1/14/2022

How PyCon Taiwan Uses Gather Town to Build the Virtual Conference Venue

Introduction

This (2021) May, Taiwan encountered an unexpected COVID-19 outbreak which gave PyCon TW no choice but to go online. There are plenty of tools support great quality streaming and should be sufficient for speakers to share their ideas. However, a community conference is not just about the talks but also about interaction among people, which was the greatest challenge until we stumbled upon Gather Town. I was amazed by it at first glance. People can walk around and chat just like they were attending an on-site conference or playing an online game. Beyond that, I can even create a PyCon TW world that a real-world venue can never achieve. In the end, the venue got so many goodies way beyond what I expected. Without the help of Gather Town, PyCon TW would never hold such a successful online conference that can even compete with its on-site counterparts.

To recollect the great memories of 2021 PyCon TW, we had journalized each event we had within Gather Town.

 Wei Lee, Chair of PyCon Taiwan 2021 

Keynotes & Talks & Lightning Show

"Keynotes & Talks & Lightning Show" session is written by Jo

The Keynotes and Talks took place in 4 arenas, where the attendees can remain inside Gather Town and watch Youtube Live Streams. It felt like standing in New York Time Square with everyone. I could just chat with surrounded attendees about the content. Within each arena, there are information boards that provide useful links: shared notes, Slido, and website.


Where people watch live streaming in the R0 square (at the right side of the image). The blocks at the left region are the chat spaces of Open Space event. See below for what Open Space is.


R0 and R1 squares.

After each talk, speakers walked into an open space - ‘Mingle Lounge’. In this area, speakers and attendees can communicate freely and directly. For everyone who got questions, this was the perfect time to approach the speakers. Moreover, I had seen experts from different fields had some random but lively discussions in this area. I enjoyed this QA session a lot. The discussion got much deeper with the instant communicating.


How the speaker and attendees talk with each other at R0 mingle lounge after the corresponding talk.


More “mingle lounges” (for tracks of R0 and R1)

Lightning Show is held at a separated special stage. In order to make sure all attendees have 100% synchronized screen, a PyCon TW staff shared his screen streaming the Youtube live signal. Many attendees gathered in front of the stage. This huge crowd made me feel very excited to be a part of the scene. We cheered to the speakers by blinking emoji on and off. Comments swamping the chat panel non-stoppingly. We even did final count-down together by the end of each session. I think this Lightning Show session created a strong involving sense of Python Community.


Live lightning talk and talk streaming


The lightning talk stage

PyNight

"PyNight" session is written by Shirley 

PyNight is the grand finale of PyCon TW’s first day. In this conventional event, the attendees could feel free to interact with others, accompanied by amazing musical performances and great food. This year, PyCon TW staff built this party-like venue on Gather town and brought a realistic virtually-held PyNight experience.

After leaving the outer space-themed main venue, a space shuttle landed me on a lawn, with clear instructions towards the party venue.


The first partition was the ballroom, with a luxurious huge stage and some eye-catching neon floor decorations. In the first session, the two PyCast hosts, Benson and 4Cat held a live podcast corner, inviting PyCon TW staff and conference attendees to share their thoughts after the first day of PyCon TW.


Later, the attendees moved to another partition for the PyCon TW quiz corner. The hosts gave questions about PyCon TW histories or Python knowledge, following by options A to D; and the attendees would move to the corresponding boxes to answer. The ones with wrong answers were eliminated until the final champion was left in the venue.


Besides the “official” events, the venue also provided numerous private spaces for people to enjoy private conversations without disturbing others. The virtual garden buffet and the concert hall brought in the reminiscent elements of previous PyNights.


At the end of PyNight, the attendees gathered at the concert hall, and initiated a stunning ad improvising musical show. Talented pianists, guitarists, cellists, ukuleleists appeared one after another. The advantage of virtual PyNight was that people could pick up their musical instruments in their place and join the show immediately if they wanted.


PyNight on Gather town was much more intriguing than I expected! It should be noticed that the live podcast show and PyCon TW quiz at the beginning not only made everyone feel involved, but also eliminated the awkwardness of interacting with people through the screen. To me, this is a satisfying experience.

Open Space

"Open Space" session is written by Winnie

Open Space is a self-organizing meetup event that happen simultaneously with the main conference. It provides a way for attendees to define, organize, plain out the meetup as they preferred. Briefly, attendees can enjoy the Open Space while making new friends, chat about any topic they’d like at the same time.

Unlike previous years, 10 private spaces are prepared in Gather.Town instead of actual chatting spaces. Everyone could go there and join a discussion anytime. Beyond my imagination, the attendees are fully engaged this year. There are 18 different sessions launched by the attendees/sponsors! Open Space 2021 topic includes python projects, financial tools, communities, education issues,…,etc. Some people also kept discussing or chatting even after the session ends.

One of the best things, I could enter the different sessions freely and easily without embarrassment through this online event. Moreover, there’s no limitation for topics so that I could chat anything not only related to “python”. Actually, I held an session about Covid-19 vaccination. Lots of people came to my session and shared their vaccinated experience. Especially, a doctor also attended this event and shared the application of python on medical field. I think it’s a really great chance to meet a variety of people here.

Booth Game

"Booth Game" session is written by Pinchun

When walking into the main venue, there are avatars promise giving price to attendee who pass all three challenges.The challenges are located separately in the venue with icons presented in the dialogue.

It turns out to be three different games, such as word bank, spot the difference challenges. Those challenges are implemented through teleport feature provided by gather. After passing all three challenges, attendee collect three passwords. Yet attendee still need to crack final challenges for entering the code.

Wondering around the venue, attendee will see a mysterious hallway linking somewhere. When trying to walk on this so-called neon bridge, the hint indicates a unique path is required to get through it. It is around sponsor booths where attendee could the same icons. Following the color pattern, neon bridge will guide attendee to a room with an embedded google form for lottery. Through this bonus game, attendee could explore our carefully designed venue and also interact with our sponsor booths.

Using Gather town as the main conference venue definitely gave us a great advantage on social networking and community interacting.

We also designed traffic tracker to know how many people visited somewhere. See "Venue Traffic" session below.

Auxiliary Infrastructure

"Auxiliary Infrastructure", including "Duo-lingo" and "Tutorial for Gather Town Beginner" sessions are written by Ray and Allen

Duo-lingo

When I first time came into this online venue, my avatar appeared on a little island. This island has some instructions for me to know how to use gather town. If attendees aren’t a newbie of gather town, attendees can just go straight to choose their user language(Chinese or English), and the portal will take attendees to a tunnel.

Tutorial for Gather Town Beginner

Although I am not a newbie to Gather Town, I still experienced the instruction provided by this cute island. Following the road signs, I met many avatars. They told me some of Gather Town’s tips in dialogue, just like playing RPG. I have to say that there are many tips that are quite practical.

Going into the tunnel, there have appeared different colors of the avatar to give me some information that I can finish in the main space. Continue straight ahead and attendees can get into the major venue with a portal that is amazing and sci-fi.

After staring with tutorial, I can choose space 1 or space 2 to join the online conference, communicate with speaker in mingle area. There are a little different between space 1 and space 2, such as open space, PyCast area are only in space 1 and lighten talk is in space 2. During the event, I can switch to another space through teleport at anytime.

When I first step into the conference space, I will see the sponsors booths, where I can interact with Gather object to browse company’s information and chat with staff from this company directly. And if I encounter any problems during the event, head to the space with the two pythons which were close to sponsor booth. That would be the help desk throughput the event. In this area, I also can check the timetable for the conference talks and search job opportunities on the job hiring board.

In the bottom right corner of the main space, I found a soothing forest where can interact with other attendees. And there have huge television attendees who can press X to open the message board, which can leave any comment about the conference. It’s cool for me to interact with other attendees in the virtual space. In addition, there have some avatar look like robots. When you approach them there will pop up a chat window to share some stories about PyCon TW.

When I go through the middle of the main venue I found a fancy area. There have some interactive objects that look like music albums when I press X there has the podcast player of PyCast I can listen to the PyCast for each episode which easier for attendees to know PyCast.

Venue Traffic

"Venue Traffic" session is written by Ray and Allen

In order to understand the traffic of people in the Gather.town venue, we have designed a object to record. We embedded the video interactive objects in Gather.town with links to the short URL and redirect them to this year’s conference short film. When other people pass by the interactive object, a preview will automatically pop up in the lower right corner of the screen. When previewing the short URL redirecting, the short URL service will record the number of times and use transparent pixels for the objects, which is similar to using transparent pixels in web pages. Record the number of times without the user’s knowledge.