One happy chore of running an SF website is updating links to conventions. This can be as rewarding as a severe hangover, though without the enjoyable prequel. Let me tell you all about it.
Convention sites inevitably go out of date. A regular sad spectacle, long after the event, is the front page no one got around to changing: "SomethingCon starts tomorrow! Welcome!" Often a little counter helpfully informs you it's now minus 110 days to the convention.
When will they announce next year's SomethingCon? Until then the link gets exiled to my lengthy Convention Limbo List, checked as often as I can face the pain. Convention web designers have various ways of turning the agony up to 11.
A favourite gambit: put no information on the front page, just a huge graphic image. Sometimes secrets like the date or place are lurking further down, findable by patient scrolling. One US convention hides everything behind links titled News, Information, Details, Forums, etc: you need to check all these to confirm that, yes indeed, nothing has changed for a full year since the last con, not even the fact that it's "an annual event". I eventually emailed that committee and found they'd decided to skip 2009 but hadn't thought this interesting enough to be News on their official website.
Graphics also provide a nifty way to present long, hard-to-type names and addresses, so news gatherers can't copy and paste. Make the bastards work to give you free publicity!
Simply omitting the year is puzzling enough. Did it happen in July 2009 or will it happen in July 2010? Other disinformation specialists tease us with a cryptic location. Locals know the Grand Fleapit Cinema, venue of this filmfest, is in ... well, whatever city it's in. Grumbling outsiders must scour the site for clues.
A very useful trick is to start a fresh website with no link from the old one and no easy way to guess: AnotherConvention.com gives way, with inscrutable logic, to Anothercon2010.org. To be fair, this may happen because someone let the old domain lapse and can't afford the ransom asked by rapacious cybersquatters. Britain's own Novacon lost Novacon.org.uk that way, and only recently got it back.
Confusion – a popular convention name, incidentally – can be effectively increased by combining the front page of SomeDamnCon's website with a blog or bulletin board for the fan group who organize it. The page keeps changing, but people who check it out in hope of information on the next SomeDamnCon find the lead news is a mass of posts about recent parties and pub meetings. Maybe the truth is out there in a six-month-old message now consigned to the "Older Posts" archive, but who knows and who has the time?
Some committees think regular site updates are for wimps. A traditional way to make readers fretful about membership fees they're reading online in November 2009: "These prices will increase on 31 July 2009." (One US site outdoes that with a page saying the next WhatsitCon will be in Fall 2009 on a date to be announced. Still says the same as winter begins.) Other handy pricing ploys to discourage potential members include:
- (a) Revealing the cost only after suckers are well into a laborious system of registering a user name and password which will allow them the great privilege of joining the convention. Hiding price information in a bulky PDF download is also popular.
- (b) Accepting entrance fees only at the door and not revealing how much – regulars know roughly what to expect but newbies fear it's "If you have to ask, you can't afford it."
- (c) Refusing to publish a postal address where old-fashioned fans can send a dear old lavender-scented cheque for membership.
- (d) Refusing to accept payment online as preferred by cutting-edge cyberfans. Actual example: "We are a small convention, and cannot afford to take online memberships." Since PayPal accounts are free and it's a doddle to absorb the PayPal commission by charging a little bit extra to join online, this seemed quite remarkably clueless. The convention was cancelled.
Yes, all examples are genuine, and it's only by a heroic feat of self-control – aided by stern advice from our libel lawyers – that I'm managing not to Name Names in aggravated detail. Now it's time to check the accursed Convention Limbo List again ...
In next issue's special guest column, a leading convention organizer explains all the ways in which David Langford irritates him.
Footnote. There are in fact three event listings at the Ansible site, covering the British Isles (but including Eurocons and Worldcons), Overseas (the page responsible for most of the pain above) and London. The Limbo List, being full of libellous comments, is not on line.