Useful Ideas for Organizing Online Meetings

Useful Ideas for Organizing Online Meetings


Mathias Micheel, University of Jena, Germany, and colleagues report on their experience hosting the multi-day Catalight Young Scientists Symposium (CYSS). While most online conferences rely on external services, the team combined open-source software that was freely available and customized it to their needs.

For the event’s website, they used Indico, an open-source conference software that provides centralized registration, abstract submission, and review, while allowing attendees to be notified and surveyed. In addition, the software automatically posts confirmed abstracts to the home page, with a schedule and export function for calendar programs. Thus, the software took over the “routine tasks” of event organization.

As a digital substitute for coffee breaks, the team set up an instance of the open-source chat software Mattermost. There were different channels: A general channel for attendees to communicate informally, one for technical questions, one for discussions after presentations, and one for the poster session. Mattermost also has an audio chat feature.

Jitsi, a collection of free and open-source multiplatform voice, video conferencing, and instant messaging applications, proved inadequate for the event’s technical requirements, so the team used Zoom. Zoom Business allows a maximum of 300 people to participate in the video chat. This cap does not apply to a Zoom meeting with only the speakers, which can be broadcast on other platforms such as YouTube.

A separate video chat room was set up for each presenter in the poster session via DFNconf, which is provided by the German Research Network (DFN). Thus, participants were able to talk with the poster presenter both in writing via the chat function of Mattermost and audiovisually via DFNconf. The DFN is a communication network for universities and research institutions organized by the scientific community itself and integrated into a worldwide alliance of research and science networks.

Overall, the organizers only had to bear the costs for the server and domain of about EUR 100. Except for Zoom and the e-mail addresses, which ran through the University of Jena, the entire infrastructure was built on Strato, a commercially available server solution. However, the organizers point out that at least one member of the organizing team needs experience with web hosting and server infrastructure.



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