In the past few weeks, CtC has asked a couple of pertinent questions: What makes a convention worth going to, and what did you love (and hate) about WorldCon, DragonCon and PAX? The feedback was intriguing, and it gave this rookie convention programming director some actionable (but painful) insights into running a successful con.
Bottom line: It’s a big-name guests that get people to a convention, but it’s the sense of community that keeps them coming back…
This weekend, three major geek conventions throw down all at once: PAX, DragonCon and WorldCon. Short of the Hollywood-infused spectacle that is Comic-Con, this will be the biggest convention weekend of 2010. As a rookie programming director for ConGlomeration 2011, it’s also my most hyperconcentrated research opportunity — so , of course, I’m unable to attend any of the trio of A-list conventions. (Stupid adult obligations)
That’s where you guys come in. Roughly 60,000 people attend PAX. Another 40,000 attend DragonCon. WorldCon averages something in the neighborhood of tenth of either previous figure. In any case, about 100,000 geeks — professional and otherwise — will be at a convention this weekend, and a bunch of you read SF Signal, too.
So spill it.
I want to know:
- What rocks and what sucks about each convention?
- What makes DragonCon so special?
- How did PAX double in size every year for the last seven?
- Are the Hugos really as awesome as we imagine?
- Who’s the geek ubermensch: Nathan Fillion or Wil Wheaton?
Cite specific examples and show your work.
As you may recall from the first column in this series, I’m a rookie programming director for ConGlomeration 2011, and I’m relying on the (ahem) valuable feedback of SF Signal readers to direct some or all the programming decisions I make for the convention. Which brings me — somehow — to Lou Anders, and to Comic-Con, and to the entire point of small science fiction conventions.
Mr. Anders, you see, dropped a minor bombshell on the first SF Signal podcast when he professed that Comic-Con and Dragon*Con are more important than WorldCon or the World Fantasy Convention.
“My world used to revolve around World Fantasy and WorldCon. I no longer attend World Fantasy, and I will probably not attend WorldCons any year they’re dumb enough to schedule opposite Dragon*Con.”
Bear in mind that Anders was speaking as a professional editor. He gets much more value out of the critical mass of talent and fans available at Dragon*Con or Comic-Con than would the average attendee simply because it lets him do the most possible business in the shortest possible time. But it also bespeaks a larger issue: DragonCon and Comic-Con are growing, WorldCon and World Fantasy are shrinking. It’s not just pros like Anders that prefer the great geek pilgrimage conventions: fans are voting with their feet and their wallets, and they’re voting for megacons over the older or more intimate conventions.
So where does that leave the small regional conventions like ConGlomeration? What makes a convention “worth going to” for you and your fellow geeks?
ConGlomeration — the half-mad sci-fi con occurring in Louisville, KY this Easter weekend — is once again turning to online fandom to direct our programming. This time, I ask whether trying to structure too much programming isn’t the problem.
As part of geek culture’s continued campaign to subvert civilization to our own ends, industry and business conventions have begun to embrace a supposedly novel concept called the unconference. Rather than having a set structure of meetings, panels, keynotes and breakout sessions, the unconference is intentionally unstructured. Attendees meet, gather, form discussion groups and organize programming on the spot.
Think of an unconference as a live-action discussion forum where someone starts a thread and, if it’s interesting, others join in. If the ad hoc panel isn’t to your liking, go elsewhere. Just like online, these discussion threads have moderators, which unconferences call facilitators. In most cases, unconferences produce better, more productive discussions and instruction than any structured set of activities could ever provide. (Though with most business conventions, that’s a very low bar to cross.)
They say that the Internet is killing the small science fiction convention. They say you can interact with fans and pros in so many ways online for free, there’s no point in paying to do it offline. Unless you’ve got the critical mass of awesome like you’d find at Comic-Con, DragonCon, GenCon, or WorldCon, there’s no sense even trying, right?
Frak that. I don’t believe the web is killing small sci-fi cons. I do believe that the Internet can save them.
After five years as a staffer at my local convention, Louisville’s own ConGlomeration, I’ve stepped up as programming co-chair on the organizing committee. But I come at this after 10 years as an online content producer and old-school social media Kool-Aid-drinker. I believe, as Doc Searls taught us, that hyperlinks subvert hierarchy. I believe that with many eyes, all bugs are shallow. I believe in black swans, tipping points, and the wisdom of crowds. And, above all, I’m looking for a few brave first followers.
I want the Internet – and especially the readership of SF Signal – to program ConGlomeration 2011.