[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.]