VMworld CFP Voting - Needs to be More Transparent

It is around that time of the year again, when VMware puts out the announcement that the Call for Papers for VMworld 2013 and will be open, and then people will start to submit their sessions to get their hour of glory at the biggest virtualization show of the year.

VMworld will be in San Francisco between August 26-29, 2013 in the Moscone Center.

Last year there were 1222 separate sessions up for voting - yes I counted them. VMware started with public voting for VMworld sessions 3 years ago with VMworld 2010

Before that there was only a committee that decided which speakers would have the honor of presenting a session at VMworld.

This post actually is the continuation of a dinner conversation I had with Mike Laverick, Edward Haletky, Gabrie van Zanten, Harold Simon and Larry Orloff and Michael Webster on the last day of VMworld 2012 in San Francisco.

Here are my thoughts.

Yes, no, voting

VMware has the right to decide what content it would like to have in its flagship conference, it only happens once a year and of course the show is not only there for the benefit of the attendees. There are sponsorships, partners that need to be taken care of - and I am sure there are a huge number of things I am not mentioning that have to be taken into account as well when deciding on content.

In the end there is a finite amount of sessions that can be offered. There are all sorts of considerations that will come into account, whether a session will take place (at least this is the way I would do it):

  1. Partner commitment - I assume that VMware guarantee a number of sessions to its main partners, that would be a courtesy.
  2. Sponsorship commitment - again I would assume that would part of the agreement with the bigger sponsors.
  3. New technologies - VMware will definitely want sessions out there for the new announcements and features that will be coming out during that period.
  4. Hot speakers - there are several speakers who are very good, they present almost every year, and their sessions are packed.
  5. VMware employees - Yes there is a decent chance that they are the SME's on their topic (I mean they are the ones who design the product)
  6. Hot topics - a topic that is likely to get high attendance because that is what people are looking to learn more about.

So what does that leave available?

  • Customer stories.
  • Interesting sessions
  • Stuff that has to be there

The number of sessions that are actually submitted is growing every single year. The reason behind is enough for a whole different blog post. If my memory does not betray me - there were ~3000 sessions submitted for VMworld 2012.

Back to the voting process. VMware announces that the voting is open, and the Wrath of Khan is unleashed.. Everything is fair game, Twitter, Facebook, blog posts - the works. Vote for session …
I voted for ………… ‘s session badabing, badaboom…

And then what - the voting is closed - votes are counted and then a few weeks later - the Session Catalog is announced.

But isn't something missing?

Why does VMware even allow voting? One would assume - to see which sessions get the most number of votes - and allow those sessions to “get all the glory”.

A voting system or electoral system is a method by which voters make a choice between options, often in an election or on a policy referendum.

_A voting system enforces rules to ensure valid voting, and how votes are counted and aggregated to yield a final result.

Source Wikipedia

  • You are given a choice
  • You vote
  • The results are published - so you know who won.

And here we come down to what we spoke over dinner that evening. Voting is open for 1, 2 or maybe even three weeks. There is a lot of lobbying, people vote. And then the catalog is published.

But who received the most votes? Were the sessions that got into the catalog the ones that received the most votes? Did they get in for other reasons? If so what were they?

The mundane answer that most of those who submitted a paper receive, is not enough…
(and yes, this is the exact text from 2010, 2011, and 2012)

Dear Maish,

Thank you for your interest in speaking at VMworld 2010. Unfortunately, we are not able to accept your session proposal:
Session ID: MA6662
Session ID: MA6840
Session ID: V18364

We received a record number of submissions this year and were only able to accept ~20% of them to be presented at VMworld. Following is a list of the most common reasons why sessions were declined:

  • The submission was too basic, not enough information was provided in the abstract.
  • The session was too single vendor product focused and likely to have a commercial nature.
  • The submission topic did not fit within the selected track.
  • There were too many submissions with similar topics.

Dear Maish,

Thank you for your interest in speaking at VMworld 2011. We received a record number of submissions this year and were only able to accept ~15%.  Unfortunately, we are not able to accept your session proposal, but we greatly appreciate and value the time and effort you took to submit a session proposal, and we hope that you will participate in the VMworld 2012 Call for Papers.

Session ID: 1843

Here is a list of the most common reasons why sessions were declined:

  • The submission was too basic, not enough information was provided in the abstract.
  • The session was too single vendor product focused and likely to have a commercial nature.
  • The submission topic did not fit within the selected track.
  • There were too many submissions with similar topics.

Dear Maish,

Thank you for your interest in speaking at VMworld 2012. We received a record number of submissions this year and were only able to accept ~12%.  Unfortunately, we are not able to accept your session proposal, but we greatly appreciate and value the time and effort you took to submit and we hope you will participate in the VMworld 2013 Call for Papers._

Session ID: 1996

Here is a list of the most common reasons why sessions were declined:

  • There were too many submissions with similar topics.
  • The submission was too basic, not enough information was provided in the abstract.
  • The session was too single vendor product focused and likely to have a commercial nature.

A pattern? Anyone?

VMware have the right to accept or reject any of the submitted sessions according to VMware's best interests, it is their conference. I am completely fine with that.

But I feel (and I am 100% sure that I am not the only one) that the voting process is not really transparent enough at all. No one actually knows what sessions were accepted based on the voting, what sessions were accepted in spite of the voting and which sessions were accepted - even without the voting.

My public request to VMware for this year's Call for Papers…..

Voting has a beginning a middle and an end. At the moment - that last part - is not being transmitted back to those who participated in the process.

It should - it must - otherwise the voting process is nothing much more than lip service.

If you agree (or disagree) please leave your comment or thoughts below.