Publish all related information on the wiki page, esp. about location/travel/hotels/registration
  • Staff a registration desk at the event

Program Chair

The Program Chair is the responsible for the technical program (talks and tutorials). The program chair may invoke the OSDA Steering Committee for taking decisions about the inclusion/exclusion/length of contributions in the event.

Specific tasks:

  • Take the lead in preparing text of Call(s) for Contributions
  • Ensure that decisions are made in any other program-related activities, e.g. selection of tutorials and talks
  • Assemble technical program and take the final decisions about program structure
  • Make sure that there are keynote speakers
  • Possibly invite speakers and keynote speakers (coordinating with the OSDA)
  • Coordinate with the local organizers to ensure that all expected speakers register; maybe send reminders
  • Prepare the program overview on the wiki pages
  • Where desired, chase speakers for abstracts and make sure they are published on the wiki
    • Pre-uploding of the slides/documentation is always nice if possible
  • Find people to chair sessions where needed
    • Welcome and Wrap-up must be spoken by someone
    • Keynote speakers should be introduced
    • Some sessions need chairing (especially lightning talk and discussion sessions)
  • Ensure that program stays roughly on time during the event
    • Sometimes speakers need to be reminded of timing ...
    • Program chair can either participate directly or ask another participant to help with this

Publicity Chair (optional)

The Publicity Chair is concerned with all matters of outreach and communication.

Specific tasks:

  • Distribute information about the event in the community (esp. inform about time/location as soon as decided)
  • Distribute the Call(s) for Contributions to relevant mailing lists
  • Ensure that information also shows up in news items on the site
  • Prepare and issue press releases (in coordination with General Chair/OSDA where costs are involved)
  • Produce and distribute additional advertising material, such as a flyers and posters
  • Set up and inform about related communication channels (hashtag for event, IRC backchat, etc.)
  • Increase the general buzz about the event (tweeting, blogging, etc.)
  • Identify important related events where advertisement could be spread (e.g. ask on mailing lists if somebody attends a certain conference and could take flyers/add an information slide to a talk)

Many of these activities should involve more people. The publicity chair tries to engage more people in publicity.

Sponsorship Chair (optional)

The Sponsorship Chair works specifically towards gathering funds for the conference and related activities.

Specific tasks:

  • Find sponsors: contact companies, possibly with specific goals (see below)
  • Work out specific sponsoring goals, for example:
    • funding for scholarships
    • sponsors for swag (T-shirts, bags, gadgets, ...)
    • awards for competitions?
  • Ensure that sponsors are properly mentioned on the web pages and on conference-related material (e.g. local posters); coordinate with local organizers for this
  • Coordinate with OSDA Management Board and local organizers to clarify legal modalities and actual payment


The following are helpful tips for organizers, subdivided by subject area; feel free to add to this list.


  • The sites EventBrite and Xing Events (formerly Amiando) have been helpful for registration. Tito is a possible alternative.
  • If the registration form is customizable, there should additionally be fields for the person's organization (for use in name tags) and dietary restrictions.
  • SMWCons have typically had a discounted rate for students.
  • In keeping with the egalitarian, informal spirit of SMWCons, speakers rarely get free or reduced registration, with two exceptions: keynote speakers, and tutorial-day speakers, who usually do not have to pay to attend the tutorial day. Organizers sometimes do get free or reduced registration.
  • Offering free registration to speakers, organizers or others who will definitely attend does not present any logistical problems. On the other hand, you may consider offering unlimited free registration to employees or students at the venue hosting the event, or of a sponsoring organization, as a gesture of goodwill. This is probably not a good idea, because it will be difficult to know how many of the people who signed up for free will actually attend the event, which makes planning harder. A small registration fee is much better than an entirely free one, because it offers a much higher guarantee that the person will attend.
  • A higher "late registration" fee, that takes effect a month or so before the conference, is helpful in encouraging early registration, which makes planning easier.
  • In case of a two-track tutorial day, e.g. beginners-track and programmers-track: allow people to indicate which track they will most likely be attending.


  • Beverages can usually be ordered significantly cheaper from a local wholesaler, or local store, than if they are to be provided by the caterer.
  • It's helpul to plan dinners for all nights of the conference, even if only one of the nights is paid for, because people often want to go out in a group anyway.
  • Usually at most about 1/3 of attendees will be able to attend dinner on the last night.


  • SMWCon has not yet had separate "tracks", meaning multiple talks happening at the same time. This has mostly been done on purpose, so that everyone can see every presentation, but this could change if the schedule otherwise becomes overloaded.
  • One or more lightning talk sections are always a good idea - these should ideally happen earlier in the conference, to give people time to discuss them afterwards.
  • One idea that has sometimes been done is to have "birds of a feather" (BoF) discussions, on some specific topic, during an open time such as the lunch break. This can be a useful way to quickly form ideas and consensus - the RDF triplestore capability in SMW came about in part due to such a discussion at the Fall 2010 SMWCon in Amsterdam.
  • It has been discussed to turn SMWCon into a 3 1/2-day event, with a final half day at the end of the conference, since many people will be staying overnight on the last night anyway. This may especially make sense if there are a large number of participants and/or talks.

Recording and streaming

  • Ideally there is both videotaping and live-streaming of the event, whether or not they happen with the same camera. For streaming, Ustream has been effective, while videos from SMWCon have usually been uploaded to YouTube.


  • Have extension cords for the number of attendees plus about five to ten for camera, beamer, microphone, extra lights, etc.
  • Having tables is preferable over just chairs especially for the tutorial sessions
  • If internet access is provided via a voucher system make sure you know if these are per person or per device vouchers
  • 50 Mbit down/10 Mbit up for internet proved to be somehow usable but insufficient for 70 to 80 people


  • The social-media hashtag for SMWCons is usually "#SMWCon".
  • In early SMWCons, there was often a "chat room" where participants, and those participating remotely, could have discussions while talks were occurring. Both a Skype group chat and the #semantic-mediawiki IRC channel have been used for this purpose. This may be something to consider for future events.
  • Pre-printing name badges is always nice, though not necessary.
  • Having a conference logo is nice, though not necessary.