Voting Lessons Learned

Now that the suggest a session for OpenWorld campaign has ended, it’s time to reflect on what we learned.

First off, thanks to everyone who submitted a session idea. There were 281 submitted before the deadline, and someone even figured out how to create a session after we closed the nomination form. Bonus points for ingenuity.

Now that it’s over, what worked?

Promote Early and Often
As I noted a week after we opened nominations, the UI wasn’t supporting a very fair distribution of ideas, since the only two views we offered were Latest and Greatest, leaving a gap of underserved ideas.

This is something we planned to address (seriously), but we got pulled off Mix onto Connect. So, the time ticked away, and we never got a good filtering UI deployed. This will be a must for next year, if the Events team decides to renew the program.

People adjusted though. Rather than relying on the flawed UI, many session owners promoted early and often through blogs, Twitter, the Oracle Community, and through the Mix social network (w00t! for network effects).

I watched all this promotion through Mix, Google Alerts and Summize, and I have to say I’m impressed. The Events team offered up something valuable, and people went after it with vigor.

I think one person deserves special recognition for his promotional efforts: Steve Stein from Perot Systems Consulting. Steve’s session idea made the top five even though he submitted it less than a month before the voting deadline.

Only one other idea submitted with less than a month lead time made the top 25. Steve waged a short, but effective, promotional war, leveraging his network of 531 people and even creating a blog specifically for his presentation topic.

Anyway, Steve’s example shows that promotion was key to making the top 25. All it took was 58 votes to get selected so every single vote counted.

Stay on the First Page, Above the Fold
I’ve heard a few comments that submitting too early was a bad idea (and yes, the UI is partially responsible), but I disagree. My session idea was one of the first because we needed to seed a few ideas before going live. I did no promotion, other than in the first blog post announcing the program.

And I still got within 7 votes of making the cut.

Being first in allowed my idea to get votes longer, but this wasn’t enough on its own. For quite some time, my session idea was at the top. What really hurt it overall was when it fell below the fold and off the first page of Greatest ideas, and this isn’t an issue that better filtering can completely solve.

I think most people either: a) voted specifically for an idea they saw promoted somewhere and/or b) voted for a few interesting ones on the first page, mainly above the fold. This is a variaton of the Google effect, i.e. if you’re not on the first page of Google results, you don’t exist. We tried to mitigate this by expanding the pages to 50 ideas, but that doesn’t help the below the fold problem.

Food for thought next year. Use promotion to keep these pole positions and you’re in good shape.

Be Controversial (Ahem) Interesting
I’m convinced another reason my session floated toward the top for as long as it did was because it had “porn” in the title.

But if that’s not enough to convince you that controversy works, what about “BEA Aqualogic versus Oracle Fusion Middleware shoot out“? This idea finished second, although I’m not exactly sure how it didn’t finish first by a landslide.

The timing was perfect for it too, since the BEA acquisition closed in late April, and all those newly-minted Oracle employees discovered Mix and the suggest a session program.

Don’t try to tell me this session didn’t garner 50% or more of its votes due to its potentially controversial content, using the term “shoot out” certainly helped.

I’ll be surprised if this isn’t one of the top sessions attended at OpenWorld. Kudos to Lonneke Dikmans who may be the star of OOW 2008.

Anyway, refer back to the drive by voters who casually voted for sessions on the first page, above the fold. Guess which sessions drew their attention?

Use Your Star Power
This goes hand-in-hand with promotion, and I don’t think it’s accidental that well-known, Oracle experts like Eddie Awad, Richard Foote, Chris Muir and Dan Norris made the list.

Disclaimer: I’m not that knowledgeable about all the Oracle experts out there, so please don’t flame me for not mentioning someone as an expert.

Moving on, these experts are popular for a reason, which I’m sure helped their sessions garner votes. If you read Eddie’s blog or you’ve seen Dan speak at a conference, you’re likely to vote up their sessions because they are known quantities.

Of course, on the flip-side, the open nature of the program allows people to see fresh faces present too, which is also a good thing.

Go with APEX
This logic may not work every year, but wow, did it ever work this year. Seven of the top 25 session ideas were APEX-related. I’m sure Carl is glowing right now.

What is it about APEX? Maybe Carl or someone else can clue me in by commenting. I wonder if this will be a trend going forward, i.e. product-based communities storming the voting to push their sessions to the top.

Nothing wrong with that, just interesting, and it says a lot about the APEX community and how involved they are. Kudos.

So, these are the nuggets I’ve seen. Overall, I’m pleased with the experiment.

It’s worth noting that OpenWorld 2008 will be the first (AFAIK) vendor-sponsored conference to include community-voted sessions. and by community, I mean anyone, not just attendees or special-interest groups, since Mix is an open community that anyone can join.

Let’s pause to thank Marketing for making this happen, and bonus points for not censoring the controversial topics.

This is also your chance to sound off about anything you liked, disliked thought was unfair, etc.

Find the comments.




  1. >>> What is it about APEX?

    Well we have been the underground go getters for awhile. Big at OOW for years , bigger at ODTUG this year, and bigger yet at OOW this coming year. That's what I call steady progress and upward movement.

    I , personally, think our popularity has more to do with the what APEX is, sure you can build an application with it, but what we really are is a thin skin on top of the power of the Oracle database, and if there is one thing people know in the Oracle community is the power of the Oracle database.

    >>> storming the voting

    Ahh you make that sound bad. We have a vibrant , dedicated and enthusiastic user community, what product wouldn't want that 🙂 .

    Since the days of (Project Marvel –> HTMLDB –> ) APEX we've been very community oriented, pretty much based out of the OTN forums , which we've always told people is the best place for latest and greatest ideas examples and support , and then moving on to blogs , wiki's and as the new ways of spreading the word come along.

    You guys gave the community a chance to vote and don't think they / we won't take it.

    There's some great sessions in there, even some of the ones that have APEX prominent in the title can be applied to all sorts of web development environments… and… it just is much easier to implement in an APEX environment , go to the session and see for yourself.

    Finally the number one vote getter is Raj's session… and if you've ever seen Raj present well it speaks for itself, freakin amazing!

  2. Nothing wrong with storming the vote. I'm glad to see a vibrant community take advantage of this opportunity to showcase some of its stars.

    I hope the promotion continues too. I'm not sure if the official show guide will point out the sessions picked by the community. With so much to see, I hope they don't get lost.

    You should get together and live blog them, record, etc. so those who voted but couldn't attend can still benefit virtually.

  3. Thanks Jake for the mention above – please everyone attend my winning presentation at OpenWorld, I'm sure there will be some mention there of which presentations are the Mix winners, and enjoy the Visual Dashboard Design blog. I've been blogging for 10 years now, that's right, 10 years! From 1998 to 2002 I posted entries at that look like a blog, using my own home-made HTML code to make it look just like modern blogs look today. The blog got some nice attention back then and my content was syndicated in 1999 by a since-defunct start-up website called The Daily Drill. The Daily Drill was an early cut at a portal, and my content was one of many topics subscribers could choose to include on their portal page. We didn't have RSS feeds back then, I just e-mailed them an Excel spreadsheet with a few months of content at a time.

    Also those years gave me a real-world education on how to carefully, methodically promote a website without hurting (spamming) people, and as a result I have gotten feedback over the years that the content helped people and they appreciated that I encouraged them to follow me to the valuable education that my blog provided.

    I am still at it… these days I host a podcast that Mix members might like, called Visual Dashboard Design.

    So what's all this got to do with the Mix? First of all, good luck to us and thank you and everyone who develops and uses the Mix, and everyone who voted for, commented on, and/or took interest in my presentation. There is really nothing I can say that fully expresses this appreciation. I hope that my use of the Mix that you speak about in your post results in a winning presentation and blog that is truly valuable for the Oracle community… Visual Dashboard Design using OBIEE and Hyperion et al. for Business Intelligence that that adds value to the companies we work for, and improves the daily life of the people who work there.

  4. I hope they decide to designate the Mix winners somehow in the show guide. Anyone attending who followed the voting over the past few months will likely have a curiosity about seeing the content.

    This program has a neat effect, almost like you participated in the planning phase, rather than just seeing a bunch of sessions in the show guide. I'd be interested to see the demographics of the people who attend the winning sessions, i.e. how many found out about them via Mix.

    I'm hoping the winners won't be at conflicting times. Anyway, see you there.

  5. Yo Jake, where can we see the final list of nominated (and winning) sessions? I did notice that mix sessions were marked as such in the show guide. A nice win!

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