Brad Templeton’s Modest Proposals

Brad Templeton came home from Anticipation with a hatful of ideas for making Worldcons more of a community experience. The one I liked best was about using more focused facilities:

Because they are always held where deals are to be had on hotels and convention space, it is not uncommon for them to get the entire convention center or a large portion of it. This turns out to be a temptation which most cons succumb to, but should not.

Read his blog for the factual breakdown and analysis. I would only add that committees yield to this temptation while they are still in the Worldcon bidding process. Advertising plans to use a fine convention center makes bidders more competitive. Then after winning, in the tradition of Parkinson’s Laws, the con expands to fill the space available. The best chance of concentrating activity into something with a sense of neighborhood is if lots of fans tell bidders they don’t prefer expansive use of a big city convention center with endless corridors.

Templeton also thinks Worldcons are more enjoyable when the attendees have more experiences in common. For example:

Anticipation offered an interesting mostly plenary session with Charlie Stross and Paul Krugman, and it did indeed become a shared experience and talking point for the whole crowd. Strangely, Anticipation actually scheduled several sessions opposite the Hugo Awards which is almost always a plenary.

He also believes that programs ought to be in the right size rooms to accommodate their audiences, though as a former program organizer I admit my reflexive response to his solution was “Hanging’s too good for him!”:

At Anticipation, I attended a session on the last day (usually sparse) on the Fermi paradox. It was in a small room and standing room only. Across the hall was an author reading in a large room with 2 audience members. So I pulled a “panel switch” and asked the author if she would mind moving to a small empty room with her reading, and she was nice and did.

When I approached the idea a bit more flexibly, my main concern was information-sharing after the swap. What’s supposed to happen to the people who come by during the hour looking for the item in the original room? Says Templeton:

Of course you also need to be able to quickly put up signs about the room switch.

Right. Informing the world about unilateral room changes arranged by panelists shouldn’t be too tough. How about a gofer on a Segway with a printer in her backpack roving the halls outside program rooms checking to see if the original panel is still inside? No, no, I’m still not being flexible enough. Really, if panelists work this out between themselves, then they can take a pen and a couple pieces of paper and put up their own signs too. Most people will end up where they want to go. Never let the perfect be the enemy of the good!

I liked Templeton’s challenge for committees to allow absent winners to participate remotely in the Hugo Ceremonies:

Surprisingly, at least at the Hugo awards, I’ve never seen them get the absent nominees or winner on the phone to let them accept in person.

This sounds like a genuinely modest request even to me, a jaded conrunner who tends to believe “Tech always fails.” The question is what technology to gamble on.

This is a little tricky as sending video requires a fair bit of CPU. You can’t readily be sending Skype to multiple nominees without multiple PCs. You can however send a video feed using other live streaming video tools which send one video to a master server from which people can stream. Indeed, for the Hugo awards, it would be possible for all sorts of absent people to watch the awards live via video.

Beginning any advice about tech with the phrase “this is a little tricky” is fatal so far as my interest is concerned. But as Templeton points out, there are various ways this can be done, whether there’s full-on video, a voice-only connection, or simply Tweets from the absent winner.

[Via Tom Galloway.]

1 thought on “Brad Templeton’s Modest Proposals

  1. Brad writes: “Anticipation did a roundly disliked ‘pocket’ program printed on tabloid sized paper, with two pages usually needed to cover a whole day. Nobody had a pocket it could fit in. In addition, there were many changes to the schedule and the online version was not updated.”

    I’m just relieved to know that some customs never change.

    No matter how many times a Worldcon demonstrates how easy it is to do a given thing the right way, later Worldcons are guaranteed to revert do doing things the proven failed way.

    Predictability is comforting.

    I used to call this, in the Seventies, reinventing the wheel as triangular.

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