I’ve written about Lanyrd here before, it’s an interesting take on organizing data for conferences that I recommend for skeptics. Perhaps I recommend it a bit too often, because at least one person has accused me of being a “shill for Big Lanyrd” on occasion. I certainly don’t get paid by them, but I like the way the site works and especially how they crowdsource data entry like Wikipedia. In fact, you really should think of Lanyrd as a very specialized wiki that is optimized around posting information about conferences and meetings.
The crowdsourcing is what differentiates Lanyrd from conference management software like Sched, Cvent or others. Just like Lanyrd, those sites let you enter speakers, schedule, locations and such about your event, and provide services like smartphone apps for attendees and more. Some of them even do things that Lanyrd does not yet support, like email your attendees or run your entire website. But in general they all keep your event data separate from everyone else’s data, in classic software-as-a-service fashion.
Lanyrd takes a different approach. On Lanyrd, if I spend the time attaching videos or published books to a speaker’s profile, to help support their appearance at my event, that data benefits any future event at which that same speaker appears. From a pure business standpoint I can see how other conference software might not want to do that – why should one customer’s data efforts benefit a different customer? They might be competitors.
But Lanyrd is born out of the world of tech conferences where things like crowdsourcing and open source are familiar, accepted concepts. So this sort of data sharing comes naturally. And it should come naturally to the skeptic, atheist, humanist and secular communities too, because so many of our events are run by non-profit entities.
Well now Lanyrd has added a new feature to their site that repurposes the speaker data we’ve all entered and the result is pretty cool…
Back when I first encountered Lanyrd, I could see how the site would be valuable to skeptics. But I knew its value would not become obvious to many until there was some existing data there. If you browse around a site and you don’t find anything you like, it’s hard to see the point. A classic chicken and egg situation.
So I tried to encourage skeptic groups to use it, and many did. JREF adopted it for TAM2012 on my recommendation, and we used it again for TAM2013. CFI used it for several of their events including CSICON, Women in Secularism and the CFI Leadership Conference. Skeptics of Oz adopted it in 2013 on my recommendation. And the recent dual Secular Student Alliance conferences both used it.
But no matter how hard I lobbied as a “shill for Big Lanyrd” I knew not every event would adopt it. But boy, a complete skeptic schedule in there would make the site far more useful skeptics! And so I personally entered the info for hundreds of events over the last year, a little bit at a time. I’ve entered both upcoming events, and long-past events to fill in the history for various speakers. Every TAM is in there, and nearly every Skepticamp is in there. I’ve linked up videos, slide decks, blog posts and more in what Lanyrd calls “coverage”, to further enhance the site. And I’ve annotated speaker profiles with links to hundreds of skeptical books.
This work is really paying off now. If you’re reading this directly on my blog, there’s a list of upcoming skeptic conferences in the right sidebar that is driven by data pulled from Lanyrd. The list of upcoming events that appears on the front page of the Skepticamp wiki is generated in a similar way. You can pull a calendar feed from various points of Lanyrd and put this data directly into your desktop or smartphone calendar. None of that is possible with other conference websites, which treat each event as a separate isolated island of data. And now there’s a new way to access the data in Lanyrd.
New Speaker Directory
Announced in a blog post last Thursday, the new speaker directory has over 70,000 profiles of speakers who have appeared at thousands of conferences around the world. Because Lanyrd initially promoted itself to technology conferences and meetings, it runs heavy with speakers in that world. But it’s not in any way limited to that – it is driven by the data entered by users of the site. Including all the skepticism related data I mentioned above.
Sharp eyed readers of the announcement blog may have noticed this in the screen shot right in the Lanyrd blog post, part of which looked like this:
The two videos I’ve highlighted in red are from the SSA conferences mentioned earlier – I know because I added them to Lanyrd.
The new speaker directory allows you to search for speakers by their common topics. And you can filter the results based on country of origin, how experienced the speaker is and more. It’s quite impressive. Several new enhancements to speaker profiles let speakers configure how they look in these displays.
Don’t forget to try the filters, which like the rest of Lanyrd appear on the right side of the page. You can use them to search for skepticism speakers in England, and you’ll find Hayley Stevens and Deborah Hyde, both great speakers who have talks upcoming. The “new voices” filter is particularly fun, you can find speakers who your attendees may not have seen before, to invite to your skeptical event. Here’s a search that shows new voices on the topic of the paranormal.
There are some limitations. That new voices search will erroneously list someone if not enough historical data on their past talks has been entered. Not all topics make it all the way up to the speaker directory in Lanyrd’s algorithms – so for instance you can’t search for, say UFO speakers. Much of this topic stuff is driven by the topic tags that are applied to conferences and talks, so anyone editing should remember to apply as many relevant tags as possible to talks, conferences and books you edit. (You do this via the “Edit Topics” link on the right side of many pages). Plus speakers can now add topics they would like to speak about, which can also affect the results.
Some speakers don’t appear at all, because they have no profile on Lanyrd. A profile can be crowdsourced for a speaker who has a public account on Twitter or LinkedIn, and I’ve done that for the majority of skeptical speakers. But a speaker who eschews both of those services will have to create an account on Lanyrd themselves in order to have a profile. (Skeptic speakers, let me know if you do this. I can help you get your past talks linked up to your profile properly).
And why doesn’t that filtered search example I gave find more of the English skeptics instead of just those two? Well the geography search is dependent on a home location field in the speakers’ profiles. Probably for privacy reasons, this has to be set by the speaker themselves and cannot be crowdsourced. Speakers, you need to get in there and update your profiles, it will improve your visibility.
Give the Lanyrd speakers directory a try, if you are an event organizer looking for speakers, or a speaker looking for events, it could be a great tool. And speakers – get in there and claim your profile and update it – it will help you promote your work.
Big thanks to the many people who have pitched in already and entered skepticism-related info, including (in no particular order) Sarah Kaiser and Simon Davis of CFI, Nick Stancato of SSA, Thomas Donnelly of JREF, Floyd Zamarripa of Skepticon, Austin Harper of Air Capital Skeptics, the organizers of GWUP, Gold of the New Zealand Skeptics, Lei Pinter of Guerrilla Skeptics, Miri Mogilevsky of Freethought Blogs, Reed Esau of Skepticamp, Miranda Hale, and others.
And if anyone wants to pitch in and help me continue to enter data on skepticism and related events in Lanyrd, let me know in the comments. It’s well worth the effort, I think. Maybe we should organize around this.