Brainshare registration still not perfect

It’s Brainshare time again, and the whole process of sign-up and registration has been going well for a few years - so it must be time for some new problems, right?

Brainshare alumni may well remember the 1997 conference - which featured a registration process so broken (the lines snaked all through Salt Lake City's Salt Palace and out into the street) that Novell printed up and distributed "I Survived Brainshare Registration" T-shirts.

Then there was the year Novell first decided to issue tickets for sessions (so they could control the number of people trying to get in) - 1992, if memory serves. Folks could sign up for sessions before they left home, then send the information to Novell. At registration (this was at the University of Utah venue) people would be issued pasteboard tickets for each confirmed session. Unfortunately, the database wouldn't cooperate, and few, if any, people actually got the tickets they'd signed up for - creating a huge stampede to get into the most-desirable sessions (they were lining up one to two hours before a session started!).

This year attention is focused on the new scheduler being used for both online and offline session sign-up. Developed by WingateWeb, the new system was declared a success by everyone except the folks who were using it. WingateWeb, by the way, does deserve praise for the excellent job it did with registration at last year's Brainshare - taking what had been, at best, an hour or two marathon and reducing it to just a few minutes of any one person’s time.

It didn't work that way for this year's session sign-up, however. Many, many people complained about the length of time that online sign-up took. WingateWeb said the delays only happened initially, when over half the attendees were trying to schedule sessions. But as any alumnus knows, the most popular sessions "sell out" on the first day, so you have to be early if you want a seat. Novell knows this, and WingateWeb should have known.

Past scheduler products also allowed users to block out times on their schedule for lunch, meetings, or other nonsession activity. But this was impossible with WingateWeb's software.

Another favored feature of past schedulers was the ability to rank sessions - make some "must have," while others could be configured as "optional." If there was a conflict, the "must have" would win out. Again, this was impossible with the new solution.

According to WingateWeb's Tom Karren, the development team "created a system that does much more than just allow attendees to create schedules. We have integrated a solution that moves sessions from conception to presentation with all of the associated logistics involved. There is more to this process than you might imagine." I'm sure there is, Tom, but from the user's perspective the answer is, " So what? " The user doesn't care how neatly you've tied together in one app what it used to take three apps to do, if you've diminished his experience at the same time.

Now, according to both Novell and WingateWeb spokespeople, it’s "only a few alumni" who are complaining - but only the alumni have something to compare this diminished process against, since they remember the better process they previously used!

It appears that, once again, form has triumphed over function. In WingateWeb's defense, though, I will say that they have been almost daily tweaking the code in response to user complaints. Unfortunately, it’s farr too little, and far too late.

This story, "Brainshare registration still not perfect " was originally published by Network World.

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