Like choosing a venue for an on-site conference, choosing an appropriate online platform is crucial for running a successful virtual event. As such the organizing committee has put a great amount of effort in carefully reviewing different online conference platforms. Our decisions were guided by five key points we wanted to fulfill. Ultimately, we decided on Midspace (formerly called Clowdr) for CHI PLAY 2021, as we felt it best matched our criteria as outlined below.
Organizing a virtual conference, as a physical one, requires substantial expenses. A major factor is the virtual platform to be used, as costs for online conference platforms can easily exceed tens of thousands of dollars. Some platforms target large online events which were not sustainable for an event of the size of CHI PLAY. One of our main goals was keeping registration rates as low as possible for both authors and attendees while still ensuring a smooth and satisfying conference experience. In that sense, Midspace offered – for our purposes – what we felt was the most convincing price/feature-ratio to be inclusive of as many attendees as possible.
Online conference platforms vary widely in the features they offer. In order to choose a platform that matches our requirements we drew and reflected on the experience of last year’s virtual conference, identified what worked well and what didn’t, discussed requirements of the different tracks as well as networking and socializing opportunities we wanted to support among the conference committee, and considered valuable experiences shared among SIGCHI conferences. On top of that, we wanted to keep everything within a single platform to make it easy to follow the full conference without the need to install and handle different tools. Keeping everything within a single platform also makes it easier for us to run the conference, reduces the risk of technical hiccups, and thus helps us ensure a smooth conference experience.
While a virtual conference can’t fully recreate the experience of an on-site event, we felt one aspect which is particularly absent in many online events is the feeling of presence of other attendees. While more expensive virtual conference platforms may provide a better sense of presence, Midspace provided a good compromise, including the ability to see who is in a room, a persistent chat, and a useful tag and badges system. These should help attendees to get a sense of where people gather and help authors get a feel of how many people are attending their presentations.
It was important for us to make the conference as accessible as possible. This included keeping the registration rates low, ensuring that the platform is capable of supporting different accessibility needs, and having features to help us ensure an inclusive and respectful environment. Midspace offered the most convincing commitment to accessibility among the platforms we reviewed, by being WCAG compliant, and offering features such as a keyboard navigation, dark mode, resizable fonts, the possibility to auto-generate captions, as well as features that allow attendees to flag content and allow moderators to respond and take action.
Lastly, we wanted the platform to be visually appealing. While this is likely the most subjective criteria we wanted to have a platform that is clean and customizable to viewers’ preferences and allows users to easily navigate the content.
Following these principles and our decision to use Midspace, we strive to create an engaging virtual conference for our community.
Looking forward to welcoming you in October!
Technical Program Chairs
Accessibility and Equity Chairs