Renovation App

Renovation raised the bar for future Worldcons with an online app (created by Viafo) that made the convention schedule accessible to users of several major brands of phones and hand-held devices.

Though not immune from criticism — the first I ever heard about the app was Patrick Nielsen Hayden ripping it on SMOFS – the app’s modest capabilities surprised and pleased many users and immediately established it as a must-have technology future Worldcon committees will be expected to provide.

The Renovation committee knew it was reinventing a service already available in a commercial app called Guidebook (formerly Conventionist) but thought the money should be spent on other priorities.

What did the app’s users like about the Viafo product?

Becky Thomson commented: “It was a fabulous toy to play with before the con. I wasn’t expecting anything like it so to me it was almost magic to be able to use my phone to find out what panels a certain participant was going to do.”

Michael Lee thought it was a lifeline. “I live on mobile convention schedules now when I attend conventions, especially conventions with as many activities as a Worldcon, and so definitely used the mobile app at the convention, and I would have been more frustrated without the app than with the one that existed. My phone coverage was good enough that I didn’t worry about data usage.” 

Sarah Goodman used it to plan her con in advance: “Loading all the stuff into the ‘my program or ‘favorites’ or whatever it was gave me a good idea of the shape of my weekend going in, so the pre-con usage was helpful at-con.”

John Lorentz found it so useful he never picked up a paper program guide until the end of the convention. “With my duties as head of Finance and Reg (showing how ironic it was that I didn’t grab a con guide until Sunday), and the liaison for Doctor Demento, I was constantly running around and used the app all the time to find out where I was supposed to be running to.”

What did fans want to see improved in the next version (if there is one)?

Aurora Celeste said she “didn’t like how the program defaulted to Wednesday no matter what day it was, would have been nice if the program could realize it’s Friday and start by showing me Friday on the main schedule or on my saved schedule.”

Tom Galloway said, “I found the scrolling to be so slow (as in ‘make a scroll motion, multiple seconds pass before the display actually scrolls’) on my Android 2.2 phone as to make it effectively useless for me.”

Leslie Turek wanted to be able to add her own commitments (such as work schedules or meal dates), so that My Program captures all of her activities at the con.

Carl Zwanzig would like it to download and keep a local copy of the database. “The main reason I’d have for loading an app, as opposed to using the Renovationsf web site, is for off-line access. This was not possible. I tried the app once, discovered the on-line requirement, and didn’t bother again.”

Sarah Goodman hopes for an “across-the-board search function so I could find, say, every mention of ‘Anthropology’ or ‘Tom Whitmore’ or whatever.”

It might be an exaggeration to say history will long remember Renovation as the first Worldcon to offer such a convenience — can anybody name the first Worldcon to offer fans on-site mimeo printing, or the first one with an Internet lounge? It’s likely, however, fans will remember if next year’s Worldcon doesn’t follow their example.

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4 thoughts on “Renovation App

  1. Viafo is lead by Brit/PacNW fan Dave O’Neil. I was in contact with Dave and his dev team and reported back a few bugs and flaws that they were able to fix in the Android version.

    This was very much a quick-and-dirty dev effort, but except for the lack of cacheing (which reduced my use on my iPad to when I had network access) it was remarkably useful. My Android phone allowed me to use it whenever I wanted.

    All in all, it was a really nice prototype. Local storage, search and integration with native iOS and Android calendar apps are all I can think of that are vital to making it more useful.

  2. All this dratted programming gets in the way of fans hanging around together and just talking. And now its easier than ever to spend 12 hours a day, running from one place to another, listening to talking heads in closed rooms instead of having fun! Do the people who run worldcons think I go to them to listen to John Scalzi talk?

    Come to think of it, do I go to worldcons? To my surprise, I have been lately — three times in the last eight years! My only excuse is that I hadn’t been planning on it. I bet you don’t catch me at another.

  3. Thanks for the nice review. As Andrew said, it was a hell of a rush job and I must name check Henry Balen from Renovation IT for not just the work he did but also his amazing convention programming back-end that meant we could easily show program changes in real time.

    We’re planning to make the basic code available to other conventions, although we’ll need to do some wrangling to integrate to whatever system they’ve used for planning the con.

    On top of that, the key features we’re going to resolve are the Off-Line database functionality, performance (with some caveats – most of the Android problems were caused by a conflict between a library we used and something HTC had done) and some of the UI stuff people reported to us.

    Glad people liked it though!

  4. “…can anybody name the first Worldcon to offer fans on-site mimeo printing…?”

    Um, did any do it before I did at SunCon in 1977?

    The app sounds fabulous.

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