On worldcon and convention design

The Worldcon (World Science Fiction Convention) in Montreal was enjoyable. Like all worldcons, which are run by fans rather than professional convention staff, it had its issues, but nothing too drastic. Our worst experience actually came from the Delta hotel, which I’ll describe below.

For the past few decades, Worldcons have been held in convention centers. They attract from 4,000 to 7,000 people and are generally felt to not fit in any ordinary hotel outside Las Vegas. (They don’t go to Las Vegas both because there is no large fan base there to run it, and the Las Vegas Hotels, unlike those in most towns, have no incentive to offer a cut-rate deal on a summer weekend.)

Because they are always held where deals are to be had on hotels and convention space, it is not uncommon for them to get the entire convention center or a large portion of it. This turns out to be a temptation which most cons succumb to, but should not. The Montreal convention was huge and cavernous. It had little of the intimacy a mostly social event should have. Use of the entire convention center meant long walks and robbed the convention of a social center — a single place through which you could expect people to flow, so you would see your friends, join up for hallway conversations and gather people to go for meals.

This is one of those cases where less can be more. You should not take more space than you need. The convention should be as initimate as it can be without becoming crowded. That may mean deliberately not taking function space.

A social center is vital to a good convention. Unfortunately when there are hotels in multiple directions from the convention center so that people use different exits, it is hard for the crowd to figure one out. At the Montreal convention (Anticipation) the closest thing to such a center was near the registration desk, but it never really worked. At other conventions, anywhere on the path to the primary entrance works. Sometimes it is the lobby and bar of the HQ hotel, but this was not the case here.

When the social center will not be obvious, the convention should try to find the best one, and put up a sign saying it is the congregation point. In some convention centers, meeting rooms will be on a different floor from other function space, and so it may be necessary to have two meeting points, one for in-between sessions, and the other for general time.

The social center/meeting point is the one thing it can make sense to use some space on. Expect a good fraction of the con to congregate there in break times. Let them form groups of conversation (there should be sound absorbing walls) but still be able to see and find other people in the space.

A good thing to make a meeting point work is to put up the schedule there, ideally in a dynamic way. This can be computer screens showing the titles of the upcoming sessions, or even human changed cards saying this. Anticipation used a giant schedule on the wall, which is also OK. The other methods allow descriptions to go up with the names. Anticipation did a roundly disliked “pocket” program printed on tabloid sized paper, with two pages usually needed to cover a whole day. Nobody had a pocket it could fit in. In addition, there were many changes to the schedule and the online version was not updated. Again, this is a volunteer effort, so I expect some glitches like this to happen, they are par for the course.

Creating a computerized schedule for use on people’s PDAs is a wise idea (and can even save a lot of paper and printing costs, as a huge fraction of convention goers have PDAs these days.) Worldcons tend to be grossly overprogrammed (more on that later) with 30 or more tracks, so you can’t just feed that into an ical file for most PDAs.

No matter how much programming there is, a tool like sched.org makes a lot of sense. They apparently have a $300 non-profit price that should put this service within the range of a low-cost convention, particularly with paper saved. What this tool does is present the program online, and lets the user select just the items they think might interest them. It then generates a calendar file to load into their PDA with just those items. This should also work for most ordinary phones, since if you get it down to one item every calendar can handle it. This is a particularly nice solution but there are others that are free, like various online shared calenders that let you copy items from a public calendar into yours. Sadly, most calendar systems balk at having 30 items scheduled at the same time and displaying it nicely. I think we may now be at the point where you could use a tool like this for all the people with PDAs and calendar phones, and then tell those without them to print their schedule at home or at their hotel via the web, and finally offer a couple of printing stations at the convention for the few who can’t use that. Charge $1 to use the station if need be to cover the cost of it. The first time this is done many will forget to print at home, but over time I expect people would become used to this and the need for local printing stations would drop.

In general I have wished for better calendar programs for PDAs. While the sched.org approach is great, it would also be nice if there were a way to easily browse even full schedules on PDAs. While many conventions could output a giant ical/vcal file, most PDAs would not know what to do with scores of tracks of programming at the same time.

Note: For some commentary on a worlcon Battlestar panel and the Hugos, see this note.

Overprogramming

Worldcons, and many SF conventions, are very heavily programmed. Even small ones will have a dozen tracks, and the worldcon may have 30 to 40 if you include various niche items like gaming, filk and media rooms. I find this a great shame because I want conventions to have some amount of shared experience. Something that just about everybody can talk about because they all were there. At the Worldcon that’s mainly the Hugo Awards and the Masquerade, with the opening and closing ceremonies also counting. Anticipation offered an interesting mostly plenary session with Charlie Stross and Paul Krugman, and it did indeed become a shared experience and talking point for the whole crowd. Strangely, Anticipation actually scheduled several sessions opposite the Hugo Awards which is almost always a plenary.

I’m a big fan of debates for plenary sessions, they always give people things to talk about. However, a good keynote speaker also works.

Why are there so many sessions? I’m not sure. Some say it’s because there are so many pro writers attending and you want to put them all on several panels. I think this could be accomplished with far fewer panels nonetheless. Have some small rooms for readings and private sessions so every writer can get something, but they don’t need to be on many panels. It is a cliche that every panel begins with at least one person saying “I don’t know why I’m on this panel.” Again, with volunteer efforts such mistakes will happen. But there are ways to fix it. Anticipation did ask panel members in advance to note any panel they did not think they should be one, and I pulled myself from “Fantasy Classics 101” but obviously many people did not. This may be because they didn’t want to turn down any panel, even one that made no sense for them to join.

It’s not as though the programmers should be unaware of what sessions and people are popular and draw crowds. While small sessions are good because they can be much more interactive, there should also be more periods of a small number of large sessions to give shared experience. A mix is best.

It’s also important to remember that it is not necessary that there be something for everyone at every hour. It is quite acceptable — in fact desired — that there be periods where there is nothing scheduled pulling your attention, and so you will sit in the social center or other locations and just talk. Not only should it not be the case that there are 3 different sessions you want to go to at the same time, it should often be the case that there are none. There should be breaks for lunch and dinner, and a half-hour morning and afternoon break as well.

Room switch

It’s also a good idea — at all conferences, including pro ones — to be a good estimator of potential audience. Often you will see a small room with people standing out the doorway, and another session in a large room full of empty chairs. At Anticipation, I attended a session on the last day (usually sparse) on the Fermi paradox. It was in a small room and standing room only. Across the hall was an author reading in a large room with 2 audience members. So I pulled a “panel switch” and asked the author if she would mind moving to a small empty room with her reading, and she was nice and did. I have always thought panel switches would be a good idea. My thought was that the program operations team should send a gopher (volunteer assistant) or two to walk all the session rooms and quickly note the audience size 5-10 minutes after start. This should be logged for later analysis, but when an obvious imbalance like this is seen, the worker should then suggest a room switch to the packed room, and do it if they agree. (It would not be optional for the people in the sparse room.) A room switch will cost 3-5 minutes of time from the session, so they might not do it.

I learned a few things doing the room switch. The main one is that unless you take care, the people who arrived early and got good seats in the small room will get the worst seats in the big room, which is unfair. You can fix this if people can exit the small room from the front of the room rather than the back. Otherwise you can tell people to remember what row they were in, and to sit in that row in the new room, and move after the people from the front row of the small room have seated themselves. If they are a cooperative group that should work, and of course the new room is bigger which gives you some slop and the rows will almost surely be wider.

Of course you also need to be able to quickly put up signs about the room switch. I joked at the Fermi paradox panel that “Now people showing up for the Fermi panel session will come to an empty room and find there is nobody out there.” A panelist responded, “and conclude there are no other panels at the whole convention.”

Room monitors

Today technology has reached the level that it should be easy to generate live video feeds from all session rooms. All it takes is a laptop with a webcam, and a tool like vlc or skype. Skype does a lot with a small amount of bandwidth, including good quality 640x480 video on a modern dual core laptop. Vlc on the other hand can generate a multicast stream which means it can be watched from multiple locations on the LAN with no extra bandwidth.

Webcams in all the rooms could be fed to a bank of monitors at the congregation point, perhaps 4 rooms per screen. Again, loaned laptops or desktops (even old ones) can make this happen. Lots of people have old equipment they can donate. Audio would have to be muted on perhaps all but one session. In program operations, they could also have a wall, or just a PC that they can switch among the rooms. This allows easy monitoring of what is going on, recording of all sessions, and immediate detection of rooms that are overfull and candidates for moving.

With skype right now, you can get good video in about 300 kilobits of bandwidth so a local 100mbit ethernet can readily handle 20 to 30 video streams. With gigabit it’s no problem at all. (One would hope a modern convention center would have gigabit but probably not too many yet.)

Remote Award Acceptance

Sometimes award winners can’t make it to a ceremony. The usual practice is to ask a friend who is attending to accept the award on their behalf and read an acceptance note. Surprisingly, at least at the Hugo awards, I’ve never seen them get the absent nominees or winner on the phone to let them accept in person. Today, it should be possible to go much better with a videoconference tool such as Skype. Award nominees who are absent but who can be at a computer should all be connected with Skype video as their award comes up. Here you would want to use video capture cards to feed the master video to them, but it’s also acceptable that they would not get to see video, just hear audio. However, when they win, their video feed should immediately be put up on the screen for them to accept (and if they weren’t seeing video of the presenter or crowd before, send it then.)

This is a little tricky as sending video requires a fair bit of CPU. You can’t readily be sending Skype to multiple nominees without multiple PCs. You can however send a video feed using other live streaming video tools which send one video to a master server from which people can stream. Indeed, for the Hugo awards, it would be possible for all sorts of absent people to watch the awards live via video. Today you can even stream from many cell phones for free to a wide audience.

For the received video there are a few tricks possible:

  • Test video with each waiting nominee, but then shut it off. Restart it only with the winner. This will take about 5 seconds but that’s shorter than the time it takes to walk to the podium.
  • You could also start the video a bit early with the winner, tipping off to them that they are the winner.
  • More ideally you should be receiving from all absent nominees. With skype you must either have different computers (all with a video out that can be used by the video switching system) or you could on a fast computer run Skype in several virtual machines and quickly switch which one has the display.
  • It is also possible on some OSs to run multiple copies of Skype as different users on the machine, and then if you can quickly switch users, you can switch to the winner. Again, the video operator can be told the winner in advance so they are pre-switched to the winner, but they should be extra careful not to put that video up on screen until the presenter has read the winner’s name. It’s possible a tool can be made to do a fast switch so the video operator does not need to know the winner. This should work on linux.
  • Possibly another tool besides skype could handle the multiple call issue better. Indeed, there are systems that will build conference calls where you see all callers. But there is no great need, like the academy awards, to see the reactions of the losers.
  • Ideally, you would switch the winner’s video in the very moment the presenter says their name, and let the audience see their reaction. But it’s OK if you can’t do even this.

Of course, ideally the winner is there in person, and there are only 1 or 2 absent nominees, simplifying this problem. If a category has all 5 nominees absent, that’s a bad sign.

There is the risk that the ability to receive the award remotely might cause some people to decide not to come in person. It may be better to not promise that the remote acceptance system will work, and so to make sure they try to show up in person or designate an accepter. It’s a good idea for backup anyway, the internet is not fully reliable. Certainly the first time this is done it should not be promised until after people have finalized their travel/non-travel plans.

Of course, audio remote award acceptance is much easier and just involves having the phone number of nominees who will be standing by, and a way to feed audio from a phone into the sound system, along with a picture of the nominee. I am not sure why this has never been done — possibly for the reason suggested above, to avoid giving people an excuse not to come.

Delta Hotel

Forgot to add…

On Friday night we hosted a private party in a suite booked for that party at the Delta. (Delta is a Canadian hotel chain unrelated to Delta airlines.) It was for members of the Making Light online community. As a private party it was not going to be on the official party floor, but the hotel moved it a few times, finally to the party floor. Then, on the last day, they moved it again to a regular floor. We began the party normally but 90 minutes in, hotel security came in and forced us to evict our guests, no negotiation possible. We were told we could not have a party on the floor they had moved our suite to! “Either you tell them to leave, sir or we’ll make them leave.” No chance to be quieter (we were not particularly loud) or talk about it at all.

This was unacceptable behaviour by a hotel. The manager had gone into a panic, either unaware himself of what it means to be the HQ hotel, or unprepared by the convention liaison for the usual issues involve — large parties, long lines for the elevators, lots of people coming from other hotels. The panic started when one party host issued a press release that suggested all the parties were open, which got onto the CBC radio. The hotel thought they were being inundated by random members of the public, though they weren’t. One private suite — the one for the SFWA (pro writers association) had, as usual, a large crowd and some people going out in the halls. We were told there was a sound complaint for our party by frankly we suspect this was made up. The hotel decided to shut down all parties off the two main party floors (where only convention guests were staying.) No negotiation. Our party was quiet and private. Our only flaw was cracking one of the doors because the air conditioner was not working, which we would have given up on. A couple of parties found rooms on party floors, we were not offered this. It took 90 minutes to get offered a function room in the lower level of the hotel, and we took it, though only about 40% of the guests found out about the move, and we now had to clean up two rooms.

There’s a lot to fault the hotel for here. The panic. The complete stance of non-negotiation. The long delay in getting a new room, largely killing the party. But as I often say, making mistakes is one thing (it happens) but not correcting mistakes when you have the time to think is the greater sin. In this case the hotel did give us an upgrade for the rest of our stay (which costs them nothing but is nice for us) and initially offered to reduce the rate for the suite down to the regular room rate. I found this unacceptable, so on the last day they reduced the charge for the failed night to zero. I accepted this but think it was the least they could do. Aside from the stress of having the guests evicted, and the reduced continuation, we had also purchased various foods and drinks, and Kathryn had been working on party setup all day. We only stayed at that hotel to host the party of course. In truth, the room had negative utility, even counting being a room for us to sleep in. However, in the end I judged the comp and the upgrade were sufficient, if only minimally so. It did not reach the level I usually think a good company should do — making it more than right if that’s not ruinous. I don’t think they actually had a flood of members of the general public, and I suspect there never was an actual noise complaint on our room. I asked who complained and they never answered.

Technical Issues

I worked tech at Anticipation and can put you in touch with the tech director if you'd like.

That said -- the budgets were slashed because of low pre-registration numbers. Costs were higher than normal because equipment had to be rented from the Palais des Congres's preferred (internal?) supplier rather than a competitive look at all of the Montreal area theatre and corporate equipment suppliers.

Streaming video from all or even a few panels would be a great idea -- but perhaps you noticed the general lack of network access around the Palais? And convention centers have a horrible habit of charging for bandwidth as though it were ten years ago. While 30 netbook + webcam setups wouldn't be horrendously expensive in terms of hardware ($500 apiece?) if it could be amortized over a few WorldCons, the extra time for setup, teardown and the theft-prevention costs would be pretty bad. Remember that at a typical WorldCon, all the technical labor except, perhaps, lighting trusses, is donated by volunteers. I'd estimate we need 3-5 more volunteers to take care of that.

In other words, everything can be done... it's just a small matter of getting people to do it and pay for it in money and time.

Agree about the need for a

Agree about the need for a social center, but there is a possible issue you didn't mention with the tech ideas. Namely, how outrageous are the hotel/convention center's charges for net access, bandwidth, devices, etc.? All too often, due to their having a monopoly on such there, the answer will be "extremely". As well as a requirement you use their equipment and not bring in your own. And sometimes, have to use their people to set it up at high labor costs.

As a non-tech example, for San Diego Comic-Con this year I ended up with a trivia-based item I was associated with having to be cancelled due to some scheduling conflicts for other people on it. Since we had an already scheduled slot, I suggested that I could do the Worldcon/sf con long-established "Trivia for Chocolate" item in it. This consists of asking rapid-fire trivia questions to the entire audience, first person to yell out the correct answer gets a small piece of chocolate, say an Andes Mint or Hershey's Kiss, tossed to them. Winner is the person with the most uneaten chocolate.

Didn't happen, because while I was willing to pay up to 25 cents per piece of chocolate, the Convention Center would've charged more than that (no, I didn't learn the exact amount). And I couldn't just bring in my own chocolate.

Evil convention centers

I agree there are convention centers that will rake you over the coals for every little thing, and the Palais certainly was one when it came to internet. However, there are convention centers (and hotels) which are much more reasonable about it.

Of course, one could also, if one really wanted to, set up a wireless network in the convention center not connected to the outside internet and that would not violate their exclusive internet provider contract. (Usually the hotel/CC has done a contract with some provider that makes them exclusive provider of internet to conventions.) Who knows it might even be possible to do a disconnected network on the wires.

But it’s probably only going to work with a cooperative network. Which some cons get, some don’t. As we all known, normally hotels don’t let you bring in any food and drink, but every con starts its negotiation by saying, “you don’t get our convention unless you waive corkage, and a few other business convention typical things.” This is a deal-breaker. Having internet available to the con members is not quite the same level of deal breaker yet, though it might well become that.

As for hardware logistics, all this needs is an old, but not too old laptop, with a webcam or just with USB. Even more available are older desktop PCs but they are not as portable. However, quiz 20 fans and you will probably find 30 old PCs. (Good webcams can now be bought for under $10.) And then one of those laptop locking chains, but older generation computers just aren’t the sort of things people will steal. Right now, older computers can’t do video compression as well, but this will change in a couple of years as today’s computers become the old computers at Reno 2011.

However the simple reality is you count how many computers fans offer and that’s how many rooms you can multicast. As more and more computers become able to boot from a USB stick, it also becomes possible to create a bootable linux USB stick with the OS and multicasting software preconfigured, so you just put in the stick and boot and the computer does not even need to have a hard drive (or permanent screen) to be the camera. Ideally you do mp4 streams, but that does depend on how much CPU you have available. I need to experiment with this. The first experiment (possibly for Reno) might just involve doing just a few tracks of programming.

Of course, in Reno, it would be possible to simply have somebody with a cell phone run QIK or Pocketcaster and you would have an instant (low quality) video stream of the session that could be brought up around the world. Has just that basic sort of stream been debated for the Hugos at least?

The one advantage of multicasting with vlc is that anybody on the network can tune into any room. Someday people on the network with wifi cell phones could watch it, though I don’t know if there are any such apps right now.

Knotty problems

I find your criticism well-thought out and balanced. I just want to make sure I say that first, because I'm going to play devil's advocate now.

So many tracks of programming: One big reason is Worldcon is trying to accomodate every subset of fandom that feels like showing up under one roof. Another is that many attendees are disappointed when there's a whole time slot with no panel that looks interesting to them. And the con
will get tons more interesting panel ideas than they could ever have room for, so why not use as many as possible?

If the crowd is spread too thinly, I think the answer that Worldcon has a structure that works for a certain attendance range, and current Worldcon attendance (especially with such a crappy economy) is at the low end of that range. I'd rather see the convention grow.

Daytime social center: Sometimes this is the con suite or fanzine lounge. I think part of the reasoning in putting the fanzine lounge right in the exhibit hall may have been that it could function as a social center. But you're right, better communication of that intention (if it was so) would have helped.

Streamed video: A nice idea, and one that's been tried out recently on a much smaller scale at Corflu (a very small fanzine convention) and Eastercon (the UK national convention). But on networking costs, this is from my notes from a feedback session at Denvention last year: "free"
Wi-Fi at the convention center would have cost $36,000-$45,000. At L.A.Con IV in 2006, it cost $38,000 for the Internet access they provided. This isn't chump change for a Worldcon.

Skype for absent nominees: If Skype is all that's needed, you're presuming that all the nominees are equipped with webcams, fast enough Internet connections to make the video passable, and burly enough computers to handle the load. Whereas I think you may find that many of them fall into the consumer demographic that buys the lowest-priced machine available that can run Word, and then uses it until it develops unrecoverable errors. (Granted, waiting long enough will bring even the bottom of the market to the point where streaming video is doable.)

Coordinated meal breaks: You've got the whole spectrum of people from those who want to be up first thing in the morning for Strolling With the Stars to those who consider it a sin to go to sleep before the last party has ended. You've got people from all over the world trying for varying degrees of adjustment to the local time zone. And now you want to decree to everyone when they're going to take their meal breaks?

It seems to me that your perspective is informed by having been to a lot of professional conferences, which have a much, much more homogeneous group attending them for a much narrower range of reasons than you get with a Worldcon. I know you're just throwing out some ideas that seem modest and reasonable to you, and I don't mean to just stomp all over them, even though, um, I guess I am.

You can't offer yourself as a typical Worldcon attendee-- no one can, because there is no such thing. And because of that, the solution Worldcons have settled on is to offer as much as possible, and let everyone build the experience they prefer for themselves, knowing that some people will chose mutually exclusive ones.

No panel to go to?

I think it i can be a feature if there is no session to go to in a given hour, not a bug. There is much more at a con than panels — I know many who don’t even go to any panels, or perhaps just one. You want time for meals, for the dealers, for social conversation and many other things. I see no flaw if there is nothing to go to on the program.

Yes, people dine at odd hours and nothing stops them from dining when there is no break, but that doesn’t stop the value of a specific break.

As for skype it’s not a must. I would not do it with anybody who did not feel comfortable doing it — but many millions are comfortable. For others, the regular phone is fine.

But I know there are many types of worldcon attendee, but at the same time I would daresay that few would feel a cavernous convention center without much between-panel social interaction is what they seek. And I think everybody who goes to an award ceremony would find it better if they heard or saw the reaction of the winner.

Re: No panel to go to?

It is fine and dandy if you prefer to take breaks from the massive panel schedule. You can do that as things stand. But when you're talking about wiping the board clean for meal breaks, you're trying to impose your vision of an ideal convention experience on all the other attendees.

"You want time for meals..." No, *you* want time for meals. I, for instance, don't eat lunch at conventions in the US because I can barely handle two US-restaurant-sized meals in one day. Under your plan, I lose 1-2 hours of potentially valuable educational time per day.

There's also the implied slight to people who are on different schedules for personal, medical, or cultural reasons (remember, this is an international convention). I know, you just mean the breaks to be there if people want to use them, but setting up a meal schedule unavoidably sends the message that people are expected to follow it and the convention disapproves of alternate approaches. This isn't because of something peculiar to Worldcon, or to sf fandom; it's just part of how the human brain works.

Also, as a practical point, imagine the lines if the entire convention is trying to pop out for a quick bite somewhere nearby all at the same time.

Overprogramming

There is a belief, an erroneous one, that "big program = great program." So, as a result, Program does flow over to fill all possible rooms, unless the people running it try to reign it in a little. People who run Program have got treat Program the way an editor puts together anthologies - listen to all the great ideas but edit ruthlessly.

This year, there were probably more program items this year than at any Worldcon ever, with the possible exception of Noreascon II (which, by the way, had 2,500 more attendees than this year's Worldcon).

I've been collecting Worldcon Programs at my site, and have all the Worldcon Programs online (except for one) going back to 1989 at http://www.dpsinfo.com/pbt One project I've been working on since Anticipation is to create a spreadsheet listing Program/Attendance data for the last 10 Worldcons. That spreadsheet ("Version 2" - I expect a few of you saw the earlier version), with a bunch of caveats, is now linked to the Worldcon Schedules home page.

I've been going to Worldcons, on and off, since 1976. I don't remember any recent Worldcons that didn't counter program Events a little bit. A few items against the Hugos or dinner is fine, but you want to schedule outside of the "main hours" (10-6 in most cases) carefully. And the Program managers have got to pay attention to what the program participants tell them, vis a vis times available and preferences.

No one should run a Program who isn't willing to deal with communicating with the Program participants in a timely fashion. It's critical, it takes and enormous amount of time, but it absolutely needs to be done. And Program managers must be willing to say "no" where it's needed.

Laurie Mann
Renovation Program team
Yes, we're already collecting Program ideas: http://www.renovationsf.org/prog-form.php

Not necessarily dinner

You don’t need to go to dinner during a break. There is so much going on at a convention. While there are people who, like you, want to spend as much time in programming as possible, my estimate is that they are a small faction. Having so much programming comes at a cost, so it is not a simple question of meeting every need that might be asked for. There is no typical fan priority, but I think many fans do want to participate in multiple activities at a con — not just programming, not just parties, etc. but there are some.

But put it another way? How many people think there is not enough programming at a typical worldcon? If the answer is hardly anybody (or nobody) then it’s pretty clear that there is too much. If the amount is “just right” then you will get more balance between those who say to little and those who say too much.

Re: Not necessarily dinner

"While there are people who, like you, want to spend as much time in programming as possible, my estimate is that they are a small fraction."

On what do you base that estimate?

I'm not disagreeing with you; I think you could take any single person's description of the ideal Worldcon experience and it would only be representative of a small fraction of the Worldcon population. But if you're basing it on anything more substantial than intuition, I'd be interested in seeing that information myself.

"How many people think there is not enough programming at a typical worldcon?"

Anyone who thinks their particular subthread of fandom was unjustly ignored.

More solid answer: Go to the gripe sessions for 2-3 Worldcons and see for yourself. 2-3 because no Worldcon is ever absolutely typical.

Some things just never change

"Anticipation did a roundly disliked 'pocket' program printed on tabloid sized paper, with two pages usually needed to cover a whole day. Nobody had a pocket it could fit in. In addition, there were many changes to the schedule and the online version was not updated."

It's good to see such ancient customs upheld.

over-programming

"I think it i can be a feature if there is no session to go to in a given hour... You want time for meals, for the dealers, for social conversation and many other things. I see no flaw if there is nothing to go to on the program."

You're committing a logical fallacy. You can see only one program at any given time. If there are two others you'd like to see running at the same time, you don't lose anything by having those other panels exist. In fact, you get a slight gain, because you get to pick the one you'd most like to see. You may have an emotional loss - frustration at not being able to be in three places at once - but having fewer choices never gives you better options. At some point more program tracks starts to spread the audience too thinly, but that's a different issue (and vendors in the Dealers' Room may think the ideal number of tracks is zero).

The shared experience aspect should be considered, but you can't force people to attend things they don't like by cancelling the things they do like. I've heard from people who are upset that a GoH speech doesn't draw as many people as the Masquerade, but a policy of cancelling anything more popular than the GoH speech seems self-defeating unless your goal is to downsize to a narrowly focussed con.

Your idea of an enforced lunch break suffers from the same logical fallacy (programming does not prevent you from going to lunch) and in most venues it would cause restaurant overload if everyone eats at the same time. It's better to spread the load out. The shared experience of standing in line is not popular at Worldcon (though it is at many anime cons).

I don't think there's any

I don't think there's any such thing as overprogramming. One of the things I love about going to a Worldcon is the diversity of topics. There is no One Fandom; we all have different interests and a Worldcon generally tries to do a number of topics well. Often, they succeed in some areas but not others.

Overprogramming

I'll disagree there's no such thing as overprogramming, and can give an example from Anticipation that played out pretty much exactly how I expected.

In general, I thought Anticipation overprogrammed evenings, particularly given that the convention center was a 10 minute or so walk to the party hotel (i.e. people wouldn't duck in and out of evening program with respect to parties). But there was one case in particular I figured wasn't going to work. I was scheduled for an evening item that had, as its competition, 1) the Masquerade 2) Neil Gaiman reading a Cory Doctorow story with Cory in the room 3) Win Robert J. Sawyer's Money (note that Canadian author Sawyer is particularly popular in, well, Canada) 4) Parties. And probably another item or two I don't recall as not being as significant as those. My item had no one on it with any significant name draw; no offense to anyone else on it, and I include myself in this category, few if any would have anyone on that item on their "I really must go to this because this person is on it" list. Also, the topic wasn't one with strong intrinsic interest, such as a science or tech topic.

And, as I pretty much expected, no one showed up for it except the panelists.

It's also the case that an item often really only works if you get a certain number of people in the audience. My Monday morning panel was hurt by being in one of the "I'm surprised the signs aren't in Chinese since we're that close to Chinatown" rooms at the very far end of the Palais. By that point, at least one person posted they were picking which items to attend by how far down the long hallway the room was. So we had a < 10 person audience. We did a good panel, with lots of audience interaction, but honestly it would've been much better if we'd had even 20 people. It probably would've been better, at least for that time slot, to have had one or two fewer items in it so that each item would've had a better chance for a significant audience.

Why you can overprogram

Fans are diverse, but a convention exists to come together. That’s why shared experience is essential to any convention, not just in SF. Worldcons don’t try to be all things to all people, nor should they. Now perhaps I may have a particular strong niche interest, but that had better not be all I am interested in because there I am better served at the world convention for that niche, and for most of them, there is one.

No, I will come to go outside my niche and to focus on some of the things the worldcon is strongest at — appreciation of written SF in particular, and a bit of the FIAWOL culture (fanzines, con running etc.)

If you try to have something for everyone you overdo it. You must strike a balance. A balance that brings people together, rather than sticks them in their pigeonholes. I would rather see a superb panel about one of my lesser interests than a mediocre panel about my strongest interests, and I am not alone.

You overprogram if people don’t feel the programming left them time for other things. You overprogram if people feel they ad to constantly travel long distances to get to sessions. You overprogram if you have a noticeable number of sessions with just a smattering of people. You only underprogram if people start staying, “The program usually had nothing to interest me” (when they are the sort of people who like programming.)

programming against the GOH speech

"I've heard from people who are upset that a GoH speech doesn't draw as many people as the Masquerade, but a policy of cancelling anything more popular than the GoH speech seems self-defeating unless your goal is to downsize to a narrowly focussed con."

I won't address any of the other issues, but I'm in the camp that says the one thing there should be no counter-programming against are the GOH speechs. It's disrespectful to the GOHs. If people aren't interested in listening to the GOHs -- which is completely legitimate -- they can entertain themselves for that hour, or hour and a half. It's not the duty of the the con to supply alternatives at every moment, and the GOH speech is a unique moment.

Of course, immediately upon writing that, I realize that I'm so old-fashioned, I momentarily forgot we no longer have only two Guests of Honor, a Pro and a Fan.

But I'm stodgy enough to then argue that this demonstrably an example of how having more than two GOHs diminishes being a GOH. Once you have 5-6 of them, you've gone from half (okay, we all know the pro GOH got far more attention than the Fan GOH) the honor and attention going to each GOH to a fifth-to-sixth the honor and attention.

If it's a problem to stop Worldcon five or six times for each GOH event, then maybe that's too many Guests of Honor?

(Let alone noting the Worldcons that have had more than 6!)

By the way, am I the only person bothered that the Raleigh NASFiC has decided to have a "GOH" followed by an "Artist GOH" and a "Fan GOH," which implies that the first, with no modifier, is greater than the other two, modified, forms of GOH? Or am I being persnickety in noting that, so far as I can recall/have noticed, no Worldcon or NASFiC has ever used such nomenclature and made such a distinction before?

It reads to me as if they're saying there's a "real" GOH, and two lesser ones. But maybe that's just my own idiosyncratic reaction?

And you kids get off my lawn!

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