Posts Tagged ‘Philadelphia’

Convention/fan relations? You’re doing it wrong.

February 19th, 2009

Previously I I blogged about FaerieCon and my experiences there as a vendor/attendee for the past two years. I was aware that the venue, the Pennsylvania Convention Center, had more than its fair share of problems as far as the con organizers, vendors, and attendees were concerned. It certainly wasn’t especially “fae” in atmosphere, and being a union facility everything from setting up your booth to running a single line of electricity could become quite expensive.

But that said, it did have some advantages location-wise, at least for those from and/or familiar with the Philadelphia area. It was no more than a block or two’s walk from the Greyhound bus station (and numerous Chinatown bus routes). A block or two from multiple subway and regional rail routes (including the route that serves the airport–an under $6 fare). Under a $10 cab fare from 30th Street Station. For those reliant on public transit (or who use it whenever possible for convenience/environmental/cost factors), it was great. Also being smack-dab in the middle of Chinatown, and near Reading Terminal Market, cheap and good food was in quick, easy walking distance. Yes, the “host hotel” rates were expensive, but the city itself is full of lodging choices for any budget, again within easy public transit reach to the convention center. The nearby Trocadero theater made for a fabulous location for the Good and Bad Faerie Balls.

Nevertheless, I had heard talk of moving the convention, and did agree that it might be a necessary choice. Even being in the heart of the city, it seemed attendance was never in the range that it could or should have been to make the PACC location profitable (for anyone). A different location — say a hotel convention facility in the area, even the nearby ‘burbs — should provide cheaper facilities, and I had imagined might provide cheaper prices for exhibitors, hence I was actually considering trying to work the show again this year as the fees for it were my primary reason not for returning.

But then last night I received an update email, which made me rule out the possibility of going back entirely.

Because the convention is now going to take place in Hunt Valley, Maryland (oh, they say it’s Baltimore, but I’ll get to that in a moment) at the good old Marriott Hunt Valley Inn. And let’s take a look at how they “promote” this change of venue on their website (the same as the email), which manages to be both highly insulting to Philadelphia and its resident fen, but inaccurate in many ways as well…

LOCATION: Baltimore, MD
- Easier Access for all of our Fans
- A Safer and more Hospitable City

First off, Hunt Valley is NOT Baltimore. It is, by YahooMaps 17.5 miles (approximately 22 minutes by car) away. This might be easier access to some with cars, but it is not easier access “for all”. I know from a great deal of experience that it is about a $40+ cab ride from the train station in Baltimore to that hotel. It is 45 minutes away from Baltimore by light rail and an awkward walk (especially if you have any luggage) involving crossing a 6-lane high-traffic road (with no pedestrian sidewalks as this is commuter suburbia).

And let’s talk about “safer and more hospitable”. What a way to insult Philadelphia and its residents. We can examine some actual statistics from 2005 that ranked Baltimore the #2 most dangerous city with population over 500,000 in the U.S.; Philadelphia was ranked #6. Baltimore is noted for its consistently higher than average crime rates.

Oh, but that’s right, the con isn’t really in Baltimore anyway. It’s in Hunt Valley, which probably doesn’t have that much crime given it’s mostly full of business and industrial parks. Except perhaps pedestrians getting hit trying to cross those roadways!

DATE: November 6-8
- No Ren Faire Date Conflicts
- The perfect Holiday Gift Shopping Event

It’s nice it doesn’t conflict with any Ren Faire. But the new later date puts it two weeks before Philcon, meaning again that many Philadelphia-area fans are less likely to attend for budget/scheduling reasons.

And as someone who has worked retail for many years, nothing truly becomes “holiday shopping” in earnest until Thanksgiving weekend onward.

VENUE – Marriott Hunt Valley
- Just 10 Minutes from Downtown Baltimore!

Ten minutes perhaps by helicopter.

- A modern, beautiful hotel.

I guess they’ve missed how many of us have laughed our heads off at the rather hideous remodeling of the hotel from several years ago, with the nausea-inducing carpet patterns, odd lighting choices, etc.

- FaerieCon owns the WHOLE Hotel for the Weekend!
- After hours, you can party all night!
- FaerieCon Special Rate Rooms are just $99.00 a night;
that’s 50% off Philadelphia rates!

I also know that hotel tends to fill up pretty quick for conventions. Nearby overflow choices are somewhat limited and generally in the $130+ range.

- Free Parking on Site! – saving you up to $40 a day from Philly

Again, good for the car people. For the rest of us, not so much…

- All Activities – including the Masquerade Balls – take place in the Hotel!

I’ll miss the Troc.

- Hunt Valley is an Experienced Convention Host – Balticon and others are held there.

I’ll grant them this is true. But I will say it has very limited – and expensive – dining choices. Their snack bar is similar to Aramarks’ at the PACC in terms of selection and price. The hotel’s main restaurant, the Cinnamon Tree, is overpriced and inconsistent at best in quality. There are numerous chain and other restaurants in driving distance, but it’s been my experience that being suburbia, they are mob scenes Friday & Saturday nights — especially when you throw a convention into the mix.

- Full Guest Facilities: Bar, Restaurants, Gym, Outdoor Areas, etc.

OK, I just have to laugh at the outdoor areas bit. The outdoor areas basically consist of the lawn around the parking lot. The most I’ve generally ever seen people use these outdoor areas for during conventions is a smoke break.

And let’s also talk about the fact that their exhibitor prices have only gone up, not down. At a non-union facility, now which has a much more limited capacity for bodies on premises than the PACC did. This to me is the final insult upon injury. Even with all my personal beefs about the location, I can still afford (and profit on) working a convention like Shore Leave at that hotel — because a vendor’s space can be had for under $300. Even if I have upwards of $400 in travel, lodging, and food expenses, I can still make a profit when my expenses are under $700. Here, FaerieCon is charging just about DragonCon-level pricing for space, for an event that will not possibly get that kind of turnout.

I really have to wonder what is up with how they think they can justify that. And I will wait and see if I can get any answers from the event staff to explain it all…

It’s a shame, too, because I had been considering even just attending this year, without vending. I really enjoyed the craftwork, the music, and the atmosphere of the convention in the past. But at the considerably higher cost for me to now even attend (let alone exhibit), given the state of the economy currently it’s just not something I have the budget for, even if I wasn’t insulted by the way this change was announced.

On privacy, blogging, and hazardous misconceptions

February 16th, 2009

Today’s blog isn’t so much directly about fandom, but the ways in which I’ve recently seen a number of people (inside and outside of fandom) completely miss the boat on the way the internet works–in particular on issues of etiquette and privacy.

Unfortunately, there is no one “bible” on internet etiquette out there to follow; no international rules and regulations beyond those that evolve within the community of internet users through the years. But some of these things really shouldn’t be that difficult to figure out if you are at all familiar with technology and net culture–and have some small amount of common sense about you. They are also things which are worth contemplating from time to time, to determine if your personal expectations of privacy and etiquette can really be automatically expected to be followed by others–or are completely off the mark.

Public postings are exactly that: PUBLIC.

Sure, you can deter robots from spidering through your blog, livejournal, or website. But that doesn’t mean someone you didn’t “intend” to find your rantings about your evil housemates, your boss, or your pornographic Harry Potter fiction isn’t going to stumble upon it in some other fashion. Unless you lock them down through password protection, “friends lock” or other methods, your words, images and actions that you’ve chosen to share on the internet are there for anyone to see, read, and potentially respond to.

Indeed, some of the things people do that they think “protect” themselves may serve as only a greater incentive for the “wrong” audience to want to read on. Putting up a giant post-dated post or header on your blog proclaiming “THIS SITE IS FOR MY FRIENDS ONLY!” without actively locking it down as such? May only be more incentive for the nosy to click away. It’s like leaving an unlocked, hand-written diary out on a coffee table in a house you share with others. Maybe some people will be “polite” enough to ignore it’s there and not open it. But even if you put a sticky note on it saying “DO NOT OPEN”, you’re not doing all you should to guard your privacy.

Linking happens. Deal with it.

One of the primary features of the World Wide Web, since its earliest days, was The Link. An American webpage on, say, Pink Floyd might lead you to another website in Holland featuring a F.A.Q. about the band or discography; it might include a list of mailing lists around the world you could subscribe to to discuss the band; a directory of fan sites for other classic rock bands. A fan-fiction archive for Star Wars might include a “link page” where you could find more Star Wars fiction, information sites about the movies, etc.

Yet linking seems to remain one of those things people can get irrationally weird and protective about. Even while linking has long been one of the easiest and most direct ways for people within a specific community or sharing a common interest could find each other, some people get strangely obsessive over who does and doesn’t link to their sites and whether permission is required to do so. These people don’t seem to understand that linking does not equal stealing content, which is another matter entirely. In fandom, this has often come up in terms of fiction rec lists or sites such as FanWorksFinder–and critical reviews as well. Some have raised objections if their stories were included in a review that was less-than-favorable, claiming it to be “stealing their content”. But a story link is different from, say, taking an entire story out of an archive and publishing it on your own site without asking the author’s permission first (unless the author has given clear, blanket permission to “archive anywhere”).

A large number of blogs (just a sampling, there) have posted about linking etiquette in the blogosphere in the past, with it seemingly coming down to these general guidelines:

1. You don’t need permission to link to a blog, however, it’s generally considered good etiquette to remove a link if asked to do so. (Metafandom is a fannish example of a blog/newsletter which follows this practice–if a post is public, it’s fair game for linking unless the author has said in their post they don’t want it on MF, or ask to have it removed later on).

2. Stealing content without credit, or including information without a link back to where it came from, is bad. So is including links/content in a way that potentially steals revenue from the original blogger.

3. Reciprocal links can be nice but are not mandatory.

Seems like these rules should be easy enough to understand, but that’s not often the case. And coupled with some folks’ apparent misunderstanding of the public nature of un-protected blogs, this can lead to major wank. A recent example of this I witnessed was on the egullet forums–a somewhat elitist website for food and dining enthusiasts. Shola Olunloyo, a very popular “private chef” in the Philadelphia community and Pennsylvania subforum was running a blog on food which mysteriously disappeared, and then returned some time later under strict password protection. In the wank on the egullet forum that followed (posts on the subject mainly deleted by a forum moderator on 2/18/09), it appeared Shola did not like having his blog linked to by others, and then got upset over certain negative/potentially trolling comments that had been posted there.

Certainly, a blog (or any site) can become more trouble than it’s worth if one is constantly harassed or confronted by it, but this incident ended up coming across as someone being unfortunately unfamiliar with the way the internet works and then coming off with a bad case of “I’m taking my toys and going home” or flounce at the end of the day. If a person wanted to share their ideas about food and cooking without ever risking negative comments, comments could have been disabled entirely on the blog (or screened by an assistant to the blog, if the chef never wanted to even see them himself unless the comments were positive). If linking to the site was to be such a “no-no”, a disclaimer should have been clearly put on the site stating as much (and even then, cannot be completely expected to be followed)–just the arguments on egullet that followed showed that everyone’s apparent ideas of netiquette with regard to linking is different from each other. Or perhaps Shola should have simply started with a password-protected blog from the start, the only way to truly limit who had access to his site, as he apparently learned the hard way instead of avoiding certain unpleasantness from the start.

There are a lot more exampled of misconceptions of privacy on-line I can think of which I’ve seen in recent times: a fan-fiction author being outed after not protecting her fannish identity as separate from the “real life” one on Facebook; a chat session being copied on a public messageboard which some participants had believed would be private, which then lead to serious wank within the fandom. Almost every week there seems to be some kerfluffle in fandom related to privacy issues, sometime minor, sometimes major.

So I’m going to end this blog with a point towards Fan History’s Privacy Help Page. We’ve been wanked in the past about it for it being “laughable” and “impractical”; that to follow all the guidelines within would not allow one to participate in fandom at all. And such criticism is missing the point. The point is that one must constantly make thoughtful decisions when on the internet regarding one’s desire and needs for privacy vs. one’s desire to create and share in on-line communities. You can’t expect the millions of people out there on the net to all have the same “good intentions” as you do, nor the same ideas of what constitutes netiquette. One must be aware of the “risks” involved in one’s actions on-line, and make decisions on whether they feel comfortable with those risks. If you create a public blog, you must accept that people are, in fact, going to read it. And maybe disagree with you and what you say, and tell you such. If you post anything under pseudonym to “protect your privacy” but aren’t consistent in keeping your real life identity separate from your fannish one (or try to use your reputation or “standing” within the fannish community to improve your real life one, or vice-versa) eventually someone may “connect the dots” in a way that could have negative repercussions for you. These are the facts of life in the internet world of today, facts which, unfortunately, many only seem to realize from making embarrassing and potentially more hurtful mistakes.

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