Esri UC BackChannel: Mobile Agenda & More!

The Esri User Conference is a little less than a month away, and we’ve cooked up another BackChannel web site / mobile web app for everyone to enjoy. To be clear, this is just a site that we built for the fun of it – Esri is not involved (yet!) and thus this is a very “un-official” type of thing.

We streamlined things a little since last year, focusing on the features people found the most useful and fun. Here’s the rundown…

Conference Agenda

We updated the agenda significantly. This year the agenda is a self-contained javascript application that uses local storage to cache the session information.


This is important because there are well over 1200 sessions/events at the UC, and making a request for every search / filter operation would be brutally slow over 3G. By loading the data once a day (takes ~20 second on 3G) searching/filtering sessions is lightning fast because everything is already loaded into the browser. The app has two user interfaces – one for desktop & tablet browsers and another for smartphones.


In both apps you can select sessions you want to attend, and these settings will be stored between visits – all in local storage in your browser.

If you register and log into the site, the Agenda app will send the sessions you select back to our server and we’ll be able to sync your agenda selections between your desktop browser and your smartphone. We think that this is a really smooth user experience and encourage users to check this out.

For those geeks interested, we used some python goodies to scrape the agenda info directly from Esri’s web site – we run this script daily and it spits out an optimized json file, which is then dumped into the site and gzipped during download. The app will pull this file down once a day. I’ll post more about this some other time.

Session Evaluations

The agenda app also features the ability to submit your session evaluations digitally. When you are in a session, simply look it up on the agenda app, and the “evaluate this session” area will become active.


Note: you can only submit evaluations for a session *after* the session has started. To encourage the use of this digital feed-back mechanism, you’ll get 10 points for every session evaluation you submit… and yes we check to make sure you submite no more than 2 per time-slot). And, just so this is clear, we will be sending Esri all the evaluations that are submitted via this application and that information will be anonymous.

Photo Safari

This was by far the most used part of last year’s BackChannel, and it’s back. We’ve dramatically improved how photos get submitted. Instead of having to download the photo to your PC and manually upload it, we’ve integrated the app with both Facebook and Instagram, allowing either to be used as a source for photos.


This allows uses to take photos with their phones, upload them to Facebook or Instagram and then log into the BackChannel and select a photo from either source.


Simple as can be, and very easy to do on the go. In addition to a cadre of Esri employees and other sundry geo-nerds, we’ve also added some San Diego landmarks to the Photo Safari, so be sure to check those out.

Recruiting, Points, Shwag and all that Jazz

Last year the app was a lot of fun, and we had just over 200 participants. This year we’d love to get a lot more people involved – and at the same time up the ante (the prizes get better the more people that participate – once we’re over 500 people, we start into the Apple products!) So, we’ve added an easy way for people to start getting ahead now – even before the conference starts!

When you register, you’ll get a personal “recruiting url”. For anyone that registers using that url, you’ll get 20 points (10 when they register, and another 10 when they become “active” which means they have earned 30 points).


So – get over to and register using your Facebook or Twitter account, and then spam all your coworkers & geo-accomplices heading to the UC, and get them to register with your url Winking smile

You’ll also get 20 points for registering, and 10 points for every session evaluation you submit. Of course the points vary for each person / place on the Photo Safari, so you can earn a lot of points that way.

But, what if I’m not going to the UC?

Well, you can follow along in the fun by checking out all the photos (at this time there are only test photos) that have been submitted, or just checking in on the Social Stream page where we harvest various social media streams onto a single page. Post anything on twitter with the #Esri or #EsriUC hash tag and it will get pulled in there as well. As for winning points etc, you’ll be at a major disadvantage if you’re not actually in San Diego!

Why do we do this?

Good question! A few years ago I wrote a blog post about Rethinking Conferences. My main point was that many conferences had become dull. Between “technical” sessions that are thinly veiled marketing speeches by non-technical sales people, to the creeping death of bad presentations, many conferences had lost their spark. Since I don’t run conferences, there’s only so much I personally can do to change the content presented at these events (i.e. make an effort to give energetic, entertaining and educational talks – 1:30pm on Tuesday in Room 29B I’m talking about Deploying ArcGIS to the Cloud), I do have the power to create something that kicks some life back into an event. Thus the BackChannel. While the Esri UC had not “lost it’s spark” per-se, it is HUGE, and if you don’t know a lot of people attending, it’s a pretty overwhelming event. Having something like the BackChannel is kinda like having a built-in posse – people who you know you share something with – even if it’s just trying to get a photo with Jack!

With that, I invite you to jump in, register and start spreading the love. We’ve got a few weeks left before the conference and we have a few more ideas for things we’d like to add, and things we are going to tweak, so stay tuned. I hope to see you all out in San Diego – trying to get a photo with Jack!

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