We interact with a lot of different software every day. Some of it is pretty clunky (hi collection management software!), some of it quite specialised and for staff eyes only. But more and more of our software choices impact our users too.
There’s a lot of software out there to make our lives a bit easier -certainly easier than wrestling control from local IT departments or wrangling with software installation. As a result, we’re more reliant on third party software now than ever before.
As people who build software as well as being users of Content Management Systems, helpdesk software, Customer Relationship Managers, event management software and other Software as a service (SaaS) products, this is something we spend time thinking about.
We’re wary of Not Invented Here (NIH) Syndrome and appreciate a good user experience. And a well chosen tool can help us get things done quickly and easily. But we also weigh this up against other concerns. Things like security and privacy of the data we share, long term sustainability of the information we publish on other sites.
We have a short checklist, a bit of a sanity check to measure these tools against. And every time we see a software provider blithely announce changes to their products, we cautiously review the choices we’ve made and start looking at alternatives available. And we ask ourselves, ‘What happens if this all goes away?'. This is about Eventbrite but it's also not about Eventbrite.
EventBrite is an event management app that may organisations rely on. And it’s easy to see why. It’s an easy way to get an event website up and running and provide a way for people to reserve a space for a free event.
It becomes a bit of a tougher sell if you want to charge for events, with some pretty steep pricing tiers.
EventBrite, like many of our favourite online tools, has had moments of … fallibility. And, sure, they rolled back that ill-advised 10 000 Word User Agreement but relying on a platform like this is still a point of concern.
As a newly public company, they’ve made some recent changes to their subscription tiers and there are likely to be more product changes in the pipeline. There’s also the fact that you can’t embed your event on your website if you’re on the free tier of Eventbrite. So our events aren’t residing on our own domains, even superficially. And this matters.
A lot of events in libraries and museums and other cultural spaces rely on Eventbrite for their ticketing and event management needs. Which means that there’s a whole bunch of interesting and informative information about cultural events all wrapped up in this software.
Any time a software platform erroneously changes their terms of service, it makes us consider how dependent we are on them. Not just for providing our core services, but also how we manage and present our own pasts.
This is something that was discussed back when Storify announced it was closing down. Remember Storify? It was a tool that let you ‘curate social networks to build social stories, bringing together media scattered across the Web into a coherent narrative’. But then they announced they were closing down and all of those ‘coherent narratives’ disappeared with them.
This started some conversations about data and longevity and portability. But, once the dust settled, we largely returned to relying on commercial services for managing and storing our events, our discussions and other aspects of our organisational culture. And now, instead of using Storify, we use Wakelet. FusionTables is another recent example (or any Google-owned products to be honest. They have a bit of a reputation when it comes to shutting things down - you can browse the Google Cemetery here https://gcemetery.co).
This is a situation we’re trying to avoid or at least be cognizant of. There are a few dealbreakers for us when it comes to using cloud solutions or otherwise off-the-shelf software. We try to make thoughtful decisions about our software. And so (of course) we have a checklist.
Sure, I said earlier that we are sufficiently wary of NIH Syndrome, but is there a case for rolling our own software solutions? This is something we grapple with a lot but that’s easy enough for us to say. As a digital team we can install things on our servers or roll up a new VPS if we need to, but what about when you don’t have the in-house knowledge to support this?
To host a software application yourself, you’ve either got to install it on your server (possibly with the involvement or OK of your IT department) or find somewhere to host it outside of this. It’s not easy to do but there are definitely benefits to hosting your own software.
Hosting yourself is definitely worth considering if you want to protect your data and you have the skillset and/or an amenable IT/web team available to you.
The amount of impressive open source options is increasing, check out this comprehensive list to see what’s out there.
There’s a case for cultural sector organisations like libraries, museums and archives to support new skills, particularly technical skills that are needed today. This was was recently articulated on the Lissertions blog way better than I’ve ever been able to.
But if we make sure we’re being thoughtful and putting user needs first, it’s easier to decide if something off the shelf will do the job or if there’s a need for something of our very own.
So, if you’re running free events and you need a quick and easy ticketing platform, what other options are there?
There are some free and open source options but these tend to require hosting (self-hosted) which is something you may not want to take on.
There are also a few newer platforms that are promoting their privacy awareness credentials.
Gathio is a privacy-first event platform that you can use to create websites for your events and share them. You can add the location any other important information. And users can indicate their attendance and you can set a maximum number of attendees but there’s no registration functionality.
But this is a temporary site, a week after your event occurs, the web page and any of the data you’ve uploaded will be deleted .
This makes Gathio a great option for quickly and easily sharing event details but not as a way of archiving your events or for selling tickets.
Pretix is commercial, hosted ticketing software that you can use for free for events that are free to attend. They also has a free and open source version that you can host yourself.
With Pretix, you can set up a ‘ticket shop’ where people can find out about your events and book tickets to attend.
If you’re not charging for your events, then you can use the free tier (valid for up to 10,000 registrations per year).
You can embed your ticket shop into your own website or Facebook, even on the free tier. It also has a waiting list functionality if your event gets sold out.
And the best thing about Pretix is that they seem very privacy aware and have very clear documentation about how they manage your data. You can read about the security of their platform as well as their ‘privacy efforts’.
Alfio is another open source ticket platform. Though you need some know-how in terms of deploying this software and hosting it yourself, there’s very good documentation and this platform has a lot of advanced features including. a mobile app for checking in attendees and support for onsite payments and a variety of payment platforms (Stripe, Revolute, Paypal and more). You can also set up a touchscreen ‘check-in station’ with their software on a Raspberry Pi.
You can see a demo of Alfio at https://demo.alf.io/.
OpenConf is an open source events platform that includes submissions, peer and abstract review and other features that are required for conferences. The self-hosted version is free but there’s also a hosted service that costs $600 per year.
There are lots of ticketing and event management platforms that offer similar features to Eventbrite with varying pricing models. Flat pricing options like TicketTailor (which we’ve used for past events) make sense if you’re selling tickets to your events and don’t want to pay a high per-ticket charge. Some of these will have limited features on the free tier.
TicketEase is a newer, UK based ticketing solution that also charges a flat rate per ticket sold and is free for free events. You can add branding or make theme changes to your ticketing page but they don’t currently offer a widget to allow you to sell your tickets directly via your own website. The documentation about their platform on their website is also pretty limited.
Lil Regie, on the other hand, has a great website and documentation. It’s a platform developed by the organisers of the Webstock conference in NZ. It’s a good option if you want to customise the registration form to get additional information like dietary requirements and you can also allow for anonymous ticket sales where you can keep track of how many tickets have been reserved but you don’t collect any personal information from attendees.
It offers a check-in web app and is free for free events. They don’t seem to offer a widget for your own website but you do get a subdomain for your event, e.g. my-event.lilregie.com
This is just a small subset of the event ticketing platforms out there but it hopefully illustrates some of the different approaches and options available. We also wanted to share our approach for evaluating software and some of the things to be aware of when you’re choosing new software for your users.
When we choose software for our users, we need to carefully consider what this means for them and their data as well as our own.
Here’s a link to an interactive, ever-changing version of our software checklist.
If you find our checklist helpful, feel free to fork it and make it your own. Or if you’ve got a recommendation for an Event Management software option that we’ve missed, let us know.