21st Century Worldcons

I promised in my last post on Worldcon that I would have a bit more to say about how the convention can be made more appealing using modern communication technology. This is that post. However, before I get started on the tech stuff I’d like to put the discussion into its historical context.

In the very early days of Worldcon it was an event that covered most of fandom, because fandom was very small. Indeed, I understand that it wasn’t until 1960 that it was deemed necessary to limit voting in the Hugo Awards to WSFS members. I’m not sure why supporting memberships and progress reports were invented, but it seems entirely reasonable that a supporting membership should have been for the benefit of people who wanted to be part of WSFS and Worldcon, but who could not afford to attend the convention every year. Remember that travel was much more expensive in those days. Equally we can see progress reports as an obvious application of 20th Century fan communication technology to the problem of transmitting information and maintaining community. Conventions needed their own fanzines, so they were invented. As fandom grew, techniques were put in place to help hold it together.

Unfortunately, as time has passed, various parts of fandom have ossified. The folks who call themselves “Core Fandom” believe that true fandom is composed of people who still read and write paper fanzines; and the people who attend Worldcon most years believe that they are the real science fiction fandom, and that everyone else is “not part of our community”. In parallel science fiction has gradually taken over mainstream culture to such an extent that the number of people who call themselves fans is truly vast, and fandom is a genuinely global phenomenon. To some extent this doesn’t matter. If Corflu only attracts 200 people that’s not a problem, and the attendees are probably happier that way. But something that calls itself the World Science Fiction Convention, and is the home of the Hugo Awards, cannot be allowed to become the preserve of a small group of old, rich white (and predominantly male American) fans. Worldcon and the Hugos are too important to vanish into a geriatric ghetto. Fortunately Worldcon can revitalize itself by engaging with the wider fannish world.

Back in the 20th Century, if you could not attend Worldcon then you could at least buy a supporting membership and get the progress reports and souvenir book. You could also vote in the Hugos. That way you still felt part of the process. But obviously you could not be there. 21st Century communications technology is beginning to blow away the tyranny of distance and make events accessible in ways never before imagined, except in science fiction. Some of the technology is still quite new, but we are science fiction fandom: we are overflowing with tech nerds and early adopters. If we can’t make this work, no one can.

The starting point has to be the actual experience of the convention. Back in the 20th Century, people wrote con reports for their fanzines. I have done a few myself. Nowadays we are all citizen journalists, and we can all report live from the convention. People have been blogging conventions for several years, but I expect Montreal to be the first Worldcon that is widely tweeted. Twitter brings an immediacy and ease to reporting that blogging doesn’t have. It is dead easy to be sat in a panel with your phone and tweet. People who can’t attend the con will pick people to follow (Neil Gaiman, John Scalzi and Cory Doctorow are all prolific twitterers), or they may use one of the many services and search engines available to follow anyone using the #worldcon tag. The atmosphere of the convention (and its 24/7 lifestyle) will be available online for all to see.

If I were in charge at Montreal what I’d be doing is getting hold of Apple, Google or a local mobile phone company and asking for a loan of a few iPhones or G1 phones for the duration of the convention so that key people can tweet the con. Neil Gaiman already has a phone from Google so they’d be a good target. Hopefully other guests would agree to tweet too, and actually the con chairs would be good tweeters. Once the con gets going, aside from chairing the morning staff meeting and some official functions, the con chairs should have very little to do except wander round and see how things are going. (Well, that’s what Kevin tells me anyway, and he’s been there.)

There are other forms of instant reporting available as well. The live reporting of the Hugos that I did last year was great fun and I’d love to do that on a regular basis, preferably without having to worry about whether I’ll have connectivity on the day, or about being thrown out by an angry Hugo Administrator. The technology has improved quite a bit since last year, including the ability to import Twitter feeds. As it appears that I get to go to the pre-ceremony reception, I should be able to report live from there as well as from the ceremony. The same technology can be used to report on other events. Indeed, if it were down to me I’d have used it to announce the nominees. It would have turned a fairly low profile press release into a major online media event.

Con reports will still happen, of course, but the simple blog or fanzine article no longer cuts the mustard. Armed with a cheap personal video recorder such as a Flip, and with YouTube as our friend, we are all TV crews looking for a story. Last year my Worldcon video diary comprised an interview with John Picacio about his art show exhibit, and a number of behind-the-scenes interviews with costumers. It made my day when someone from Australia wrote and thanked me, saying that it was almost like being there.

Ideally I would like to see Worldcon committees take an active part in all this. Traditionally the convention newsletter is only for the people attending the convention, but recently Worldcons have started posting them online as they are published. There is no reason why they can’t do more. There are plenty of fans who enjoy reporting on conventions – why not recruit a few of them and at least publish links to their work on the main Worldcon web site? (As I recall, Noreascon 4 did some of this back in 2004.)

But that should only be the start. And at-con involvement should only be the end point. Current Worldcon web sites are very 20th Century and Web 1.0. If they have any interactivity that tends to be done in a separate LiveJournal community (and you know I think LiveJournal may become another of those fannish ghettos that will eventually become outmoded but the people who love it will stay and claim to be the “real” science fiction fandom). There is no need to be so hidebound. For the 2009 World Fantasy convention I built the web site in WordPress. Members can actually ask questions and leave comments. I gather that some old time fans were utterly horrified by this, but so far it is working fine.

Equally there are some conventions that run entirely online. The Australians have been doing this for some time, because their country is huge and far from anywhere. Last weekend there was an event called FlyCon. It was an entirely online convention, run using a hodge-podge of available technology including LiveJournal and IRC chats. I spent a little time in it, and it appeared to be drawing a fair amount of interest. There were panels, there were author chats, and there was even a “dealers’ room” on LiveJournal where people could go and post ads for their products. The convention ran 24/7 with people checking in from all around the world. I went and kicked some Brazilians and encouraged them to check in. I hope they had a good time.

Furthermore, Flycon was not the only virtual convention that happened last weekend. There were two of them. The other one was a comic convention that took place in Facebook – again a case of using available technology. That also apparently went very well. Both cons had “masquerades” that involved people posting pictures of themselves in costume.

One of the issues with such events appears to be the choice of technology. Flycon in particular used a wide range of different web sites and technologies, and I understand that there was a fair amount of frustration with people not being able to find things easily, or with the technology not working for them. I’ve attended a professionally run virtual conference, and those have issues too, but with a bit of effort I think such things can get a lot better. If I were running a virtual con the first thing I would do is make sure that it had its own web site, and that everything was accessible through that. I’d use IRC chat software for the con suite (I can’t understand why Flycon didn’t have one), but CoverItLive (the technology I used for the Hugo coverage) for panels. I’d want to run proper art shows and dealers’ rooms with the ability to buy things. There is a lot you could do with existing technology if you know what you are doing.

And then there is Second Life. Many authors have already done readings there. For all I know there may have been conventions there. The only reason that I haven’t got involved in it (other than that I can’t afford yet another time sink) is because none of my laptops have the necessary high-powered graphics cards required by the Second Life software.

Why should a Worldcon be interested in online conventions? It is all to do with the need to engage with people who can’t attend the convention. Remember, supporting memberships are for people who want to be part of the Worldcon experience but can’t afford to go to the actual convention. The 20th Century solution was the fanzine-like progress report. The 21st Century solution is the online mini-convention. Instead of (or as well as) pumping out static progress reports, or writing blog posts and waiting for comments, why not have key staff online once every few months to answer questions? Why not have the Guests of Honor do chat spots? The Aussiecon 4 folks are moving toward this with their regular blog news reports, but there is so much more that could be done.

And key to all of this is making the supporting membership worth something. For historical reasons the supporting membership fee has become tied in with the site selection process. Consequently Worldcons no longer see it as a means of expanding the community. Indeed, the need to send out souvenir books to supporting members after the convention is often seen as a chore that Worldcons have to be nagged into completing. Instead they see supporting memberships as a means of getting free money out of people who vote for a site but then can’t afford to attend because their chosen bid doesn’t win. It is a scam, and it gives Worldcon a very bad name, especially as it is the only way that people who can’t afford to attend the convention can get to vote in the Hugos.

I still think that the price of supporting memberships needs to come down so that they more accurately reflect the cost of what those members receive. However, if we can provide some online events prior to or during the convention that are available only to members then the supporting membership might start to look more worth the money. If nothing else I think Worldcons should do simple things like contests to win GoH-signed books that are only open to members. (Yes, I know this is a particular problem in Montreal, but most places don’t have Quebec’s weird laws.) The key is to see supporting members as people who are actually worth providing services for, rather than merely an irritation or a source of free money.

Of course all of this requires work. But guess what? Most of it doesn’t need to be done at the convention, or even by someone who is planning to attend the convention. Just like the audience, your online production staff can be anywhere in the world. That means you have a much bigger pool of potential staff to recruit from. The world is becoming an ever smaller place, and the tools to make Worldcon truly world-wide are out there. All we have to do is use them.

70 thoughts on “21st Century Worldcons

  1. I like Cheryl’s suggestions. My one point, I’d like to say… is there any conceivable way someone who lives in Montreal can figure out how cell phone access is up there, for those of us who don’t live in Canada?

    I ask because I would dearly love to Tweet the con, but I expect that my Verizon Blackberry will be pretty much useless up there–I have no intention of paying hundreds of dollars in cell phone usage fees.

  2. Of course, Corflu, despite its “fuddy-duddy fanzine fans” image has had an online Virtual Consuite in both 2008 and 2009, and plans are already underway for 2010. This is probably a more closer parallel to what [you] are suggesting (i.e. a virtual complement to a meatspace convention) than the two virtual-only events you mentioned running the same weekend. Other than that, I pretty much agree with everything you say. For what it’s worth, I know that Lloyd Penney has been trying to pull together some kind of Virtual Consuite to sit with the Fanzine Lounge in Montreal, but really needs some tech assistance with this.

  3. Some very good ideas there.

    Twittering for Gally was popular for both folks present and those who couldn’t attend and I know I’m not the only one hoping that the trend for tagging your convention tweets continues. It would be especially helpful when at something like Worldcon where there is so much going on.

  4. Jenny:

    I know that the Montreal folks have been looking into it. The problem is that it is different for different carriers, and depending on whether you are coming from the US or elsewhere. Getting an authoritative answer may be hard.

  5. Oh! I have brainstorms. There are all SORTS of things I could see happening.

    A live Hugo webcast is among the “splashier” things that could be done. That along with the other events that are already filmed for the stage screens, could be done easily.

    Live or near-live audiocasting (at least) of panels and presentations. “group” flicker photo tags, a set of “group” twitter tags, all sorts of things.

    I know Furry Fandom has a clubhouse in 2nd life. Putting up official or semi-official meeting rooms should be little problem. I haven’t been there for it, but I know Science Friday on the US’s National Public Radio does a 2nd Life simulcast.


    Melbourne, since as you say Australia’s already familiar with stuff like this, might be a very good test case for it. I hope they’re reading this and get some ideas.

    Must myself think further.

  6. Hello, Cheryl, Peter Sullivan did get in touch with me, and told me to get in touch. Many thanks for your assistance.

    Maybe we can talk about this via private e-mail. So much of this will depend on what deals can be reached with the Palais de Congres. Let’s flesh out what can be done, and perhaps we can present a business plan to Rene Walling and John Mansfield.


  7. It has already been mentioned above, but I do see some value in upcoming Worldcons looking into the idea of providing streaming video (a.k.a. “webcasts”) of large events like the Hugos and the masquerade. I’m not all that well versed in the technology involved, but if they are already doing “image magnification” (a.k.a. “i-mag”) — live television broadcasting inside the venue — for these events, then streaming this feed and the associated audio shouldn’t be too much of an additional burden. This would be an idea case for having it available only to members — both supporting and attending.

    There are a couple of key technological issues that will need to be overcome that I’m aware of, and probably a few others. The biggest one is the amount of network bandwidth that a popular video stream could require.

    At least for a few years, it might pay to make recordings of these events available to anyone after the convention closes, to encourage people to go back and watch it live the next year.

  8. Ron:

    We looked into it for Interaction in 2005. We actually were very close to being able to webcast the Hugo Awards at least. But the costs of the bandwidth and associated technology were several thousand pounds, and we were unable to scare up sufficient sponsorship to pay for it.

    There are also potential legal issues with doing such webcasts for events like the Masquerade, having to do with music rights. Even if you have the kind of license that allows you to play the music at the event, it may not include the rights to reproduce or rebroadcast the performance. (And those rights are usually a great deal more expensive than the simple performance rights.)

    Such expenses are likely to not be a Worldcon’s highest priority, especially if they see it as spending money for no return at all, save possibly their succesor, and why should they care about their successor? Their successors aren’t the ones paying the current year’s bills.

    Meanwhile, the paying members may resent seeing their membership dues spent to let other people participate for free. I can imagine the protests, along the lines of, “If you have enough money to pay for that, then you can afford to cut your membership price and put the money back in my pocket instead.”

    One could, of course, make access to such web cast “members only,” with that hypothetical less-expensive voting membership counting, but that would defeat the purpose of publicizing Worldcon to non-members, wouldn’t it?

    What we need here is both a Worldcon willing to do the work necessary to make it happen along with someone else willing to put up the money — probably between $1,000 and $10,000 — to pay for it.

  9. US$30 Web Membership.

    Gets you access to the live chatrooms and forums, plus time-delayed and/or on demand video broadcast of Opening, Closing, Hugos and GOH “Discussions”. Live or time-delayed audio of GOH panels. Maybe the Chesleys and other similar things that happen at a Worldcon that don’t get the attention they could.

    Doesn’t let you vote for Hugos or Site Selection – you’ve got to be at least a Sustaining member for that.

    Web Membership included with all other levels of membership, so those AT con can interact with those not there via chat and forums.

    Added benefit is that physical attendees could also do the Tivo Timeshift on some things that they would like to attend but there’s just “too darn much going on” (= I gotta sleep some time).

    The con could also invite “extra” people to participate via the web connection. “chat with the space station” or “Chat with the big name that couldn’t travel this year”. Stuff like that – the Con Suite or some other space (Fanzine Lounge?) could be set up with a connection and screen to show such things “live” onsite for others. They could be moderated “live” at the con, allowing the audience to pose questions etc. along with those only attending virtually.

    Ghad. The possibilities.

  10. Bob: I like it. I’d go ahead and include Hugo rights with such a membership, too, although of course such rights wouldn’t have much meaning for people buying on short notice just before the convention in order to “watch the show.” A key thing here is that the actual cost of administering the Hugo Award voting is quite small — maybe $2/person or thereabout — so there’s no reason not to include it with the other classifications that I can think of other than simply wanting to keep the riff-raff out. It’s still a profit center for the convention.

    (To repeat something I’ve said many times before: I don’t think voting memberships should be free; I think they should be at a level that discourages blatant ballot-box stuffing without driving away genuinely interested people.)

  11. I came to this from Kevin Standlee’s LJ. I used to be involved in Worldcons a bit but I’ve been FAFIAted for about ten years or so. I can’t speak as someone intimately involved in the debate but I’ll toss in my two cents anyway if that’s alright.

    I like the ideas above. I’m not sure any one of them is exactly right. Only trial and error will let us figure out how to do it. But I think the system of Worldcon being run by local committees is well suited to this. Sort of a “We didn’t know it was impossible before we did it,” phenomenon.

    I wouldn’t try to recreate the entire convention experience. You can’t make it “just like being there” with current technology. At least the tech that would be within a Worldcon’s budget anyway. Pick and choose parts. Start small. Live streams of GoH speeches, the Hugos, maybe a virtual chat room or two. Dealers would be a natural. Offer them virtual space on the convention website as part of their dealer’s table fee. I wouldn’t offer it as a separate thing, though. You want to encourage a critical mass of dealers to physically be there. Build on these things using suggestions from members or ‘virtual’ members who say “Why can’t we do X?” They can be immediately deputized as volunteers. Most will fail, some will succeed.

    I can forsee a day where the Permanent Virtual Worldcon Staff becomes as much a fixture as the Permanent Floating Worldcon Staff.

    In short, don’t try to re-create the con. Instead try to create something people can participate in to be a part of the con. The test I would apply is “Ok, when I do this am I a _member_ or am I a ticket holder?” Members participate, ticket holders just watch.

    I will follow this with interest and I hope for your success. Maybe the virtual me can finally make it to a Worldcon again. Thanks for your patience.

  12. A lot of things to chew over here, Cheryl- thanks.

    Online communification is the way to go. We can start already by creating Flickr interest groups and posting tons of legacy Worldcon photo archives and making that an international open project and get interested photographers, archivists and historians involved. My role model for this is the Brooklyn Museum, who are rocking Flickr and a great archive of important photos worth checking out.

    Brooklyn Museum is also rocking Twitter and one of a few major institutions that has an open API.

    We- Worldcon, that is- need more younger people involved AND more coverage. One thing I recommend is floating video “spot crews” covering the con in detail- one person with a camera and a mac laptop can post event detail and interview videos to google video or youtube as fast as they can record, edit and post them. The virtual-fanzine (V-Zine?) itself can be a new artform and a new form of friendly competition and a good one that is correctly tagged & tweeted can get a LOT of views by interested folks who have never heard of Worldcon- fast.

    Asking Wheaton or Whedon to judge the video fanzines and giving awards would CERTAINLY get it going. I would kick at least for some books for a prize cache.

    Also, worldwide simul-parties would be cool. (Note: First webcast simulparty at a Worldcon? NeuroTrash Kaffe at SF in 1993!)

    Kevin’s concern re: music rights is a sticky one as the answer varies country by country. I would suspect that we would be fine if in Continental Europe through Black Box licensing and could make an argument for the US as any convention center or hotel is almost certainly paying a “rights” organisation such as BMI and the broadcast of the event would fall under fair use, non-commercial.

    That said, for US & UK & AUS I would ask a lawyer.

    This gets stickier of one is charging for the web access, of course. I say free web access, one can spend $30 for the right to vote for the Hugo (1 per IP Address), we have a donation button AND properly join the Church-of-Merch and sell t-shirts and geegaws online.

    I would buy a miniature plastic repliHugo!

    A virtual dealers room is an idea I love, until I start thinking about fulfilment and logistics!

    Will go think more….

  13. I’m slightly disappointed that people are fixating on live webcasts of the big events. The whole point of this is to find things that we can do easily, and I think there are plenty of them. Live webcasts, on the other hand, need big tech and big money, and as Kevin pointed out can lead you into all sorts of murky legal waters. (And Daniel, if we have to ask a lawyer, we can’t afford it.) I also suspect that people over on the SMOFs list are rubbing their hands with glee on the grounds that my ideas can be dismissed as entirely about live webcasts, which they will say Worldcons clearly can’t afford.

    Steven Aines has it right. We need to try lots of different things. Some of them won’t work, but others will. And the key point is not to just give people something to gawp at, because really we are not that visually exciting, but to give people something that they can participate in and make them feel part of a fannish community. (Which is, if you think about it, a very Web 2.0 attitude).

  14. Daniel:

    With regard to the dealers’ room, I’m certainly not suggesting that Worldcon be responsible for selling and fulfilling orders. The dealers have to do that themselves. There are two issues that seem important to me.

    Firstly, there are a lot of people selling sf-related stuff out there on the web. Getting traffic to your site, however, is hard. A spot in the Worldcon dealers’ room could help companies get discovered.

    Flycon achieved that by allowing dealers (for free!) to post links to their sites. But they were just links. What I think a good online dealers’ room needs is the ability for the dealers to actually set up a page with examples of their stock and direct links through to where people can buy that stuff.

  15. iPhones or G1 phones for the duration of the convention so that key people can tweet the con

    Never mind tweets – ustream, the web broadcasting site we used for Corflu, actually now has a broadcast client application for the iPhone. I suspect it’s still a bit beta at the moment, but by the summer might be robust enough for Neil to take us around the convention with him. (Remember to go offline when answering a call of nature, though!)

  16. There are also potential legal issues with doing such webcasts for events like the Masquerade, having to do with music rights. Even if you have the kind of license that allows you to play the music at the event, it may not include the rights to reproduce or rebroadcast the performance.

    Fair point. A “quick and dirty” solution would be to take video from the masquerade venue, but no audio — give someone the same cue cards as the on-site presenter, and they can do a web-only commentary.

  17. I’m slightly disappointed that people are fixating on live webcasts of the big events. The whole point of this is to find things that we can do easily, and I think there are plenty of them.

    That’s right. As we proved at Corflu, you can do a basic webcast with a laptop (many of which have a built-in webcam these days) and a reasonable wi-fi connection. This is more than adequate for covering a con suite or a panel. Things like the Hugo Awards or Masquerade are more hard work, as you need actual camera operators and the like.

  18. Peter:

    Check. I’ll go take a look and trial to trial it. Unfortunately not at P-Con as I’ll be on roaming.

    For the masquerade, I’d put someone with a Flip or similar in fan photography, and do close-up interviews with the costumers like I did last year. People who want to see the actual show can buy the DVD afterwards (or maybe get it free if they are supporting members and we can sell sponsorship).

  19. Sorry, wasn’t clear. Fan photography for immediate upload of good quality images. Interviews with costumers separate.

  20. I did not intend to imply webcasting big events. The more I think of it, the more I think webcasting is a bad idea- it keeps control of the event and the airing and delivery of said event in the hands of the patriarchy, if you will 😉

    Crowdsourcing video blogging, allowing access to everything, making it a competition, giving it a level of respect as a valid (if- eek!- new) form MIGHT be a fun thing for modern artist types not in love with zines and virtual corflu.

    I think the key thing to get younger people involved is allowing them to have the same opportunities we had *mumble* decades ago to have some control and to HAVE AN INFLUENCE on how things work. Chaz Boston-Baden has got this going swimmingly well at Anime LA, where I would guess 80% of attendees are under 25. Bob at Miscon impresses me as well, some committee members there are under 20.

    Hmm. Maybe Worldcon could offer a kid’s membership for folks under 35?

    Ducking down and grabbing my asbestos pajamas….

  21. Daniel:

    And what did Denver do? Put all of the things that appealed strongly to kids in a hotel far away so that the old pharts would not have to see young people or interact with them. -sigh-

  22. There are plenty of fans who enjoy reporting on conventions – why not recruit a few of them and at least publish links to their work on the main Worldcon web site? (As I recall, Noreascon 4 did some of this back in 2004.)

    We did, yes. In fact, our “Live from Noreascon 4” blog, which was the blog where people could post from the convention, is still available online if people would like to see it.

    A bit of reruiting, especially among the blogging fans, and there’s a whole lot of bang for the buck. We did have a major advantage, however, in that we could flood the convention center with wireless for a relatively small cost (~$4,000). It wasn’t perfect wireless, but it was free to convention attendees.

    As you point out, today we have cell phone technologies that are superior to what was available then, Twitter, etc. Those technologies really (really) should be exploited.

  23. I am maybe a little concerned (and a little inexperienced with Twitter to know), but I would tend to think that having a bunch of people twitting away in a panel discussion might be a little distracting. But, I am not against a dedicated twitt area for large discussions of GOHs talks or the such.

    The other problem I see is that there are so many new types of blogs and such, which ones do we pick??

    It was not that long ago that MySpace was the hot thing, and everyone had to have an account. Now, I only see stories about more and more predators getting arrested from MySpace.

    Then LJ became a hot thing. Now it is Facebook and Twitter seem to be the hot blog trend. I am sure there are a few other out there that I am missing.

    But, I guess by trying some of these, we will find which ones work and which ones do not work.

    I know I might strick fear in the old SMOFs here, but how about something like a fanzine lounge, but for bloggers and people that use facebook, twitter, etc.?

    If the con might not be able to pay for con center wide wireless, could a small area have it? This would allow people to update to whatever.

    Mayeb the supporting membership could have some of these web type video blogs, twitts, whatever we are talking about. As you said, the supporting membership is getting less and less for the dollar.

    As Anticipation and Aussiecon have progress reports via download as PDF, I would tend to think that ever future Worldcon will offer this, and maybe soon we will not see any published progress reports.

    But, I guess we need to try to see what works and what does not work.

    You ask about approaching Google or Apple to provide phones (or even other tech related services) how about Twitter or Facebook or others to see what they could help with or provide the con at lower costs??

    How about just some webcams set up around the con, like in the concourse, near the dealers room, in a major hallway, wherever and during the con, people could log in to see what is going on at any time. Sort of like how many news outlets have cams set up to view traffic on highways.

  24. Tom,

    1. Twittering from a con panel has already occurred. It will continue to occur. It’s the nature of people who tweet. And when the next “it” social networking site comes up, people will then use it, etc. For many who tweet, it’s on an individual level, while it can be institutionalized also, it’s not just about the institution anymore. Good luck trying to restrict when people can tweet or not. I’m not saying don’t, I’m just saying if you do, I don’t think you’ll be greeted with welcome arms. And the bad press of people complaining will be instantaneous and I guess bad publicity is better than none. Is it rude and distracting to do this during a panel? This is something I struggle with. On the one hand, no, on the other, how much can I really appreciate what is being said if I’m tweeting? Hmm.
    2. “I know I might strick fear in the old SMOFs here, but how about something like a fanzine lounge, but for bloggers and people that use facebook, twitter, etc.?” actually, you struck fear in this Twitterer because thats not how people use Twitter. We meetup and “lounge” on Twitter, then if we want to meetup in person, we use Twitter to communicate and then we hang out at the restaurant/bar or meetup at the panel and go discuss afterwards. The consuite will work just fine. Same with facebook. For the most part, we’re living virtually together and the person/institution tweeting is allowing me to live it through them online. HOWEVER, I don’t think that means worldcon shouldn’t try creating a lounge. While I was at Sundance this year, using Twitter I met up with like minded folks not only at movies but at the various lounges – but those lounges weren’t geared to us as social networking individuals, they were already there as “Writer’s Lounge or Director’s Lounge or StoryTime Lounge”.
    3. As someone who won’t be at worldcon this year due to having to attend a wedding in Alaska, I look forward to some sort of remote stalking. Let me tell you what I’d like:
    a. Reading and responding to my friends (and “celebrities”) twitter feeds who are attending. The thing is, I’d be doing that regardless of worldcon cause we’re already interacting on what’s happening in our daily lives, and worldcon will be a part of that, not the other way around. I’m already engaged in worldcon. So you’ve already accomplished this! 🙂
    b. Reading the daily newsletter. Would LOVE this.
    c. Would love to see video of panels. While I couldn’t guarantee I’d watch it real time (I’ve got a wedding to attend!), attend in person, an archive would be of interest. Especially if I read about an interesting panel on my Twitter feed.
    d. That’s about it. However, I’m only one voice. Maybe you should do a survey to find out what people would like to see if they can’t attend worldcon and what they would pay. surveymonkey.com is free. And considering the instantaneous news out there, you’ll probably get a lot of responses. No more worrying about mailing lists. It’ll be re-tweeted.
    4. I really think this is a great post and the comments here are fantastic. Btw, how did I find out about this? A friend Tweeted it. It’s already working…..

  25. Tom K:

    Jenn is quite right, you can no more control who tweets what than you can prevent someone doing a con report in a fanzine. OTOH, you may be worried about people clattering away on keyboards during panels – don’t be, most of the tweeting from panels will be done on phones.

    It is going to be very confusing, but people are already coming up with ways of managing the Twitter flood. For example, I have set up this group on Tweetizen which simply filters out all tweets tagged #worldcon or #hugo. Anyone could do that for themselves. Or they could create a group following a few of their friends. It is really very easy.

    As to the sponsorship, the likes of Twitter and Facebook are desperately trying to find some way of making money from the software they give away for free. I doubt we’ll get sponsorship from them. We need to target people who make something physical.

  26. Jenn:

    The trouble with doing a survey is that what we really want is ideas, we don’t want to confine people to what we’ve already come up with. But everyone is welcome to request things here.

  27. Cheryl @16
    Putting it all together, the immediate step might be to talk to Australia about their soliciting suggestions. This would give the dispersed group mind a year to come up with Good Ideas, but give the Committee only the obligation to give them reasonable consideration.
    I do hope Montreal is checking into some serious open wi-fi, but I doubt much more can be practically added at this point.

  28. Neil:

    No. Really, no. The very last thing this needs is to be buried in a committee. The Montreal committee may be too busy to do things, but other people can and will report from their convention.

    Remember, all you need to tweet is a phone signal.

  29. Good comments about Flycon. The tech-challenged organizers did what they could with a budget of zero; the plans for vidcasts and podcasts didn’t happen as no one responded for the call for same.

    A dedicated website is an excellent idea.

    Re Worldcon, sometimes people have taken notes and written up excellent con reports. Having these organized would be a fantastic idea, as up until now they are difficult to hunt down.

    I’m still not seeing the benefit of tweets, which seem to be confined to “Here I am, and this is happening!” with little more depth than that, but maybe this is the sort of reportage people like.

  30. Cheryl – yeah, that is the problem with surveys. You think when you ask at the end of it “What would you suggest for improvements?” you’re going to get tons of suggestions. In the end, nobody really fills that section in. 🙂

  31. Thank you for posting this- I agree with so much of what is being said here…

    I think the problem of Science Fiction not attracting younger fans and international fans is a huge one and it’s something endemic to the SF “old-guard” across the board far beyond the con scene. I recently wrote a post on my LJ about the state of international submissions in SF and I see the same kinds of problems there. (It’s at http://bridget-coila.livejournal.com if anyone wants to read it- I’m tired and not up to fighting the Great Firewall right now to get the particular post link, but it’s the first one on the page right now)

    I love the idea of cheaper supporting memberships with a value that would make it worthwhile- there are so many people living internationally now that would gladly pay $30 US or so for a voting-and-some-little-perks membership.
    In Beijing alone, I could probably sell 100 memberships myself if they included voting rights for the Hugos, site selection, an ebook version of the souvenir book (we international folk don’t need, want, or expect them to send us a physical copy), and maybe some “exclusive” web content like first access a few days before public release of some webcast events (and maybe eventually a live feed of some things) or little daily updates that make us feel like we are part of things even tho we’re far away.
    A hundred memberships like this would bring in $3000- there’s no way that the things I’m talking about here would cost anywhere near that. Which would mean profit for Worldcon, and money that could be spent creating more online content to attract even more people to buy $30 supporting memberships AND probably attract more international fans to plan for attending future Worldcons. And that’s not even taking into account the idea that it would truly start making Worldcon a “World” con instead of just “North American con and the few international people who can afford it” con.

    I also *really* love the idea of a virtual dealers room and/or art show with online original art bids/sales or print sales (with the artists choosing to participate or not.) Don’t know about the feasibility of that whole thing, but I think it would be another way to bring in income for both the artists/dealers and the con.

    Sigh… Not sure if something like this will ever come about or if it is all a pipe dream… but I’m glad people are thinking and talking about these kinds of things.

  32. I would love to be part of an Anticipation Blog or Twittering. I would prefer the blog more so because I can do that when I have time. As a first timer to Worldcon, that perspective would be invaluable to other first timers. The problem with Twittering for me is going to be the cost on my Cell Phone bill because Canada is International Calling and not covered by do all ATT wireless phone.

  33. As far as I know, the first virtual SF conventions were hosted by The Sci-Fi Channel. They were called SCIFI.CON, and were held on the channel’s website over Halloween weekend in 1996, 1997, and 1998.

  34. When you say “I gather that some old time fans were utterly horrified by this,” do you mean you know of specific people complaining that new stuff is bad (I won’t ask for citations), or is this just an assumption?

    And another point in support of webcasting as Corflu did it: It didn’t interfere with the live experience at all. The camera was a netbook perched atop a podium well out of the line-of-sight between the audience and the panel. There were one or two people at the back of the audience with their laptops out, typing quietly into the chatroom. There was an average of about one question per panel identified as coming from the chatroom.

    In the con suite, the setup recording from there developed progressively bigger and louder signage warning people that there was a LIVE MICROPHONE connected TO THE INTERNET– which I take as a sign that people were being a little *too* relaxed and natural around it…

  35. Cheryl, you’ve made a lot of good suggetions that I support. But I would like to add the historical point that those ossified, old-guard, 20th Century fans were posting live to usenet from the Worldcon @-Sign Parties in the 1980s.

  36. which I take as a sign that people were being a little *too* relaxed and natural around it…

    Oh, you wouldn’t believe some of the good gossip we managed to garner from the late arrivals at the consuite breakfast on Saturday when most of the rest of the convention was downstairs at the first panel of the day…

  37. I remember those Sci-fi Channel conventions; and scifi.com also did live web events from Worldcons, as well. I recall logging on to those as Deathmaster5, because someone had to.

  38. Tom S:

    Check into international roaming for AT&T. I already have done some early work, and does not seem that expensive to get international roaming. I need to check into some more myself.


    I’m not sure if I ment to say that I want to ban twitts from a panel-as people with cell phones that ring or buzz has been happening way a while now – I just hope that peoples keyboards are quiet is all.

    you struck fear in this Twitterer because thats not how people use Twitter

    well, as I said I am not familiar with Twitter at all, so please excuse my naivity in the subject – just trying to figure out some ideas. Maybe a facebook/twitter/LJ lounge might not work – but I was just trying to expand on the old computer lounge idea: computers set up at the con that would allow people to check their e-mail, and surf the net for a while – and morph it to the bloggers somehow.

    How else can the tags on twitter help? Curious if there is a way to collect everyones (or those that want to contribute) twitts from the con? Again, just not familiar with twitter – just crazy ideas.

  39. Interesting to hear about those old Sci-Fi Channel cons. I can’t imagine SyFy doing that. But I suspect they gave up on it because it didn’t make any money for them. We don’t have that problem.


    We’ve always been early adopters, but obviously that early practice didn’t get built upon. I suspect that the technology back then was too clunky and expensive. Now it is cheap and easy, so we need to get back to doing it.

    Tom K:

    Twitter is basically just a stream of 140-character text strings, indexed by user name. Anything you can do to search and sort that is OK. Loads of companies are desperately trying to find good ways to make use of it.

  40. Great discussion and much to think on.

    Question: If a Worldcon committee were to decide it wanted to try something like “online membership” or “virtual attending membership”, would they have to get approval from WSFS to add a new category? If Anticipation, Aussiecon 4, or Reno wanted to do such a thing, would they be allowed to, or would it be something that would have to be proposed at one Worldcon, approved at the next, and implemented with bids starting the third year out?

    I could see people who’ve already paid for a supporting or full membership perhaps being unhappy if a cheaper virtual membership were later offered.

  41. Karen:

    Worldcons have a fair amount of autonomy, though there may be issues with regard to voting rights if new classes of membership were invented. But actually the obvious thing to do is simply to add anything new to the Supporting Membership. It is woefully overpriced at the moment, and anything a Worldcon can do to provide more value for that money is a good thing.

  42. Oh, in response to ones suggesting webcams in thoroughfares, dealers room, etc.:

    There may be some privacy/permissions issues to consider, a la the Google Streetview controversies. A webcam on a public street is different from one in a private convention, I suspect. This may also be complicated by the fact that minors attend Worldcon. I know that some parents are quite sensibly cautious about allowing pictures of their kids to be posted online.

    There’d probably need to be very clear indication of where/when the cameras are operating, where the feed is going, and how to avoid the areas if one wants to.

  43. Cheryl: Fair enough on just adding to the supporting membership. The only drawback I see to that is outsiders/new fans are likely to “get” what “online membership” or “virtual attending” means, where “supporting” is a little less clear.

  44. Karen:

    Oh, I think they can call it what they like. That’s just marketing. And you may have to market it differently to regulars and newbies. As long as it is the same thing that’s OK.

  45. As I’m sure Kevin will confirm (when this shows up on his Google News feed…) the membership categories in the WSFS Constitution are intended to be a minimum requirement, not a straight-jacket against innovation.

  46. At Chicago 2000, Cybling.com did many online author interviews in their chat room from the Green Room. Anywhere from 3 to 10 in a day. I believe Cybling also did this from a few Windycons also.

    In 2000, I don’t know many of the specifics, I just typed for some of the authors. I do know that when Cybling got permission to do this, it was with the understanding that it was Cybling’s time, Cybling’s equipment, etc etc etc. The support was “Sure, we’ll give you the space.” It would have been a bigger success with just a little more support.

    The year 2000 is the dark ages now. Cybling is defunct, the owner JaniceMars gafiated. Everything Cheryl suggests should be very doable now.

    Not a Smof, not a runner, just a fan.

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