Mitchell: Bid Type Signifiers

[Editor’s Note: At Smofcon Finnish fan Eemeli Aro presented a Mariehamn in 2016 Worldcon bid that left the internet wondering whether he was serious or not. The debate inspired Petréa Mitchell to devise a set of criteria for diagnosing hoax convention bids which she posted to the SMOFS list. Having some experience perpetrating hoax bids myself, I was thoroughly entertained by her thought experiment. Petréa has given her permission to repost it.]

While waiting to get a definitive statement from the Mariehamn bid on its intended level of seriousness, I got to thinking about how we tell hoax bids and non-hoax bids apart, because I am a bit of a social psychology geek. (I’m a programmer, and my particular interest is in usability issues, which means having to learn a lot about how the human brain works.)

When I tried making a list of sensible-sounding criteria, I realized most of them actually don’t work. To wit:

(1) Date: Works if it’s obviously outrageous, e.g. Christmas, or in the past, or a year centuries in the future.

(2) Location: Again, has to be really obvious, like fictional (Xerps, Z’ha’dum), or not a city (Aberdeen Proving Ground). “Too small/out-of-the-way” is a criticism that gets made of actual Worldcon bids from time to time (remember the discussion about perceived lack of air connections to Spokane recently?).

(3) Silliness of campaign: IIRC, most of the content on the Australia in 2010 Web site when it first appeared was the timeline of how the bid started with an ill-chosen remark. The first Orlando bid poster is riffing on the Cuban Missile Crisis. Serious bids have no trouble getting silly, so this actually doesn’t work as a signifier.

(4) Degree of online presence: The site for Mariehamn consists of a single page, but between that, its Facebook page, and it Twitter account, it has more of an online presence than all the apparently-serious-so-far bids for 2017-2019 combined.

(5) Degree of organization: I’m guessing that most people would expect all the hoax bids to be run by a bunch of slackers and everything else to be polished efforts by well-organized groups. OTOH, I expect everyone on this list has encountered the occasional counterexample.

(6) SMOF density: Thinking over some recent hoax bids I’m familiar with, I think the hoaxes may actually have a slightly higher average level of conrunning experience involved.

So the confusion over the Mariehamn bid is due to #3-#6 being useless, sounding plausible on #1, and mixed appraisals of #2.

Given how many of these don’t work, it’s a wonder that most of the time everyone’s able to tell immediately which ones are the serious bids and which are the hoaxes.

[Postscript: We’re now reliably informed that Mariehamn is not a serious bid.]

[Petréa Mitchell regularly contributes to several fannish blogs and writes a quarterly sf-oriented fanzine named Picofarad, “The zine of little capacity.”]

One thought on “Mitchell: Bid Type Signifiers

  1. So a few notes from inside the belly of the beast…

    1. I haven’t seen one, but that doesn’t mean that someone isn’t going to do a serious out-of-bounds bid because there’s a pressing benefit.

    2. Real locations vary from sub-optimal by one criteria (for example, the complaints about flying into Spokane, or the cost and location of the JW Marriott in Las Vegas) and completely impractical on several levels (unreachable except by car, ferry or perhaps dogsled; not enough hotel rooms, not enough function space). Mind you, we have people earnestly bidding Westercons with intentionally sub-optimal locations and a goal of hosting a convention 1/3 the otherwise normal attendance… I guess that’s the difference between serious and being taken seriously.

    3. Every campaign has involved some degree of irreverence and self-deprecation.

    4. Online presence is not an indicator of seriousness. It’s just an indicator of the committee’s technical and social savvy. A bid can be serious and be technically and socially incompetent, or just not courting the sort of fans and pros who care about getting information about their bid. So, again, the difference between serious and being taken seriously.

    5. A hoax can be organized by a very small number of people. Less cats to herd means easier to organize. A serious bid requires a larger team, more people who want their input considered, a larger budget and a longer outlook, and is more difficult to organize.

    5.a. A bid doesn’t just need organization, it needs the right contributors with the necessary core competencies. A hoax can get by with party hosts, social networking mavens and graphic designers. A serious bid needs all of that and people to watch the opposition, to manage the campaign, to lay the groundwork after the bid is won.

    6. Hoaxes are going to involve either long-time attendees or smoffish types. Usually smoffish types. It has to be people who understand the bid and selection processes.

    All that said, a serious bid should never look less organized, less committed, less competent or more entitled than any bid (hoax or serious) they’re competing against.

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