Thursday, July 29, 2010

Free software? Better budget for it.

Thinking of using free abstract management software? It might be enticing, but consider the following:

  • Free software almost always has to be installed. If you install it yourself, it costs time. If you have someone to do it for you, it costs money. Either way, installations can fail for reasons beyond your control. Delays may or may not be what a conference organizer can afford.
  • Free software rarely comes with reliable, fast support. Even if you get it installed without any problems, you're still looking at configuring, maintaining, and troubleshooting it without much assistance.
  • Free software often comes with limited functionality. If you find yourself in need of additional features, you either have to modify the software yourself or upgrade to the paid version. (This is known as a "freemium" model, where the free version is really just a gateway to the paid version.)
  • Updates for installed software come in the form of releases. In order to stay current with new features and bug fixes, not only do you have to regularly track releases, you also have to apply them.

Paid and hosted software avoids all these issues. There's nothing to install, nothing to maintain, and support is readily available whenever you need it.

At first glance free is attractive, but be careful: free can end up costing you a lot.

Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Why a hard deadline is better than a soft deadline

We argued previously that a soft deadline for submissions is better than a hard deadline. Now we're going to argue the opposite: that a hard deadline can be preferable to a soft deadline. We're not doing this to confuse you, we're just trying to point out that each has its own benefits and that your choice should depend entirely on your own unique situation.

Unlike a soft deadline, which is nothing more than an initial target for authors to shoot for, a hard deadline is the absolute final date and time you will accept submissions. You always have the option of accepting late submissions on a case-by-case basis, but as a general rule, authors who miss a hard deadline are out of luck—at least until the next call.

A hard deadline is better than a soft deadline because:

  • It avoids confusion. You can publish one deadline and authors won't have to figure out if it has passed or been extended.
  • It forces authors to budget their time for unforeseen problems, which can lead to earlier submissions.
  • It shows you mean business. A hard deadline lets authors know that you are serious about the organization and planning of the conference.
  • It lowers your stress. Once the deadline has passed you no longer have to worry about submissions.

The key to a hard deadline, of course, is that you never extend it. Otherwise, you've just created a soft deadline.

Also, when setting a hard deadline, be painfully precise about the exact date and time of the deadline. It's true for any deadline, but especially true for hard deadlines: include a time—and time zone—along with the date. And if you're going to set your deadline for noon or midnight, don't use "a.m." and "p.m.".

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Why a soft deadline is better than a hard deadline

One of the most basic decisions about any call is whether to set a soft or hard deadline for submissions. Unlike a hard deadline, which is carved in stone, a soft deadline provides authors with a target date to submit their work, with the understanding that the deadline will be extended.

A soft deadline is better than a hard deadline because:

  • Authors get a date to budget their time for, while also getting a cushion in case of unforeseen problems.
  • You can get a gauge of the quantity and quality of submissions and fine-tune the call if needed.
  • The extension can be used to promote the call to authors who may have missed it the first time.

A soft deadline is set under the assumption that you will eventually extend it, so don't forget to budget for the additional time. Also, soft deadlines work best when you don't publicize the fact that they are soft deadlines. People often produce their best work when crunched for time, so don't ruin your authors' creative edge by hinting the deadline will be extended.

Lastly, don't confuse a soft deadline with accepting late submissions on a case-by-case basis. A soft deadline should be applied to everyone equally, regardless of their circumstances. If you're leaning instead toward accepting late submissions on a case-by-case basis, be sure you have clear criteria in place for determining which submissions qualify for an extension. (But that's a topic for another post.)