Weblog entry #14 for rkd
The DebConf talk selection process is in charge of selecting the talks at DebConf. Some of the reasons for having a talks team are to help ensure a high quality of talks, maintain a somewhat academic feeling for the conference, and to let attendees know what talks can be expected to be good.
Even though there is a big talk selection process in advance, DebConf has always allowed attendees to schedule new talks during the conference - at DebConf10, these were called "ad-hoc" talks. At DC10, attendees could sign up for a room+time slot on a wiki page, and each night they would be added to the main schedule. In past years, this distinction had been called "official" (pre-selected) vs "non-official" (new ideas during DebConf) talks, which was extremely confusing to people. "Ad-hoc" talks are a very important part of DebConf: not all development meetings are pre-planned.
Since we pretty much always surplus of talk rooms and times and we let people schedule talks during DebConf, people have asked: what is the purpose of talk selection? Are we going to let all talks be given? Are we going to reject talks just to say we selected them? When talks were "rejected" in the past, the speakers were told to just ask for a room during DebConf if they still wanted to give it. This question was raised on our mailing list. Even if there is a surplus of talk rooms, there are reasons for talk selection: it allows attendees to know what is most prepared, helps the video team to capture the best talks, lets talks be scheduled in the best room. You could also say it helps to organize talks into tracks and to collect abstracts for proceedings.
For DebConf10, we introduced a "conference track" concept, a set of related talks which would be scheduled in the same room in sequence. This allowed a more structured conference for attendees, and perhaps recruiting speakers to fill in requested talks for the tracks. Example tracks from DebConf10 are Science, Enterprise, and Community Outreach. I would have liked to see some tracks more Debian related, such as: project infrastructure, project communication, project social issues, ..., but what we had was a good start that can be improved on, if the new team desires to.
As for scheduling, there are two main parts: one phase before DebConf, assigning the selected talks to rooms and making the advance schedule. The other phase happens during DebConf and handles assigning rooms to people who want to do "ad-hoc" talks. The two phases aren't always done by the same person. The schedulers need to balance the expected audience and room capacity, need for video coverage, BOF vs auditorium style seating, not making talks overlap that are likely to appeal to the same audience, ... . The scheduling team works with the talk team, but doesn't necessarily have to be the same people.
I'm very happy that there was good discussion about the selection and scheduling process for DebConf10. In the end, a talk selection and scheduling wiki page was created. This page had two main purposes. First, it discussed and documented the selection and scheduling process, so that it was transparent to people that year and provides a reference for future teams. Secondly, other people have added their proposed talks workflows, that they can be considered in future years.
Talk selection has many competing demands - because of the completeness of the wiki page, I'll just refer you there. The rest of this post mainly frames the types of questions the talks team has to face. If you have thoughts on the DebConf talk selection process, feel free to add your ideas to the talk selection process wiki page, or better yet, help out with the team this year.