In episode 162 of the SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester recorded a live panel at MileHiCon 44 in Denver Colorado on Saturday, October 20th, 2012. Panelists were: Connie Willis, John E. Stith, Nathan Lowell and Cherie Priest, who was also the Guest of Honor for MHC 44.

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In episode 150 of the SF Signal Podcast, Patrick Hester gathers a panel to discuss the 2012 WorldCon (Chicon7), their experiences, panels and the Hugo Awards.

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Crowdsourcing the Convention: Guests are the Bait, Community is the Hook

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…

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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.

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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.)

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