CoNZealand 2020

Suzie Eisfelder

I’ve been a fan of CoNZealand for ten years before it became a reality. I first heard of what it might be back at AussieCon in 2010. Last night CoNZealand finished and I am exhausted. But let me start from a little before that so you have some understanding of what I’m talking about.

WorldCon is the annual convention of the World Science Fiction Society. It was first held in 1939, during WWII they took a break but have been held continuously every year since 1946. They are full of fun, laughter, panels, readings and friends. They are held in different cities around the world, with each convention having their own committee and website. They are an abundance of fun. Earlier this year the CoNZealand Committee decided they needed to either cancel their convention or go virtual. They went virtual. They put in a tonne-load of work to ensure a convention actually happened welcoming people from a lot of different countries. While there were issues, there are always issues, it was a great convention. If you google you can find many blogs about it. I can only speak to my experience and not someone else’s.

How does a virtual convention work?

This virtual convention ran through the good will and hard work of many, many volunteers. More volunteers than normal. I thanked some of them as I went through the con, and told them they were doing a good job. But it also ran using a number of platforms, these are just the ones I saw, there may have been more I missed, and there were almost certainly ones working away in the background.

Discord has instant messaging and VOIP (voice over internet protocol), it has either been developed for gamers or been adopted by gamers. It means they can talk while they play games (and people think games are antisocial). I’ve been using it for a number of months and it seems really powerful. CoNZealand opened up a server and populated it with an incredibly large number of ‘rooms’. This included several rooms dedicated to helping people and to being there when people needed information. Then there were a large number of Programme Rooms and Reading Rooms. Each of these corresponded to the appropriate Zoom room during the convention. This was followed by the Exhibits Lobby containing the exhibits, dealers and art show chat. I didn’t go into this too often and glancing at it all tonight before they shut the Discord Server makes me glad, it’s very confusing. Then there were rooms for the film festival, fan tables (one for each individual club), bar, cafe, gaming tables, and more. It was huge…just in case you hadn’t figured that out.

Grenadine is event management software and had all the schedule and links to each individual item as well as links to each Zoom meeting or webinar. Each session was allocated to a particular Programme Room or Reading Room, some of these were meetings and others were webinars. The difference seems to be in the delivery. The meetings seemed more intimate as we could see each attendee and each speaker, whether on screen or just their name if they didn’t have a camera or had the camera turned off. The webinar only had the speakers on the screen. There was the opportunity to chat with the speakers or the other attendees using text. The webinars had the additional Q&A available.

The Fantasy Network had all the films and by now might have all the recordings CoNZealand has permission to put up there. It will all come down in a few days as they only have permission from the speakers to keep them up for a short time.

All of this is on top of the CoNZealand website. You can only access it all once you have your login.

There were parties. I thought this was brilliant. Party Mavens occupied the main Zoom party channel and then directed people to the party they requested. It was very cleverly done. The Party Mavens shared their screen so as soon as you ‘zoomed’ in you could see the instructions. Essentially, by changing your name to include the number of the party you wanted to attend you were magically whisked into that party. It felt like magic but in reality they were breakout rooms, I’ve since looked at my Zoom account and figured out how they did that ‘magic’. You could pop out of one party back to the main party channel and go into another, or just leave entirely.

I have sent an email to the organisers with the positives and negatives as I see them. That includes that one specific person not be a moderator in the future, I’m not naming and shaming as that’s not really what I want to do. I just felt this person was not really suited as they made the panel about themselves rather than the three panellists and I did name and shame in the email, I was quite specific.

The email included a couple of points I do want to say in public. One session on the Wednesday was cancelled. I don’t even remember what it was. The tech person for that room hung around to make sure that anyone coming in for that session was informed. I ended up staying and talking with him. Soon, if you’re reading this I did mention in the email that this was one of my highlights. The other was a Kaffeeklatsch I attended. I don’t remember why I chose an author I’ve never heard of before, but it ended up being a good choice. It might have something to do with her books on climate change or my finger might have slipped. Whatever, it was another highlight, but I’m really tired and I don’t have her name to hand.

One last thing

I’d be remiss if I didn’t make vague mention of the next WorldCon. It will be in Washington, DC in August next year. Tickets for DisConIII are already on sale and the price will rise at the end of August. It will be a blast, whether in person or virtual.

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