Con report: WiFi SciFi

The WiFi SciFi poster

The first WiFi SciFi online convention took place this Saturday the 4th of April, everywhere.

Around 75 people including 16 panelists, mostly drawn from the UK, attended two panels, two kaffeeklatsches and a quiz over the course of a late afternoon UK time. The medium of the event was teleconferencing platform Zoom; kaffeeklatsches were allocated using Zoom's breakout room feature and the quiz using the poll feature.

The technical end of the experiment didn't go perfectly, of course--connectivity problems made it hard for guest Tade Thompson to participate, making 3 conventions out of 3 where I almost met him but didn't. Cheryl Morgan has some hot takes in a Twitter thread here.

But we shouldn't judge the event by the technical imperfections of an overloaded system--we're all trying to rebuild the world with spit and bits of string right now. The miracle, the monument to human ingenuity, is that any of this is working at all.

The con ran just about on time, which is better than lots of physical conventions do. There were no major disasters or venue issues that I've heard about. Something I hope chair Anne Corlett and the other organizers not just collect but share out among the whole con-running community is detailed feedback from members on accessibility and accommodations. We now have a potential template for small conventions in what everyone seems to have decided to call "these uncertain times" and something that should be transferable to a hypothetical future where the world isn't being ravaged by a respiratory death-plague.

A 75-person Zoom chat for the quiz
We can anticipate some needs already. Scalability of a convention from 75 people up to hundreds or thousands is an open technical question I don't think anyone in the world can answer now. This past week where Zoombombing spread around the world underscores the need to adapt security procedures and codes of conduct, and to enforce them--failure to even try to maintain an actively anti-sexist discussion space has been the biggest failing of Concellation 2020 and soured me on that whole event. Every video conferencing platform, Zoom included, has worrying unanswered questions about privacy and data security (and as long as a profit motive persists, these questions will remain fundamentally unanswerable--something I hope comes out of all this is the recognition that Internet and social media have in practice become utilities and should be publicly-run and freely available).

But I feel like we are taking important first steps to maintain a sense of community under difficult circumstances. The convention was enjoyable, and on its own terms a success. We should welcome the questions that arise over the next few weeks, embrace the challenge to answer, and maintain an open dialogue about them as we prepare for the online Worldcon at the end of July.


Edmund Schluessel

No comments:

Post a Comment