End Anonymous Conference Feedback

There’s a lot of talk lately about the terrible, horrible, sexist, racist, misogynist, and generally unconstructive feedback that presenters get at conferences:

This is on top of feedback where an attendee gives a presenter one star because the food wasn’t what they wanted, or they sat next to someone smelly, the room was cold, an “intro” talk wasn’t technical enough, or an “advanced” talk was too technical. Those things are out of the control of the presenter, and by giving the presenter a bad rating the attendee is jeopardizing that presenter ever being able to speak at the conference again. Not that I’m bitter, though it was pretty eye-opening to how juvenile and toxic the Linux community is when you say something they might not want to hear.

This absolutely needs to get fixed if conferences want decent, thought-provoking speakers of all genders, races, and beliefs. I propose a three-pronged approach:

Feedback that is inappropriate should not be counted into the ratings for a speaker. Giving someone two stars and saying in the comments that it’s a shame she’s married, yeah… no. While a conference organizing committee isn’t going to have cycles to read everything, allowing speakers to reject feedback back to them may be a way to deal with this.

Low- & high-rated feedback should require an explanation. What, exactly, did you not like about the presentation that you gave it one star? Or, the converse, what did you really like that you gave it 5 of 5? No more blind extraordinary ratings.

Feedback should not be anonymous, ever. Anonymous feedback encourages people to do and say things that they’d never say face-to-face. While I understand that names are a tricky thing sometimes for certain populations of people, being able to correlate a racist comment to a conference registrant is a key part of making conferences better.

Will this fix anything? Can we do it? Maybe. I’d like to see us start talking about it, though, because as it stands this cannot continue.