We Need Space

There’s a question I get asked a lot.

“How do I find a space to hold my user  group meeting/event/conference?”

I’m not a professional event planner but I’ve got some experience in this area after having planned three Barcamps and helping out with Philly ALT.NET, Conshohocken.rb, and some of the other (un)conferences in and around Philadelphia.

Unfortunately, the answer to the “how do I find space” question is still, “depends on who you know”. That makes things really hard. Unnecessarily hard.

What I think the city, and arguably other cities could use, is a central booking site or directory where free/cheap spaces are listed, along with their availability, contact information, caveats/requirements, and equipment. User group leaders would then be able to easily check availability and cross reference their needs. Projector? Check. Room for 30? Check. The list of data points to collect for each space wouldn’t be that long either:

Address & Room Number
Available Dates/Times
Equipment (Projector? Vending machine?)
Food allowed?
Cost
Contact / Resource
Adult Supervision required? (Does the space maintainer have to be there?)

Where would all the space and location data come from? I imagine this could happen in one of two ways. A hard way and an easy way.

1) The hard way: Find a grant. Put someone on this full time. Have them schlep around the city meeting and greeting everyone with a partially available conference room or classroom.
Pros:

  • Full time curation. More likely to stay up to date.
  • Some money and wiggle room for basic marketing.

Cons:

  • Funding. This isn’t really a money-making venture.

2) The easy way: Borrow the weworkinphilly model. Open the site and let folks with access to spaces add theirs to the listing. They would be in charge of keeping availability data fresh and being (or delegating) the main point of contact.
Pros:

  • Ready to go out of the gate.
  • May fill out spaces faster.

Cons:

  • Data more likely to go stale unless everyone maintains their spaces.

Regardless of how a directory like this might come together I think it would be a big benefit to user groups, free or low cost conferences, and ad hoc meetings. Making it easier for people to find space to talk and collaborate benefits everyone, however indirectly.

There are plenty of goatchas I’m forgetting so I’d appreciate feedback!

About JP Toto

JP is a devops developer in Philadelphia, PA. He works at eMoney Advisor by day and attempts to cook by night.

9 Comments

  1. Have you talked with Andre Dhondt about the “Tech Circle” idea? That could be an “option 3”. If there’s an umbrella organization specifically tasked with securing space/sponsorship it could do the job for a lot of groups and survive based on a sponsorship margin.

  2. I haven’t, actually. I didn’t know about the Tech Circle idea. I’ll definitely follow up, though. Thanks, Mat!

  3. Dance/UP (http://danceusaphiladelphia.org/), in collaboration with several other Philly creative organizations, created a space finder fairly recently: http://www.phillyspacefinder.com/. It is geared
    toward dance, music, theater, but we (Web Start Women; http://webstartwomen.com) have been using it to look for spaces to hold classes and events. You can search by a number of useful criteria and if you have a space to contribute, you can add it to the directory. It’s a great resource!

    At the same time, almost all of the places we’ve looked at charge a rental fee (some of which are pretty steep)–probably fine for a conference or something like that, but a potential barrier to groups who are just looking for a place to meet and geek out together. It would be great if there was a comparable resource that was geared toward the tech community and (ideally) included places that would be happy to donate space to a group of developers trying to improve their skills.

    Maybe it would make sense to partner with the existing database, expand it to include tech space. At the very least, I think the existing space finder would be a good springboard for building one for the tech community.

  4. Thanks, Nicole! I was chatting with someone yesterday and they mentioned http://www.phillyspacefinder.com too. Definitely what I am going for, at least in function, if not form.

    The group that runs that site is out of NY. The site I’m thinking of could easily cover multiple cities. I like your idea of maybe partnering w/ them though. I wonder why they positioned it to such a narrow niche?

  5. Free start-up idea: Air BnB, office space edition.

    Seriously though, some friends of mine regularly host people as much as they use it when they travel. Businesses would be protected by the combination of ratings for users and always having the option to turn people down. User groups would benefit from knowing where the good places to go are.

    And yeah, definitely talk

  6. LOVE the Air BnB metaphor! Ratings are a great idea.

    Breakfast Friday? Let’s talk!

  7. Dolores Barker

    CVENT is an excellent website (with no fee to use the tool) which will help you break down hotels, conference centers, or convention centers to the number of hotel rooms, size of largest meeting room or ballroom, how many meeting rooms the venue hosts, etc. Can’t help with your meeting sponsorships, but definately helps you find the space you need in multiple cities throughout US and other destinations. Cheers JP!

  8. Good to know! Thanks, D!

  9. If you go the crowdsourcing route, you could build in some mechanics to help keep the data fresh…

    a) Ping each PoC for each space every 6 weeks with email with links to either confirm space details, or go to edit space page

    b) Display last confirmed date as part of each space details in response to searches, and probably use it as part of ranking algorithm in response to searches

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