SMOFCon Europe Going Hybrid

It was known that this will come – the time of hybrid conventions. I am not sure which one was the first – it is possible I missed something. Yet for sure SMOFCon Europe was one of the first. I had the chance to work on it. It was an interesting endeavour. I made some mistakes, I learned a lot and I had a good time.

Planning in the Era of Pandemic

Making online cons was relatively straightforward (although not easy). Planning for a hybrid one is more complicated. Conventions are usually prepared way in advance. Doing this while you must consider “what if the rules will completely change a few days before” is a hard task. Since I joined the team I was responsible for the online part at SMOFCon Europe. We knew that there will be online aspect of the con even should the pandemic surprisingly end. Yet we didn’t know what kind of mix between on-site and on-line will be required. As the situation was evolving we had to change some of our plans.

Close to the convention the rules changed. Only a few days prior to the con Portugal changed their regulations. Both travelling to the country and spending time in tourist facilities were affected. At this point in time I knew I won’t manage to go. Yet I expect people travelling from overseas had a difficult time with sorting everything out. In the end we managed to have some members on-site in our Hotel in Lisboa. Of course other fans joined remotely from different parts of the world.

Virtual Offering

I cannot tell a lot about the on-site offering. I have not been there to experience it myself so I know it only from pictures and from talks with people. On the virtual end I can tell way more. The problem is that I was responsible for this part so I am not even remotely objective when judging it. So instead of stating whether it went good or bad I will tell what we did.

My responsibilities concentrated around virtual aspect of SMOFCon Europe. I would not make it work if not for the help from others. Especially Tammy took care of the programme and decisions related to that area. Without her effort a lot of things would go worse. Thanks to Pat and Rogerio we managed to sort out a lot of things related to tech that allowed us to have virtual offering available to members on-site. And of course there was a whole concom working hard on the con. I also cannot forget about many volunteers helping us during the weekend.

Convention badge hold in hand. The badge shows convention name ('SMOFCon 2021') and the name of the member. Picture on the badge depicts a tall modern building, aqueduct and an alien holding yellow tram.
Despite attending only remotely I received a badge. Now I am waiting for it to arrive safely at my place.

We had three type of programme items. First group was available only online. Second group was available online but was also streamed to one of the rooms in the hotel. Last group were the items taking place on-site and they were not available for remote members. Streaming the programme to the physical room is a bit tricky. Apart from tech it requires additional volunteer to help people on-site ask their questions to the panel. In some cases we didn’t have enough volunteers. On the other hand everyone was able to use Discord for questions so I hope that no one suffered because of lack of volunteers.

I managed to listen to some online panels and I liked them. Programme team and programme participants did a great job. I would love to listen to more panels but the time was limited. Now recorded items are available to members so and I hope to watch those that I missed.

Discord

We selected Discord as our virtual centre. It was where I had to work the most. What I was concerned from the beginning was how to allow members to socialise whether they are on-site or not. I am afraid that I didn’t succeed in 100% of cases. Allowing on-site and remote members to mingle toghether is a hard task. Yet thanks to some advice we enabled social Zoom which helped with that a bit. At least on one evening laptop “with us” was taken to the on-site socializing space. We were able to see people, wave our hands and even talk to a few of fans. I cannot describe how nice it was (and sad at the same time – I REALLY wanted to be there).

As for the Discord I had to plan and configure it. Of course during the con there was a need for more rooms and even functionalities so I had to play a bit with it. I am not the one to judge how well it worked but it did the job. The server was not very busy though.

My Feelings

It is hard for me to tell how the SMOFCon Europe went. I had a good time. Despite not being able to be on-site I managed to have very interesting discussions, listen to good programme items and even participate in one (hope I had something valuable to add). I also worked with people who knew what they are doing and it is a reward in itself. Yet I am aware of some mistakes I made. I keep asking myself whether I was able to do something better. I hope that all the members had a good time and that they found the con valuable – whether they managed to come in person or were joining us remotely.

My next post will treat about DisCon III should be published before the end of the year.

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