Event Management

We’ve had the pre-registration for this year’s Eirtakon convention open for a couple of months now. The system currently in use is a system that was created I think two years ago by the then Pre-Reg Officer. It was alright, did it’s job – but now that he’s moved on and we have a new guy in the position, it’s turning into quite the nightmare.

In essence, it’s just a PHP form on the server coded to take the registrar’s mobile number; and then the name, e-mail, t-shirt size, and age of all attendees they are registering. It then sends the registrar to PayPal to pay for the tickets, afterwards they get a nice confirmation page and their PayPal receipt.

Behind the scenes, the form data appears to be added to a text file on the server. I’ve never liked this method, mainly because of security and backup issues. If the server is hacked, all the pre-reg data can be harvested. If the server goes down, there may not be a recent enough backup and we’d have to dig through PayPal receipts and chase after people to get their info again. Another thing is that until recently, the PayPal receipts only went to the Anime and Manga Society’s e-mail, and had to be manually forwarded to the Pre-Reg Officer. Another concern is that the file on the server stores ALL attempts at pre-registration, be they fully completed, partially completed, or failed. This adds a lot of bloat.

This whole system came to light as recently I got a message in to the Eirtakon Facebook page from someone concerned that their pre-registration didn’t go through as they didn’t get a proper confirmation e-mail from us, only the PayPal receipt. It seems our new Pre-Reg Officer wasn’t sending confirmation e-mails like the previous guy, mainly as they’re a manual thing.

Furthermore, the biggest part is that the old Officer seems to have completely washed his hands of the situation. Once his job was done last year, that was it, he just left it. We had asked him several times to write up the method of how it works into our collaborative committee documentation site so that it can more easily be handed over in the future, but he had none of it. Now we’re a couple of months into this year’s pre-reg and things seems to be turning into a mess rather quickly.

Last month, I suggested we move to an external event management system for several reasons, including the security and backup concerns, aiding to automate the process a lot more than it currently is, and adding a fresh coat of paint to pre-registering for the con – mainly as I’ve seen that our system seems pretty butt-ugly when compared to the systems of some of the other Irish cons, and even more so of the international cons. Several of the committee are all for it as well, however cost is the real barrier to moving as this year’s Director wants to reduce expenses as much as possible, given our slim margins last year.

Most of my research went into Eventbrite, primarily as they were the cheapest thing I could find. In the past I’ve used Amiando to register for events, but their pricing of 5.9% + 99c is far higher than the 2.5% + 75c on Eventbrite. PayPal fees are something that we’re not including in these comparisons – we’ve always had PayPal fees in the past, and that’s not something we can change as using PayPal is the only way to ensure that we get the money as people register – with all the event management services I’ve seen, using their in-house processing means that we don’t get paid until after the convention, which isn’t something we can afford to do, as pre-reg money is generally used for the expenses leading up to the convention, with the door takings used for post-convention expenses – particularly the large venue fee.

The overall cost to move to Eventbrite – basing on numbers similar to last year’s pre-reg – is looking to be around the €750 mark, excluding our PayPal fees. Those are about the same figure based on 3.4% + 35c, but how much exactly we’ve paid in the past hasn’t been noted. In fact, our Treasurer last year just marked one figure on the accounts as “PayPal” which was the exact amount he withdrew from the account to lodge, so there was no breakdown of how much we actually took in minus the fees. Our PayPal fees are unavoidable, as PayPal Ireland doesn’t seem to have any special account status for groups/societies, and to reduce the fee to 2.9% + 35c requires transactions totalling €2500 a month, which would take 85-100 pre-registrations in a month, something we’d probably only get in October.

This week and next, I’m going to be setting up this year’s convention on Eventbrite to give a working demonstration to the rest of the committee at our next meeting as to what it would look like and how it would work if we moved to using them for our pre-registration system. This is also dependant on figuring out the proper workings of our current system in the meantime. Definitely though, this will have to be sorted out before our upcoming collaborative event – Anime Dublin – on the 14th, as we will be taking cash pre-registrations on the day there.