CoNZealand To Become First Virtual Worldcon

Kelly Buehler and Norman Cates, co-chairs of the 2020 Worldcon, have announced that, due to worldwide concerns about the coronavirus pandemic, they are taking CoNZealand online:

Another week, and another paradigm shift. The changes are still coming fast and furious as New Zealand enters into a four-week lockdown. We are all still dealing with an unprecedented set of circumstances that make it very difficult to plan for the future.

The choices we are faced with are:

  1. Move the date of CoNZealand…
  2. Cancelling CoNZealand and minimally fulfilling the WSFS requirements…
  3. Virtualise CoNZealand…

The strong belief that we can put on a great Worldcon has led us to the decision to make CoNZealand a virtual convention. Our Tech Division is confident they can deliver a virtual Worldcon and are excited about the possibilities.

We are standing by our decision not to cancel, but in consideration of the health, safety, and wellbeing of our members and crew, we think that holding a large face-to-face event, even if it were possible would be irresponsible…

As we have said before, please look after one another, and stay in touch. Especially when we are each isolated, it is good to be reminded that we are a community. We are together for a reason beyond Worldcon. We are fans. We are passionate. We love science fiction, fantasy, comics, art, worldbuilding, reading, writing and a million other things. Let’s concentrate on being kind to one another and helping each other through a very difficult time.

Kia Kaha (Stand Strong),
Kelly Buehler & Norman Cates

Cates and Buehler intend to schedule some interactive Zoom Q&A sessions covering different timezones, whereby Worldcon members can get answers to their questions about how a virtual Worldcon will work.

For the complete information included in the announcement, including changes this will entail for Memberships, Travel and Accommodation, Programme Participants, and the NZ Natcon, follow the link to read the full announcement.

48 thoughts on “CoNZealand To Become First Virtual Worldcon

  1. This is, predictably, already causing distress and arguments in Fan Fund land.

    Me, as the NA Administrator for DUFF who is running the race for my successor…this does change things. Stay tuned

  2. Sometimes being responsible is tough and loaded with disappointment for loss of plans and dreams, but it opens a doorway to new ones, too. Thank you for being responsible, and for taking WorldCon to a new level.

  3. When I saw this in my in-box this morning, my reaction was a mixture of equal parts disappointment, relief, and excitement. Disappointment because I was looking forward to my first trip to that part of the world and the chance to meet face-to-face with some people I’ve known since Usenet days. Relief because I no longer needed to dance around my delay in making hotel and plane reservations, and because there would be clarity going forward. And excitement because the forced movement of Worldcon to an all-virtual experience will be an incredible chance to reinvent the idea of what a truly international sff convention can be, without barriers of distance and finances. (To be sure, buying a membership and supporting the tech infrastructure for a successful convention won’t be cheap, but the financial barrier of travel and accommodations, and the socio-political barriers of travel restrictions and personal hazards will be eliminated.)

    What I posted on twitter this morning was, “Well, that’s that. A sea change. A paradigm shift. If it works better than as a make-do, perhaps a new model for truly international Worldcons. Let’s look at this, not as making lemonade, but as a chance to reinvent the very concept of lemon.”

    And on a friend’s facebook page, I expanded, “I was really looking forward to my first visit to that part of the world. But as I speculated in my response on Twitter, given the hard facts regarding a physical convention, I see this as an opportunity to build concepts and structures for virtual conventions that could change the way we think of Worldcons.

    “There will be a lot of challenges: not only the massive tech infrastructure to set up and test, but to rethink the idea of accessibility, to find ways to provide to social experience that is Worldcon and not just the formal programming experience.

    “But…a Worldcon that does not have the financial bar of travel and hotels? A Worldcon where programming is not constrained by physical space limitations? A Worldcon that might be able to leverage automated captioning (yes I know it can be execrable but it’s still amazing that it can work at all). A Worldcon that can offer multilingual programming because space allocation doesn’t require catering to the linguistic commonality. Maybe we won’t have time and bandwidth to explore all the possibilities this year. But by having our hand forced by the virus, we have the opportunity to change the entire paradigm of what a convention can be.”

    If anyone had suggested considering a “virtual Worldcon” as an access experiment, it would have been talked to death for over a decade before anyone could come close to trying it seriously. But here we’ve been handed the opportunity (and excuse) not simply to try to replicate a face-to-face convention in video form, but to experiment with entirely re-thinking the structure and content of a Worldcon.

    Asynchronous participation around the globe? Make it a 24-hour event. Nobody ever gets to everything they want to attend anyway. We’re used to making choices about sleep versus programming.

    No constraints on programming planning from physical facilities (set aside the data load for a moment)? You’ll never be turned away from a popular panel discussion. No waiting in lines for major events. No need to restrict programming participants based on the inelasticity of the program facilities. Why shouldn’t everyone who wants do a kaffeeklatch or reading? Why not schedule specialty panels that might only draw a small audience?

    And here’s another thought, given that program space need not be allocated on the basis of “benefit/access to the largest number”: why not have (more) multi-lingual programming? What’s the state of the art in automated transcription and translation services? Not everything would be fully accessible to everyone, but we could offer more people the opportunity to have some programming specifically aimed at their access.

    And speaking of access, of course we’ll need to completely rethink access needs. Physical (mobility) access gets offloaded onto the individual participants. What considerations do we need to accommodate needs in different ways? Vision and hearing impairments will have different consequences. Some for better, some for worse. Those with more experience will no doubt think of other consequences to address.

    And for me–and no doubt others–the biggest hurdle will be how to re-invent the social experience that is Worldcon. How do you replicate or re-envision the spontaneous casual interactions that can make Worldcon an unforgettable and even life-changing experience? (I think we’re seeing some of the challenges and possibilities on the social side in the fb not-entirely-a-spoof group Concellation.)

    The driver for this format change is horrible and tragic, but the opportunity it gives us is enormous. I hope that people won’t spend too much time dragged down by the negatives (and Paul, this isn’t in any way aimed at your Fan Fund comment, I do understand how disruptive and upsetting the change is), but will reach out to support the CoNZealand decision and bring fannish innovation to bear on the challenge of making this one of the most memorable Worldcons ever in a good sense.

  4. I hope with all my heart that the experience of strolling through convention premises and going, “OMG, that’s (brilliant author)! Wow, there’s (sterling internet personality)!”,
    will be addressed with a dedicated instance of Club Penguin.

  5. It was the only secure solution and I am extremely happy they went for it. It will be an experiment, but if it works, it will be interesting to see if future Worldcons will have some online programming.

    Good luck!

  6. I’ve been both impressed with and dismayed by responses in equal measure. The fact that the first comment they got on their post was a complaint about not having been consulted has been rubbing me the wrong way all night.

    I’m curious how this’ll go; it might open up attendance to an audience that has historically been unable to attend.

  7. I think this was almost inevitable–the only realistic choices were cancelation or virtualization. And yes, it will be interesting to see what this might mean for the growth and evolution of Worldcon in the future.

  8. Hmm. Another person thinking very hard about buying a supporting membership. Hey, this could really be interesting in the long run….

  9. A robust virtual element could help make US worldcons more attractive to non-Americans unenthusiastic about discovering whether ICE or the US heath care denial system is the greater threat to visitors.

  10. Sad news, but seems like the best solution. I’ll definitely be upgrading to a virtual membership once announced.

  11. I have a full membership in CoNZealand even though I had no expectation that I would be able to attend. Now I will, at least in some way. Hoping for the best, and intending to be forgiving of all the inevitable problems that occur…

  12. James Davis Nicoll: So your first thought was to slag US worldcons. There you put your finger on the main drawback — virtual participation invites no different thought process than we already get on social media.

  13. I am absolutely thrilled with this change and am looking forward to being able to virtually attend the con. I know that it will be challenging to work through, but it may open up a lot of fabulous options going forward.

  14. @Chris Rose: ISTM that many induhviduals attempt to be prominent (by jumping in first) to make up for being a small minority; the first comment on my state senator’s first post about the coronavirus was somebody complaining about all the “Mexican” immigrants bringing in disease. (His district ranges from Boston through a couple of suburbs of widely-varying economic range, so the comments cover a wide range of opinions.) wrt consultation, the question is who? There would still be complaints if only the attending membership (was the complainer one?) were consulted; I remember telling someone unhappy about the Boston in 2001 move to Orlando (due to unreasonable hotel prices) that we’d sent mail to every one of our presupporters, but IIRC that didn’t shut the person down — he seemed to think that everyone in Boston should have had a voice.

    @Heather Rose Jones: the social experience will definitely be missing for those who could go; I remember the wonderful effect of the 1978 Hyatt atrium — one not-monstrous space that took at least 10 minutes to cross, not because of crowds but because random meetings and spot conversations were certain to happen — and have looked to recreate its effect when I designed Worldcon spaces. Virtual will allow for far more meetings, but probably much less connecting on average; it will be interesting to see what happens. One thing I’m not seeing in your list of programming possibilities is the kind of panel whose participants would be massively unlikely to ever be in one time/place due money/schedule/…; my partner’s first thought was a dream descendants-of-Zelazny panel.
    We’d been assuming right from the bid announcement that we would go, but events (including the convention being opposite Pennsic) gradually closed that plan. Now I may buy a virtual-attending membership (once the concom gets that sorted out).

  15. This seems premature. Makes me wonder about the NASFIC in Ohio. I only have a supporting membership Worldcon this year but am willing to upgrade to an online membership.

  16. I wonder what this means for the business meeting? It’s a nut that the business meeting has been trying to crack, for a few years, there were definitely discussions about this at MACII and in Helsinki, and in Dublin nothing was yet (AIUI) decided.

  17. This is sad, but they had no choice. It’ll be a lot of work cancelling what’s been arranged and setting up new stuff, I would guess they have already been doing it for a couple of weeks but still it’ll take a while. Some of the interesting ideas Heather had may have to wait due to time constraints.
    If this works well, I wonder if future cons would consider routinely offering 3 levels of membership- supporting, attending and online. Online could get you streaming access to a selection of panels. Or panel ideas that are interesting but there isn’t room for could be online only.

  18. This is exciting. I like the idea of a virtual convention and am looking forward to upgrading to a virtual membership from a supporting one. There are all sorts of possibilities to this, although nothing will top the experience of being there in person. It’s short notice to switch gears like this for the conrunners so I’m planning on being supportive no matter what.

  19. @Linda Robinett, I think we can only judge whether it was premature in retrospect once it would be too late to make the decision. I’m sure that we all hope that by the end of July the pandemic will be under control, we’ll have effective treatments and be well on our way to a vaccine, and universal testing will reduce concerns about infection spread. But in order to set up a functional virtual convention, they need to start now, not later when we have a better idea if it’s necessary.

    Worst case? We have an experiment in a virtual Worldcon that turns out not to be necessary. We all cheer having the pandemic under control and enjoy having data on virtual conrunning that would be hard to simulate under normal circumstances.

    The worst case for not making this decision now is a lot more drastic.

  20. @ Linda Robinett
    We won’t know what travel restrictions will be in place in and to NZ in late July until early July (and those would be subject to last-minute un-insurable change). Expecting people to commit/delay extracting themselves from current arrangements until then is unreasonable. Volunteers need time to switch approaches, and re-work finances. This isn’t premature.

  21. Chris Rose: I’ve been both impressed with and dismayed by responses in equal measure.

    Yeah, I’m just shaking my head at all of the people on Facebook and Twitter who are insisting that the con could be moved back a few months, who have no concept of how many years ahead facilities have to be booked ahead for things like this, and that even if things were back to normal by then — which they almost certainly won’t be — the facilities simply aren’t available to make those arrangements.

    I also think a lot of people either haven’t grasped, or are refusing to grasp, that this won’t have all just blown over in a few months. This is going to be something we are dealing with for at least the next couple of years, if not longer, and people need to adjust their thinking along those lines. I will be very surprised if convention schedules are back to normal in 2021. I don’t think they will be (and I’m as sad as anyone about that).

  22. JJ on March 25, 2020 at 4:50 pm said:

    I also think a lot of people either haven’t grasped, or are refusing to grasp, that this won’t have all just blown over in a few months. This is going to be something we are dealing with for at least the next couple of years, if not longer, and people need to adjust their thinking along those lines.

    It is looking that way and it will happen at different rates in different places.

  23. Like the rotting of a fish, the refusal to grasp starts from the head; the Cheetoh was saying earlier this week that the holds on movement ?would?should?could? be over for Easter. (With a line about how great it would be to see all those people in church — I wonder how often he went to church before seeking public office.) Fortunately, most of the restrictions come from individual states; some of the states have been behaving badly (Ohio and Texas have tried to declare that abortion is not an “essential service”), but even the worst seem to be showing more sense.

  24. It shouldn’t be too difficult to hold the business meeting. Companies like Zoom can do webinars for 10,000 people. It will be an interesting experiment for all of us.

  25. Voting electronically in the Business Meeting is not currently allowed under the WSFS Constitution, which states that a quorum to conduct the Business Meeting requires “twelve members of the Society physically present” and a rule allowing electronic voting for the Hugo Awards and Site Selection shall not “be interpreted to allow remote participation or proxy voting at the Business Meeting.”

  26. A virtual con can’t, by its very nature, be the same as a “real” con.

    OTOH, I was never planning to buy a full membership in this con, nor planning to travel to NZ. But now I’m thinking I may actually buy an “attending” membership in this virtual version.

    I wonder if the con will actually end up with more members overall thanks to the virtual format?

  27. RE: Worldcon business meeting
    Wouldn’t Section 2.6: “Incapacity of Committees” of the WSFS Constitution apply? If the NZ con committee can’t perform its duties (i.e., hold a business meeting), then its responsibilities would fall to the DisCon III con committee. So the parliamentary steps mentioned here by Kevin Standlee may not even be necessary — it would happen anyway for anything the NZ con committee doesn’t get done.

  28. @bill I just looked at the constitution: it sounds like the DisCon III concom would have more than enough time to do a “mail poll” of the WSFS membership. In this specific case of incapacity, they should probably talk to the NZ concom before actng– that section seems to have been written to address the case of the current-year’s concom imploding or otherwise becoming incapable, rather than a functional committee that won’t be able to hold the Worldcon as originally anticipated.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if, by the originally scheduled date, it was possible to have a letter-of-the-law business meeting, with the requisite dozen members standing at least six feet apart from each other at the time. The question is, if that is doable, is it a good idea — minimal preliminary and main business meetings, and as much else done remotely/virtually as possible and worthwhile. (A minimalist Hugo ceremony would need a presenter or two, and a few people to accept on behalf of the various nominees. “Dear Jophan, Would you like Alice or Bob to accept on your behalf, if you win the Hugo?” And a serious video crew.)

  29. @Vicki, the Hugo ceremony is not required at all, just the awards. They could announce the winners all kinds of ways, right down to a simple press release. A lot less fun, but technically sufficient.

  30. Okay, thinking about a supporting membership, since that would be new (now is the time where I feel my life is stabile enough to do that), 2 Problems:

    How much would that cost? I know NZ$75 or US$50(?) I have just no idea, what that means in Euros.

    Having no creditcard, is it even posible to get this? Is a banktransfer to NZ posible or is this to Germancentric thinking?

  31. @Lenore, True, but if they’re doing any sort of virtual con at all, some sort of mostly online Hugo Ceremony would fit. (This assumes they don’t go “oh shit, things are still bad, what’s the absolute minumum?” and have nothing but the minimal business meeting and Hugo awards.)

  32. What interests me is the possibility to record for posterity such an ephemeral thing as convention. If its all digital, it can all be recorded, and could be a fascinating record for future fans

  33. Vicki Rosenzweig on March 26, 2020 at 7:01 am said:

    @bill I just looked at the constitution: it sounds like the DisCon III concom would have more than enough time to do a “mail poll” of the WSFS membership. In this specific case of incapacity, they should probably talk to the NZ concom before acting– that section seems to have been written to address the case of the current-year’s concom imploding or otherwise becoming incapable, rather than a functional committee that won’t be able to hold the Worldcon as originally anticipated.

    Agreed. This is not a Section 2.6 situation. The CoNZealand committee still exists and is carrying out its duties. DisCon III has no jurisdiction here. You are quite right that section 2.6 was written to deal with a case with a committee abdicating (voluntarily or otherwise) its duty to hold a Worldcon. The CoNZealand committee is still functioning and attempting to carry out its duties, and therefore this is not a “committee failure” situation. The requirements of the WSFS Constitution upon a Worldcon committee are very minimal, as has been discussed here many times.

    While I personally think that it would be best that a minimally-compliant WSFS Business Meeting pass a motion to Postpone Everything, such a meeting does not have to do so, as long as they have a quorum present. We already have a situation where attending the WSFS Business Meeting has been constrained by whether you can afford to get there; this is just a worse-case situation that we’re postulating that you can’t get there for any amount of money.

    There were not a lot more than twelve members present at the WSFS Business Meeting in Yokohama at Nippon 2007. I remember worrying that we were going to have to go grab people from the hallway to make quorum.

    BTW, note that the WSFS division manager of CoNZealand is also one of the co-chairs of DisCon III. I think it pretty safe to say that Worldcons 78 and 79 are in communication with each other at a high level.

  34. We should also consider options around a significant number of people that would ‘normally’ attend the DisCon III being unable to attend, due to whatever abnormal / new-normal situation applies.
    You can take actions that meet the formal requirements, but if interested people are excluded in practice, you likely get credibility issues.

  35. @StefanB

    Okay, thinking about a supporting membership, since that would be new (now is the time where I feel my life is stabile enough to do that), 2 Problems:

    How much would that cost? I know NZ$75 or US$50(?) I have just no idea, what that means in Euros.

    Having no creditcard, is it even posible to get this? Is a banktransfer to NZ posible or is this to Germancentric thinking?

    According to the XE currency converter (extremely useful site), 75 NZD is currently a little more than 40 EUR. Back when I bought my supporting membership in happier times, I think it came out as 45 EUR.

    A bank transfer to New Zealand would probably be possible, but I honestly wouldn’t advise it, because the bank fees for foreign currency transfers to non-EU countries (or even EU countries which don’t have the Euro) are horrible. I don’t know what bank you use, but Commerzbank and my Volksbank both charge around 12 to 15 EUR for a foreign currency transfer. And it’s quite possible that CoNZealand get charged by their bank at the other end, too.

    If you don’t have a credit card, Paypal is probably the best option. and fairly easy to set up. The good old-fashioned cheque might also be a possibility, provided your bank still offers cheques at all. It would certainly work for US cons for cheques are still very common. No idea if New Zealand still uses them.

    Best contact the CoNZealand membership people and ask about payment options, if there is nothing on the website. They should be able to help you.

  36. Having no creditcard, is it even posible to get this? Is a banktransfer to NZ posible or is this to Germancentric thinking?
    — StefanB

    Are you wanting a Supporting Membership to give CoNZealand financial support? Or are you wanting to attend the virtual convention? If the latter, there will be a special Virtual Attending Membership rate which is different from the current Supporting and Attending rates, so you should wait for that to be announced.

    I’m happy to help facilitate a membership purchase for you. Please contact me with your e-mail address here.

    *** all opinions expressed are purely my own, and are not the views of any Worldcon committee ***

  37. @Various: The 12 quorum for the biz meeting seems doable in theory. I don’t know the current NZ restrictions but more importantly, what they’ll be when the con rolls around, let alone even in a week!

    The “postpone everything till next year” idea seems reasonable and what I would expect.

    Here’s a different, wacky idea: They could invite the con membership to a CoNZealand-member-only video meeting or whatever variation they wanted to (all members? so-called attending/online members only? only members with voting rights? etc.; it wouldn’t have to match up to what you would get in person . . .). Pledge to vote based on how the majority of people in the meeting vote, for each item (some kind of electronic voting). NOTE: This is not actually voting on biz meeting items (ETA: electronically, I mean), so it wouldn’t wouldn’t run afoul of the constitution. So, an indirectly-representative democracy, but the in-person members casting the official votes. Just based on the wider WSFS members telling them how they would vote if present, allow all to participate, use the “normal” rules of order (is there a virtual RROO system?) and WSFS bylaws to run the meeting, etc.

    This would allow for a fuller business meeting. Possibly the agenda should be set pretty small for this and more complicated issues postponed, but at least it would allow for some business to be resolved.

    There is a lot complicated with setting that up in a suitable and secure way, and probably 500 other things wrong with my idea. I’m probably not the first to think of it, though. Maybe a bit too out there or too unwieldy, but maybe some kind of limited version of it.

  38. RRONR has a brief bit about “Additional Rules for the Conduct of Online Meetings” but it’s mostly just a list of suggestions for things to address in bylaws or standing rules. I don’t know whether there’s any good models out there for actually handling said meetings, although I’ve certainly seen plenty of discussion about how to (at least theoretically) do so.

    (I’m on the Executive Board of our local Democratic Party club and I have been trying to figure out how the hell we’re going to run our board elections in May if we can’t meet in person by then. Anything requiring anonymous voting — such as MPC elections — is particularly tricky if it’s not supported by the software.)

    One thing that I am glad is not an issue for 2020 (but will come up in 2021 and 2022) is sunset clauses. The best way I can think of to defer those would be to re-ratify the sunsetting provision and then immediately pass a new amendment repealing the provision in question; said amendment’s ratification vote would effectively be the postponed sunset vote.

    My other somewhat off-the-wall idea is a “consent calendar”. Items A.1, A.3, and A.4 passed on to CoNZealand were each passed unanimously in 2019. In the spirit of slightly reducing the load on the 2021 Business Meeting, I’d be okay with a 2020 Business Meeting otherwise charged with postponing everything ratifying these three items so long as no WSFS member submitted (via some visible process) an objection to ratifying them.

  39. Kendall: Here’s a different, wacky idea

    What you’re describing is proxy voting, which again, is not provided for, and would have to be enabled by a ruling from this year’s WSFS Division. There are problems with proxy voting (as with caucus voting) because it’s difficult to enforce people voting their proxies properly — and that assumes that you’ve done the extensive testing required to ensure that everyone who is entitled to vote has had their vote properly registered, and that no one who is not entitled to vote has been able to register a vote.

    There are a lot of technical considerations to engaging in remote voting for the business meeting — and it’s way more involved than “oh, we’ll just implement one of the existing online systems for doing this”.

  40. While acknowledging that a worldwide pandemic is not something contemplated by existing rules, I currently think I’d be more comfortable with a small WSFS Business Meeting (assuming a consensus to Postpone Everything as I proposed) with people being able to watch but not participate, as I still think there are serious practical issues of trying to do a meeting where potentially thousands of people, all of whom have participation rights (not just watching, but wanting to debate, raise points of order, propose amendments, etc.) were trying to get involved. If it were just a case of “the people not physically present can watch and can vote, but can’t debate, can’t propose motions, and can’t otherwise participate,” it would be easier.

    I was deeply concerned with how we could manage at 1000-person in-person WSFS Business Meeting in Spokane in 2015, as it did not seem beyond the realm of possibility at the time. I think we would have had to work out some other ways of managing the meeting and modifications of our existing rules and practices to have made it work.

  41. I guess it is not too early to start thinking about new rules for coping with unexpected events like COVID19. It will take years to be ratified.

  42. I’ve heard that Erin Underwood (and presumably others?) is planning a Zoom test tomorrow afternoon, but I don’t know the details.

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