WHY IS IT SO HARD TO CREATE A CALENDAR OF EVENTS FOR CONVENTIONS?

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Yesterday, I announced the roll-out of the Amazing Stories Calendar of Events.  (Which you can visit right here.)

It represents a tremendous amount of work on the part of Kermit Woodall, our long-time webmaster and Art Director for the magazine.  (Kermit has so many hats, he even sent me one, a steampunk top hat, complete with goggles and a digital display that is currently programmed to display “Ask Me About Amazing Stories”.)

We wanted to have a calendar of events for conventions (and other things like significant holidays – Science Fiction Day is January 2nd, for example (Asimov’s Birthday; I think it ought to be some day in March, probably the 15th or so, the day when Amazing Stories first went on the racks in 1926, but that’s a discussion for another time) pretty much since we launched the website in 2012.  We’ve made a couple of runs at it since then but haven’t been happy with the results, until now.

Why has it been so hard?

Well, for one thing, most events – from mega cons to tiny relaxacons – don’t make their information available in an easily obtained format.

None of them do.  We’ve seen websites for conventions that make you hunt to find the dates of the event.  Ones with no easily accessible contact information or, perhaps more complicating, contact information that is confusing (which of these hundreds of email addresses do I write to?) or, perhaps the most frustrating, contact forms that only provide the convention with contact info (for you).

Even flyers distributed at conventions are often difficult to read, don’t contain comprehensive information, make you hunt for pertinent details.

These are problems for those wanting to gather up the information, but they are also problems for the convention that wants to have attendees.

I was always taught that in a “sales setting” (which is what convention promotion is – you’re trying to get people to spend money to come to your event), you’re supposed to place as few obstacles between the customer and them handing over dollars as is possible.  A convention website that buries its dates, location, hotel information and registration function behind a menu, one that makes a potential customer wade through multiple pages, clicking on menu headings that may or may not reference what they are looking for is like making the customer run an obstacle course, one they’re paying for the privilege of running.

Of course, getting customers to your event is a different activity than making your information easily accessible for someone else who wants to gather it in and help you promote your event (see more on this below), but a well designed website/facebook page, etc. can arrange itself in a way that satisfies both objectives.

Cons should have a prominent SIGN UP HERE link right on their front page.  It should be labeled and displayed in a manner that is designed to cause the least confusion.  For example – a LOT of potential con-goers are only familiar with big media events.  “Buy Your Membership Here”, does not mean to them what it does to a seasoned Fan.  I’ve run into people who’ve complained that they can’t find out how to “buy a ticket” to a particular con, because “membership” means something else entirely to them.

Cons need to display their DATES and their LOCATION prominently.  And when I say location, I don’t mean a link to a hotel’s website listed on a separate page referenced as “accomodations” or some such that offers multiple options – and especially a link that takes you off the convention’s webpage with no easily obvious return.

Do NOT Make People HUNT For Information.  Display the location, its contact info AND address right on your front page.  If there are housing options other than the main venue, provide access to that info, but label them as being other than the convention venue.

Don’t forget to make sure that your dates are accurate.  Goes without saying, really, but I’ve seen at least one con listing the correct day and month, but failing to update the year on their permanent page.

My suggestion would be a page that gathers all of the basic information into one place, a link to that page again, prominently displayed on the front page, labeled in an easily understood manner:  “Sign Up & Important Info Here”.

That important info should contain, at the least – convention’s name, convention’s operating organization, tax-exempt status if any, dates, fees (with a link to purchasing), a contact button for questions that is NOT a form, but an actual email address, the type of convention, list of guests, location of event, name of event venue, address and phone number for the event venue, link to other available accomodations, links to detailed info for mobility access, links to detail pages for other specialty concerns or needs, a downloadable copy of the event’s logo, link to programming, link to site seeing and restaurant guides and maybe a little promotional hype.

All in one place.  All written and displayed as if it were being used to appeal to an alien visitor who has little knowledge of earthian languages, no prior experience of conventions or fandom, and may, we suspect, have some cognitive issues.  In other words, this is the page where you appeal to and write for the least common denominator.  Someone ought to be able to print that page out and use it as a flyer for your convention, and get sign-ups at a meeting of the Daughters of the American Revolution.

Here’s where we address the other side of the coin.

There are several websites out there with “comprehensive calendar of events” on them.  Most, if not all of them limit to certain types of convention, or only provide limited slices of their captured info, or make you sign up to get complete info (like the convention’s website address), or don’t offer an easy way to transfer their information from their site to your tools.

I suspect that they do this for two reasons:  first, to prevent others from easily copying that information and using it in some “competitive” fashion.  But doesn’t that defeat the purpose?  Distrbution of the information over as wide an area as possible is what a convention is after.  Ahhh, but if everyone has and displays that information, doing so can’t really command all that high a price now, can it?  Why sign up and perhaps pay a fee when the same information is available elsewhere for free?

Second, really just an aspect of the first reason.  Traffic.  The more time you spend on a site, the more clicks you have to make to get the info you are looking for, the better it is for that website’s bottom line.

We believe that the basic information should be freely and easily accessible and not monetized.  Monetize some other aspect of it.  Stick an ad for your T-shirts next to the calendar.  But don’t stand between fans and their conventions.

Our Events Calendar can be found here. Anyone can Submit an event here. You enter the information, we get notified of the add, double check the info and then approve it (so there might be a short delay between listing it and seeing it on the calendar). It’s not instant because we need to vet the events. A political rally is not a genre-related convention.

If you want to test your event website’s efficacy, click on Submit an Event and then use your website to gather the information needed for the form.  You’ll quickly learn whether or not your basic information is easily accessible and visible.  (And, hint:  purchasing a membership or a ‘ticket’ should be no more than one click away from the front page.)

We’ve got 23 different ‘types’ of convention (you can tick boxes for as many apply);  if your type of event isn’t on the list, let us know, we’ll add it.

And, please, if your event isn’t listed, go ahead and add it!

7 COMMENTS

  1. Hola Steve.

    And, after quite a gap, I created a text version of my annual calendar of Arizona conventions, which can be found here:

    http://azfandom.org/azcons2019.txt

    I’d appreciate any feedback you might have about the usability of that text file. Is that the sort of thing you’re looking for when you talk about ‘offer an easy way to transfer their information from their site to your tools’ and ‘We believe that the basic information should be freely and easily accessible and not monetized’?

    Thanks,

    Hal

  2. The URL after “currently at” in my previous reply appears from the preview to have been deleted somehow; it should be “https://www.nesfa.org/calendar/”.

    • I don’t know how or why that happened – it’s not showing in your draft comment so – ???

      But there it is in the second comment so all’s good.

      Thanks for the comment. My wording may be a little confusing. My intent was to state that “certain” information should always be right there on the front page (name, dates, location/venue with address & contact info, as well as the “Sign Up Here” link), while ALL of the must have pertinent info should be gathered on one page, not necessarily the front page.

  3. I feel your pain — for many years I maintained the New England Science Fiction Association’s
    online calendar (currently at but moving soon to an
    updated website — still at http://www.nesfa.org — which should allow downloading via several
    standard protocols) and encountered all of the problems that you’ve mentioned. Plus the
    one where some conventions’ websites change their URL in unpredictable ways from year to
    year with no link from the older site to the newer one. And the problem where essential
    information doesn’t appear unless one has JavaScript, Flash, or some other optional tool
    enabled; many users disable such tools by default because of the damage they can do if a
    malicious site is accidentaly visited.

    I do think that you’re overdoing things a bit by wanting everything on the main page — this
    can conflict with a pleasing design. But basic information such as type of convention,
    date, location and guests should certainly be there, and all other essential information
    should be at most one level down and behind very obvious links.

  4. As a conrunner and the webmaster of a site that lists all conventions in Arizona, I couldn’t agree more. Thank you for setting this up and thank you for finding my con without me even having to submit.

    One of the two main reasons that azfandom.org exists is because I got fed up of discovering conventions that I’d have happily paid to attend for the last decade, if only someone had told me that they existed. The other is that, once I found out that they existed, it was hard work to find out anything about them. How long had they been running? Where? When? Who runs them? Do they have websites? What guests have they brought out?

    So, given that nobody was sharing that information, I set up a site to share it. It’s not limited by con type, there are no signups and all the basic info is there to grab for free. It may not be the easiest task to transfer it all in bulk (hey, maybe I should create a downloadable text file per year with all that information on it), but please grab whatever you want.

    Here’s the 2019 calendar for every convention in Arizona: http://azfandom.org/azcons2019.html.

    • Thanks so much for that.

      I think EVERYONE who has ever tried to do a CoE wants to see a comprehensive one; I’m pretty sure we’d all like to be able to go to one place, chart out the events we’d like to go to that year and be able to plan.

      Hopefully, with efforts like yours, NESFA’s and this one, we can get close to that.

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