BMLT, Virtual Meetings, and the Pandemic Part 2

BMLT, Virtual Meetings, and the Pandemic Part 2

In March we published a post BMLT, Virtual Meetings, and the Pandemic. We’ve now been living with the pandemic for months — at least we have a program! We have also gained lots more experience with how to use BMLT to accommodate virtual and hybrid meetings. This post gives updated recommendations for how to enter data for them, and describes how they will then appear in a Crouton list. Finally, we discuss how we arrived at these recommendations. (Folks who just want to know how to handle these meetings in BMLT can safely skip this last section.)

These are certainly not the only way to store and present virtual and hybrid meetings with BMLT, but they have proven to be workable. We welcome discussion and suggestions for alternatives and improvements.

How to list a location-centric pure virtual meeting

  1. On the Location tab in the Meeting Editor:
    1. Leave the location and address blank. (The meeting has never had a physical location, so they’re not needed.)
    2. Enter the City/Town and State/Province. (This is important because the meeting is location-centric — it makes it searchable by the BMLT software.)
    3. Enter the join link in the “Virtual Meeting Link” field if the meeting is using video-capable virtual meetings software such as Zoom and BlueJeans. For Zoom, for example, this link will be a URL that looks like this:
      https://zoom.us/j/4560448613?pwd=ZdNubFdEzQT09
    4. Enter the Meeting ID, password, or similar information, if present, in the “Virtual Meeting Additional Information” field. Use this format, for example, for a Zoom meeting:
      Zoom Meeting ID: 456 044 8613 Password: 1953
    5. Leave the “Phone Meeting Dial-in Number” blank for meetings for which you entered information for the previous two fields. Otherwise, for phone-based meeting software, enter the phone number to join, including the password if any. (More on this in the Rationale section.)
  2. On the Format tab, check “Virtual Meeting”. This screenshot shows the meeting being entered on the Location tab for a virtual Zoom meeting:

How to list a location-centric virtual meeting that is replacing an in-person meeting

  1. On the Location tab:
    1. Retain the location and address of the in-person meeting.
    2. Retain the City/Town and State/Province.
    3. Enter the “Virtual Meeting Link”, “Virtual Meeting Additional Information”, and “Phone Meeting Dial-in Number” fields as recommended for a pure virtual meeting.
  2. On the Format tab, check “VM (Virtual Meeting)” and “TC (Temporarily Closed Facility)”.
Alternatively, if the in-person meeting isn’t likely to resume anytime soon and the group doesn’t feel any particular attachment to their old meeting place, these meetings can be treated like a pure virtual meeting. In that case delete the location and address (but not the City/Town and State/Province).

How to list a hybrid meeting

  1. On the Location tab:
    1. Enter the location and address as for a regular in-person meeting.
    2. Enter the “Virtual Meeting Link”, “Virtual Meeting Additional Information”, and “Phone Meeting Dial-in Number” fields as recommended for a new virtual meeting.
  2. On the Format tab, check “HY (Hybrid Meeting)”.

How to handle a temporarily closed in-person meeting with no virtual replacement

  • If you expect that the meeting may reopen some day, unpublish it, so that it doesn’t appear in the normal meeting lists for now.
  • If the meeting is just gone, delete it.

How to handle a meeting place that reopens

  • If the group is dropping the virtual meeting:
    1. Delete the contents of the “Virtual Meeting Link”, “Virtual Meeting Additional Information”, and “Phone Meeting Dial-in Number” fields.
    2. Uncheck “VM” and “TC” in the formats.
  • If the group is converting the meeting to a hybrid meeting:
    1. Uncheck “VM” and “TC” in the formats, and check “HY”.
  • If the group is resuming the in-person meetings and continuing the virtual meeting as a separate meeting:
    1. Treat this as a group with two meetings (for example, a group that meets Mondays and Wednesdays — although in this case the two meetings are probably at the same time).
    2. Find the existing meeting and open the editor on it.
    3. In the Basic tab, pick “Save This Meeting As A Copy”.
    4. Make one copy the in-person meeting, and the other the virtual meeting.

Displaying virtual and hybrid meetings in Crouton

Pure virtual meetings, virtual meetings replacing in-person meetings, and hybrid meetings all display in a reasonable way using the default template in Crouton (although, of course, you can rearrange things if you want). The screenshot below shows a virtual meeting that replaces an in-person meeting:

The “Virtual Meeting Link” is displayed in the third column, as a clickable link. The “Virtual Meeting Additional Information” is displayed in the second column, under the (temporarily closed) facility name and address.

We also recommend including directions for joining meetings by landline, if this is possible, above the Crouton listing. As an example, this screenshot shows the directions as we’ve placed them for Seattle Area:

Rationale

In this last section, we discuss how we arrived at these recommendations and alternatives that we considered. (This section is definitely tl;dr for anyone but dedicated BMLT geeks.)

Fields for storing virtual meeting information

“Virtual Meeting Link” and “Phone Meeting Dial-in Number” were presented in the March blog post. “Virtual Meeting Additional Information” was then added subsequently — multiple root server admins found that there was a demand for this information, and had been storing it in miscellaneous other fields (“train lines”, etc). It seemed better to store it in a consistent fashion, in an appropriately named field. These fields have been added to the NAWS Export, as have the VM (Virtual Meeting), TC (Temporarily Closed), and HY (Hybrid) formats. This ensures that NAWS can have the most up-to-date information about these new location-centric virtual and hybrid meetings. (Don’t forget to send your exports to NAWS!)

Here is our rationale for these three fields and their uses. We’ll discuss it in terms of Zoom, since that seems to be the most widely used platform for virtual NA meetings; but similar considerations apply to other platforms as well. Having the virtual meeting link makes it easy for addicts to just click the link and have it start Zoom with the correct Meeting ID and password already filled in. However, we’ve seen that others want to start Zoom separately and manually enter the Meeting ID and password. Addicts calling in via a landline will need the Meeting ID as well (see below).

For phone-based platforms, the Phone Meeting Dial-in Number is of course a key piece of information. For Zoom, it would be possible to paste the “one tap mobile” number that Zoom provides in the Phone Meeting Dial-in Number, and some regions do this. In this post, however, we suggest leaving that field blank, on grounds that non-techie types would have no idea what a “one tap mobile” number is, and would look at the long string of digits (for example +12532158782,,173351323#) as just weird techno-babble … sure doesn’t look like a phone number. If it is possible for addicts to connect to the meeting just using a landline, without a smartphone, we want them to know this.

An argument on the other side, for including the one tap mobile number, is that it can in fact be useful for techie types to use when they are in locations without sufficient bandwidth. (Normally, however, they would connect using the virtual meeting link.) However, we would give priority to the non-techie types who would find the one tap mobile number confusing. (After all, techie types can just enter all the digits if necessary.)

Making meetings accessible to as many addicts as possible

We want to make meetings accessible to as many addicts as possible, and that means, among other things, supporting addicts calling into meetings from a landline. Hence the recommendation to include information on how to call in to meetings from a landline, if possible.

For Zoom, this implies providing the local access number, and an alternate in case the first number is busy. These folks will also need the Meeting ID, which they can find in the “Virtual Meeting Additional Information” field. This could be listed in the “Phone Meeting Dial-in Number” field (just by itself, not the one tap mobile number), but since it’s the same for every Zoom meeting in the area, we suggest listing it separately, before the meeting table. We also wanted to provide an alternate number, and Crouton expects “Phone Meeting Dial-in Number” to hold a single phone number.

When to use the “Temporarily Closed” format

The recommendations above call for using the “Temporarily Closed” format for virtual meetings that are replacing an in-person meeting. It seems fine to do this even if the in-person meeting remains closed for months due to the pandemic, if the group feels an attachment to its old meeting place and wants to keep that link to its history visible.

Displaying meeting information in Crouton

For displaying this information in Crouton, generally everything in the 3rd column is a clickable link, and so the “Virtual Meeting Link” and “Phone Meeting Dial-in Number” fit there. However, “Virtual Meeting Additional Information” is not clickable, so we put it in the 2nd column in the default template. As a consequence, though, it’s a little distant from the “Virtual Meeting Link”, so for Zoom we suggest using a format that includes the word “Zoom” so that people know what it’s about.

The other BMLT satellites have not necessarily kept up with the changes to the root server made to accommodate virtual and hybrid meetings, so we recommend using Crouton for WordPress sites showing meetings that include virtual or hybrid ones, or croutonjs for any website.

Virtual meeting information via yap

Yap (the helpline support system) now includes support for virtual meetings, and the “Virtual Meeting Additional Information” field may be added soon as an option (issue #465). This is another reason to format the information as suggested above. Reading a URL over the phone, particularly if it encodes a password, is not very useful, but having yap read something like “Zoom Meeting ID: 456 044 8613 Password: 1953” does seem quite usable. Since this may be read by itself, without reading the URL, including the word “Zoom” at the beginning is important, since otherwise people may not know what it’s about.