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Convention theory
Bar Harbor
alexx_kay
Fascinating discussion going on over here about convention structure in general, and Readercon in specific. Lots of talk about what various types of panel structures either encourage or discourage. I asked a question asking for more data that started a sub-thread.
"discouraging small or individual book conversations among people who are not panelists"

I am not aware of any convention that has mechanisms in place to encourage such conversations, nor do I have any clear notion what such mechanisms might be. I'd be interested in having this ignorance corrected, if you know of any examples.
A bunch of examples were provided, though none of them seemed close enough for me to easily check them out.

The more I think about this, though, the more I realize that my problems with various panels don't *seem* (to me) to have anything to do with structure.

When I go to a panel, I want to hear interesting, non-annoying people talk. "Interesting" can include any of the following: Informative, Witty, Insightful. Conversely, "Annoying" includes things like: Pompous, Sexist, Self-absorbed. Qualities like Rambling and Off-Topic can be positive or negative, depending on what other qualities they are paired with.

The problem, then, is to give the Interesting people lots of time to speak, while squelching the Annoying ones. Unfortunately, 'being on a panel' is only weakly correlated with this divide. Someone on a panel is *slightly* more likely to be interesting, whereas an audience member is *slightly* more likely to be annoying -- but there have been plenty of times when an audience member proved more interesting than a panelist. Indeed, it was the feeling that *I* was more interesting than some panelists that prompted me to start being a panelist at Arisia.

The one significant thing on the panelists' side (to me, as a consumer) is that I can (eventually) have some advance knowledge of what they are likely to be like. I know that any panel with at least two of Greer Gilman, Faye Ringel, and Sonya Taafe (sp?), is going to be entertaining. I have identified a few people who (naming no names) will reliably piss me off if I attend a panel they are on. Audience members, on the other hand, are catch-as-catch-can.

Is there any structural way to promote Interest, and reduce Annoyance? I can't think of one off hand. Strong moderation is one approach, but that can fail drastically when the moderator himself turns out to be Annoying. Further discussion welcomed.

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Can this question be viewed as "how do we get a better signal to noise ratio?"

Because, y'know... that's the hard stuff.

That's certainly very close to what I'm thinking about. And yeah, it looks hard.

There are two approaches:

1. The rec.arts.sf.written method.

When James Nicoll was upset that there wasn't anything good to read, he started posting more of the kind of articles that he wanted to read. This worked, and can scale, but is not guaranteed to do so. It is effective at raising signal.

2. The rec.audio.high-end method.

R.A.H-E has a clearly written set of guidelines, posted frequently, and every single message is inspected by a human moderator. Every one. Sometimes the moderators make mistakes, but not all that many. This method does not scale, but it is very effective at reducing noise.

I don't see how option 2 can be applied to a synchronous experience like a convention panel. You can't know someone is going to say something stupid until after they've already said it.

Issue an oracle to each moderator... no, I don't know. But I don't actually recommend it for most situations, either.

If we had oracles, we wouldn't need moderators; we just wouldn't go to panels that were going to be annoying.

You know, one of the things that strikes me as remarkable in all the discussion about Readercon, is just how unanimous even Van's critics are that the panels under his programming are absolutely top notch. It seems to me, then, that this is at least a partially solved problem and he's a guy to ask.

(I also firmly expect that his secret sauce is highly labor intensive. In my own experience with organizational secret sauces, they always have been. It's not that they're actually secret, it's that few people ever want to work that hard.)

As a guy who goes to about 15 conventions/conferences a year, that's a very interesting question. What did you think of the signal:noise of GameLoop? My general sense is that the unConference model certainly allows for better SNR, but we also sort of curated the attendees themselves for GameLoop.

Though I only personally saw a smallish fraction, I thought GameLoop 1 went very well in that regard. The quality of the participants definitely had something to do with that. I have doubts that the unconference model would scale up to the size of an Arisia or a Boskone. (Mmmaybe something the size of a Readercon...)

Just to add my two cents about Game Loop, signal to noise was pretty low, but the group was, by invitation and by the general appearance o those people who seem tob e on your radar, top notch int heir fields. I also note that, like ReaderCon, the players and the general schedule indicated people who have given serious thought about their subjects, are are looking or serious intellectual stimulation, as opposed to another list o what I like/dislike. These are people who are proactively involved and looking or a challenge, which I think relects the general tone o ReaderCon also. The problem is you get doers who are very focused onw hat they do and hwo they do it, and sometimes aren't so much about team playing. It's kind o the nature o being intelligent, passionate, and driven, the same characteristics which help you succeed also sometimes interere in being open to others interpretations.

I know that any panel with at least two of Greer Gilman, Faye Ringel, and Sonya Taafe (sp?), is going to be entertaining.

Taaffe. I am honored to be counted among the interesting. Thank you!

Not only interesting, but capable of consistently packing the room. I refer to this supergroup as The Coven: just give them room to work and they're magic. It is my impression that, as every con I go to with this group packs the room (last Boskone, not even standing room was available), and demonstrates that many congoers, perhaps many female? would like to see more panels ont he topics this group oten covers, paneled by more topnotch female panelists. Though I think, after noticing a trend at ReaderCon where there were consistently panels with three or our men and one woman, that the Coven should round out their number with one male panaelist.

I refer to this supergroup as The Coven: just give them room to work and they're magic.

Thank you. I am not at all good at responding to compliments, but I really am glad! I shall point nineweaving and negothick this way.

Though I think, after noticing a trend at ReaderCon where there were consistently panels with three or our men and one woman, that the Coven should round out their number with one male panaelist.

There's usually a sacrifice or two sitting in the front row . . .

Wow. Thanks!

Just give us a cauldron and a few toads...

Nine

The most challenging / frustrating facet for a Program Chair is the people who are sometimes Interesting (even fascinating) and sometimes Annoying (or at least Boring). You are always tossing the dice and / or guessing at which twin shows up. And it has to frustrate the audience members who go to see a panel in part because Person X has been terrific in the past, but on this topic they're either blowhardly or disengaged and unhelpful.

So the problem is even more complicated that simply putting the often Annoying people where they might actually not be Annoying (find the right topic and make sure the moderator is strong). Those folks are usually easier to read, e.g., the problem with some Annoyers is self-promotion / absorption, so you look for panels that don't relate to their own work but instead to one of their outside interests. The bipolar types can just be plain inexplicable, but it boils down to a lack of their own self-knowledge (in the Arisia / Readercon program model where folks sign up for the panels that interest them). They say "I'd kill to be on this panel" and sometimes it means they've got a wealth of insight to impart and sometimes, like John Stewart often admits, they've got nothing.

I've come to believe that there are certain panel topics which, given the Arisia /ReaderCon model, are going to sound very much along my personal interests but are even more likely to just end up annoying. Fan fiction, for example: I have a degree in media studies, I've written about how fan fiction can intersect with identity politics, and I've read many fascinating academic texts on fan fiction. It doesn't matter--the panel will inevitably turn into a bunch of people talking about how long they've been writing it, how their fan fic is mroe fan ficcy than anyone else's, and who has betrayed the community of fan fic writers and reader. Academics will talk about how certain mainstream works are like fan fic, and then run out of other things to say about it, since maybe only one person on the panel will admit to writing/reading it.
The other danger topic is literary criticism and its relevance to genre fiction. For some reason, no one ever talks about how theory and criticism are relevant to the general reader. I would really like to see a panel like this, and I know Jack Haringa mentioned maybe trying to do something like this for ReaderCon at some point. Basically, I think it would be great to see a panel or two which bridges general readership withthe the kind of theory and critical language which many of the reader panelists often refer to but rarely pause to explicate or unpapck.

It doesn't matter--the panel will inevitably turn into a bunch of people talking about how long they've been writing it, how their fan fic is mroe fan ficcy than anyone else's, and who has betrayed the community of fan fic writers and reader.

Amen. I have come finally to the conclusion that if you're going to attend or participate in a panel on YA fiction nowadays, you must first be compelled to sign a waiver which promises that you will not mention your own childhood trauma, the adjective "dark" in any context outside of the photographic, or The Giving Tree.

The mere mention of _The Giving Tree_ makes me twitch--I can't believe people still read that to kids. Funny how trees, talking animals, and kids with disabilities never seem to do well in children's literature.

You are always tossing the dice and / or guessing at which twin shows up.

"Not today."

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