Why we chose USB thumbdrives

Did the last conference you attend give you it’s material on a DVD or CD? After browsing the disc one, did you find yourself stacking the disc with that pile of AOL discs? Hoping someday, some new drive will be able to wipe them clean and make them useful again?

Yeah, been there done that. Sucks, I know.

Remember the last conference you attended? Was there a worker bee standing outside to hand you a piece of paper with questions on it? Was (s)he there to collect your paper survey? Did you rush to fill it out as the session ended? Did you opt to not fill it out because you had no time or no pen?

Yeah, been there done that, too.

Those are the two reasons we went with USB drives. CDs and even DVDs are useless for the most part. Once you’ve copied the materials off onto your computer, you chuck the disc. What a waste (Literally). It occured to us that USB thumb drives aren’t that expensive, so we looked into it. After finding a sponsor to split the costs with us, it was just about the same price as having a CD mastered. Oh and we could update the content, any time. Burned discs are a bit hard to update. Speakers like to update their presentations once or twice between handing the “final” over to us. With drives, attendees come and get the latest and greatest right there at the registration desk.

Feedback is the cornerstone of how Tom and I do things, so getting feedback from attendees on sessions was paramount. We had to know who should be invited back and who shouldn’t. We also wanted to make that data available to speakers so they could evaluate themselves. Who wants to wait months to find out what people thought?

We wrote an AIR survey app so that attendees wouldn’t have to fill out paper. They could even fill out survey’s in their hotel room, going back to the other sessions they had sat in on. Killing trees to make paper surveys just doesn’t make sense. Add to that the amount of work that went into manually (remember, it’s just Tom and I) recording the data from the paper surveys into a meaningful digital repository so speakers could get feedback. It was months before speakers had their feedback. Weak Sauce!

Some interesting numbers:

Paper Surveys:
San Jose ’07 – 300 surveys
Seattle ’07 – 880 surveys

AIR Survey Submissions :
Atlanta ’08 – 750 surveys*
San Jose ’08 – 930 surveys

*I think we’d have had more but the app had some initial issues on the first couple of days.

We’re trying to make sure it’s worthwhile for attendees to answer the survey (paper or electronic). All raffles are based on submissions. You give no speaker feedback, you don’t win any prizes. We think that’s fair, everyone benefits.

The USB drives were one of those kill many birds with a single stone things; 1. we’re saving trees, 2. we’re delivering a survey app to attendees that allows more and faster feedback to speakers, and 3. allows us to add content for attendees right up until 5:30 on Wednesday.

Win, Win, Win Dont’cha think?

6 Replies to “Why we chose USB thumbdrives”

  1. I support your effort of reducing paper, but from an environmental perspective, it’s worth noting that thumb-drives do have mercury in them.

    What if instead of a thumb-drive, you handed out a similarly sized plastic card with a URL printed on it? It makes it much easier for me to copy the URL so that I don’t lose it, and it makes it less expensive for you to hand them out. You can update all of the URLs at once, even after you hand them out! I can take the URL, and paste it into my “Todo” list or my calendar to make sure I don’t forget to fill out the survey even if I’m separated from the handout. I don’t have to physically stick the URL into my computer, so I never have to worry about taking the URL out of the computer when I need to free the slot. When I go to the URL, I don’t have to navigate a file system prior to entering into the application. And finally, since the URL is physically printed on plastic, you still get to put something in my hand that I can’t ignore.

    By the way, somebody at 360 asked me if I thought it was safe for them to put the USB drive into their computer. I smiled and said “yeah, I think you can trust John and Tom.” I guess not everybody even gets past that hump right away.

    I’ll leave you with a survey question of my own: What would be the environmental achievement if we were to be a part of creating a world where software is not accompanied by physical media at all?

  2. @harry Good points indeed. I too have noticed that I’m slowly amassing a collection of thumb drives. While our 2 GB is a big deal now, some years down the road, it’ll be useless.

    A lot of speakers and attendees do prefer to just have URLs. It’s definitely an option we should look further into. Especially now since the videos of the sessions themselves will be online. Who wants the slide deck when you can watch the vid, right?

    And I’m all for medialess software. 95% of my PS3 games are downloaded from the PlayStation Network, bypassing media all together. I do, however, love the music CD and movies on Blu-ray Disc. I’m not 100% green yet. I would be accept the only way to get the “extras” is with the discs sometimes.

  3. @harry,

    That’s definitely something we can look at. My only counter to that is we still want to provide a value to our sponsors. Their materials on a USB drive, even if only in their (or our) minds, has more chance of being seen that if on a seperate media in the cloud. Unless we embed their materials in the survey.

    We’ll definitely look in to more media-less options, we’re not tied to the idea at all, so it’s a very valid question.

    Too funny that some one was worried about the drive containing malware, that’s a valid concern, and one I never really thought about. very interesting.

    Thanks Harry!

  4. hey guys-

    just a quick note – I use survey monkey for all of my conference surveying — quick, cheap, easy, cool.

  5. @Eric,

    you just give everyone a link? THat’s a good idea, we do use survey monkey for our random “What do you think” survey’s. in our fat fingering days, we input the data into a survey monkey survey.

    My only real dislike was it was a bit of a pain to give speakers feedback, we had to go in and filter on each speaker.

  6. @eric

    Yeah, to go along with John’s comments, filtering by speaker was waaaaay to painful in SurveyMonkey. I hope to never repeat that experience again. It took us a few months to enter the paper surveys into SurveyMonkey then like another month before one of us bit the bullet to set up the filters and print out the data in a PDF for the speakers.

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