Developing a Conference Website

Part of my role with the Board of Directors for VSTE is working with Laura Briggs on the Membership Committee to help drive publicity and membership. I end up getting to play with a lot of fun things and use social networks to help promote events and things we have going on. I'm also involved with the Conference Committee working on marketing for the Annual Conference they hold each year. In the past years conference information has just been included as part of the main organization's website. Speaker information, registration, it was all a subsection of VSTE's homepage. Last year we did something a little new by using a Google Site to collaboratively have a space where we could edit information and publicize things related to the conference. Registration and announcements were still handled on the organization's main page, but (especially during the conference) the Google Site was the place to go for maps, presenter materials, keynote information, and all other conference-related items. This year I'm making a different push, to develop a brand new conference website running Wordpress as a subdomain of VSTE's newly redesigned organization homepage. The Mobile Learning Share Fair we're holding in March has given me an opportunity to start flexing some of those muscles in preparation for the larger project, so I thought it would be worth it to blog about it. I knew I wanted to use Wordpress for a number of reasons, largely surrounding the fact that I'm most comfortable in that CMS, theme support is huge, and plugin support creates a lot of opportunities. Oh, and it's all free and open source. Though I wasn't involved in the main organization redesign (which actually runs ExpressionEngine), I developed the Edge Podcast subdomain for VSTE last year as part of a redesign for that property. A conference website brings a host of interesting challenges and opportunities. The annual conference will be bigger and involve a lot more work, but I'll cover some of the smaller items I've been able to incorporate into the Mobile Learning website.

Design

[caption id="attachment_146" align="alignnone" width="580" caption="Homepage"][/caption] From the start I knew I wanted the design to reflect a few important items about this mini-conference on the homepage. Those items were: - Date - Time - Cost - Where to Register - Sponsors - Keynote Presenter

Other information could be included elsewhere but those items were deal-breakers. They effectively answered the question "Why does this event need its own website and why am I coming here?" I think the result is pretty great. The rotating featured item allow me to not only highlight the keynote presenter but rotate through a few presentations which I will swap out in the coming days to highlight some of the breakout sessions. The theme used here is SimpleFolio which is primarily used as an artist portfolio site, but I found that highlighting works of art was not a lot different from highlighting (visually) presentations for a conference. The lower 3 sections of the homepage are widgets. While the 2nd and 3rd are simple Text/HTML widgets, the first is an Ad Squares Widget which just makes it easy to adjust sponsor information and add/remove them. ### Session Directory

[caption id="attachment_145" align="alignnone" width="580" caption="Session Directory"][/caption] The session directory is the portfolio backend of this theme. Based on posts tagged in a certain category (in this case "presentation") we get a lovely designed directory of sessions. Sub-categories become a submenu to the directory, which worked perfectly for a one-day event by adding sub-categories based on the time of the session. So when going to the page we have a list of all breakout sessions and the ability to narrow down to all available at a certain time. Since I'm a visual person I love the featured images for each presentation. ### Presentation Details

[caption id="attachment_147" align="alignnone" width="580" caption="Presentation Detail View"][/caption] Each session has its own associated post. Using the Dynamic Widgets plugin I can control sidebar items for presentations based on category. I'm using the QR Code Tag plugin to automatically generate a QR Code for each presentation. Combined with the Carrington Mobile theme it means users will be able to scan a page with a presentation and get a mobile version where they can download and look at presenter materials and links. For a mobile-centric event like this, I'm pretty happy with that little feature. Overall for a one-day event and something I pulled together in less than a week, I'm pretty happy with it. I think it's well balanced between not having too much information but also collecting it all in a neat package. As I said, the Annual Conference will be a much larger affair so I hope to take what I've learned from this process and apply it to that. Any feedback would be extremely helpful to that end.