In 2019 I travelled to Rotterdam to attend Euruko 2019 with the intent to pitch Helsinki as the next Euruko host city. While I had a great time at Euruko 2019, in retrospect 2019 turned out to be the worst year to win the privilege of being the next host city.
After bringing home the Euruko gong we quickly got to work planning where and when to host Euruko 2020. In the end, we chose the beautiful Savoy Theatre as the venue and August 2020 as the date.
Oh no, 2020
As 2019 drew to a close and 2020 dawned we, and the rest of the world started to hear about a worrying new coronavirus in China, not that most of us knew what the devil a coronavirus or if there was any real reason to be worried about it.
By March everyone had gotten started a crash course on epidemiology and virology and the government declared a national state of emergency. This was the most extensive use of emergency powers in Finland since the Winter and Continuation Wars.
By then it was clear that continuing to plan for a ~700 person international conference in August 2020 would be foolhardy at best and criminally negligent at worst so we decided to postpone the event well into 2021. We were still feeling optimistic that “it” couldn’t possibly go on for that long. Turns out, it could.
At this point, we had sold hundreds of tickets and signed up several major sponsors for the event. Before announcing the postponement publicly we reached out to our sponsors to see if they would stay on board with us and luckily they did! This was a huge relief.
We also offered refunds to any attendee who wanted one so we refunded some 60+ tickets after the postponement.
I’d also like to give a shoutout to the awesome Euruko 2019 folks who weren’t content to leave 2020 completely devoid of some European Ruby goodness and quickly put together NoRuKo, a free virtual mini-conference.
By now I had also switched jobs from Kisko Labs, who were backing the conference both financially and with employee time, to Kaiku Health. Luckily Kaiku also agreed to let me use some of my work time for Euruko tasks so I could continue as the head organiser of Euruko with relatively little disruption.
I was also lucky to have my friend Simo Virtanen from Kisko on the Euruko team handling most of the communication with sponsors and sharing some of the organisational work; had I tried to do it all alone may well have doomed the entire conference to failure.
2021: Euruko in space
While the end of 2020 brought us the first good news about some possibly effective vaccines to treat and prevent COVID-19, it also became increasingly clear that a large, in-person event just wouldn’t be in the cards for 2021 either.
To this end, we decided that we would either have to cancel the conference altogether or convert it into a remote event. Having never organised an online conference I wasn’t all that thrilled at the prospect but it still seemed like a far better option than having yet another year without a Euruko.
Once again our awesome sponsors agreed to stay on board for this massive change in plans. They hadn’t signed up to be part of a remote event and could have easily chosen to bail at this point but we’re very grateful that none did.
We felt it wouldn’t be fair to ask attendees to accept the change to an online experience without any options, so we ended up refunding another 100 tickets or so. All told we processed about €19k of refunds when you include both refunds from both 2020 and 2021.
What’s the difference between a remote conference and just watching some talks on YouTube?
Having decided to go full-remote, we had to figure out how to make the event feel like a conference. After all, there are thousands of hours of conference talks available on YouTube that anyone can go watch at any time and we had to have something to offer beyond that.
The main elements that we landed on were a goodie bag delivered to all attendees with a “full” ticket (in other words, not the digital-only ticket we introduced after announcing the change to an online format), access to the Brella conference platform, and access to a Euruko Discord server.
Brella and the Discord server were overwhelmingly the most popular and most active “venues”. The Minecraft was a fun option and it was cool to see what people got up to on it but only about thirty players logged in at any point during the conference. We also had some issues with the server crashing or going unresponsive multiple times during the conference despite the negligible load on the server.
Early on we decided to hire professionals for the parts that we weren’t comfortable with. This included figuring out the goodie bag fulfilment with Printful, hiring an outside production company to handle everything to do with the live stream and videos, and getting Milja Köpsi to MC/host the stream.
This was absolutely the right choice, we had more than enough to get on with without having to also learn how to use OBS at the same time or having to pack and mail hundreds of packages all over the world.
We also had a few volunteers acting as Discord moderators & conference guides during the event, including Juhis who couldn’t possibly have been more proactive. Plus we had Joni Hasanen picking and filtering questions from the chat for the Q&A sections of the talks.
Luckily, in the true spirit of MINASWAN, everyone seemed to largely be on their best behaviour and so there was very little actual moderation to do but the conference would have been a far worse experience for all involved if we hadn’t had our wonderful moderators/volunteers.
The two almost disasters
Stream suspended for policy violations
Each of the two conference days had something that could have been a huge disaster:
- On Friday YouTube’s copyright algorithms threw a fit about the break music (which, for the record, was properly licensed by our production company)
- On Saturday some construction next door to the studio caused a fire alarm to go off which meant that we had to evacuate the studio until the fire department gave the all-clear
The Friday disruption happened at the best possible time, i.e. during a coffee break, and the stream was restored before it was time to return to the scheduled programming. It did leave us wary of incurring the wrath of the gods again and we didn’t use the break music again.
On Saturday the fire alarm went off during Souturo Matsumoto’s talk and I don’t believe he even noticed. The folks watching the stream however did as the supremely professional live captioning team wrote ‘(fire alarm in the studio)’ to the captions before vacating the premises.
Although there are inevitably things we’d do differently a second time around, overall we were very pleased with how it went. Both attendees and our sponsors seemed to be largely happy with how it all went down.
As for Euruko 2022? We’re still trying to figure out what will be possible and when. In an ideal world we still want to have an actual conference, in the real Helsinki, but planning an in-person event remains difficult at this stage.
Edit 2021-07-09: I forgot to mention that all the talks are available on YouTube. Please like and subscribe or whatever you’re supposed to say about YouTube…