The State of Convention Web Sites

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It's been about a year since I tried to enlighten the convention-running world a bit as to how to make its Web sites a bit better, and I thought I'd do a survey to see if there has been any perceptible change in the quality of con Web sites since then. For those of you who can't stand suspense, the answer is: frankly, no.

But for a detailed answer, let's go through the September convention listings as I assemble them. All I'm trying to do here is get the convention name, dates, city, and general theme. Does that sound hard? Well...

Step 1 is to pull up last year's listings and go through the URLs to see if I can find my way to this year's edition of each convention. First one up is Dragon*Con, which has been accused of many things, but not making it difficult for people to find out when and where it is. A few seconds to type the new dates, check it's still in the same city, and I'm off. This is how it should go practically all the time. However...

Next is Mephit Fur Meet, which only admits in the top banner to being on Labor Day Weekend. Scan the main part of the page: "Labor Day Weekend" again, under the convention name and art. Smaller print just at the bottom of the frame finally gives the actual dates.

AnimeFest, Kumoricon, and Anime Vegas: all fine. Then Tacticon, which is run by the Denver Gamers Association, and requires a little poking around on the site. At least the information is all there together and complete when you get to it.

ZombieCon sadly is not returning, and Otaku Mex has this year's information up front and center. Then we get to Realms Con-eventually, after waiting for the site to load, then redirect and load again-where the most important thing it wants to tell us is that there is a Battle of the Bands contest. Further down is a notice headed "Realms Con 2009 Dates", which explains how hurricane season has forced it to move to October. Even further down are the actual dates.

Alcon and Darmstadt Spacedays are easy. T-MODE, after loading a big lump of Flash, turns out to still have 2008 information up, so I presume it's not coming back. Neither is ProtoCon, for the time being, due to a massive construction project at the student center where it's been based.

ConChord has the sort of look that causes Web Pages That Suck to mutter about wormholes to 1996, but it's got the dates and location right at the top, in text even. Reunion also politely doesn't bury its information at the bottom of a banner image.

At Nan Desu Kan, however, we land at a "Page not found" message. Stripping it down to just the hostname takes us to the new root page, where a bit of scanning locates the dates at the top of the right-hand column. The top banner proclaims this to be the "Premier Anime Convention of the Rockies", leading to idle speculation as to how many other anime conventions there actually are in the Rockies. Generally, when a convention claims to be the premier anything, it's a good bet that it's the only one. And half of them spell it "premiere".

Connichi is more humble and I get my update easily. Not so with Confess, where hunting around the Irish Roleplaying and Gaming Wiki which had the information last year, turns up nothing but a link to the Flat Earth Games Society, which is responsible for the con. The Flat Earth Web site requires me to switch on JavaScript, and then baffles me with randomly shifting submenus until I realize that the seemingly innocuous set of text links on the top bar is actually JavaScript-enabled to change the submenu when the pointer passes over any of the main categories, meaning that a careless flick of the mouse while looking at some other part of the page will leave the visitor with options only to visit some entirely different section of the site. Having worked this out, a systematic scan of the site still does not reveal the dates or location of this year's Confess. I admit defeat, delete the listing, and move on.

Back in Germany, I expect to land on the main English page for Daedalus Con, but am greeted by an image that won't load and the cheery message "Herzlich willkommen auf der neuen Homepage der Daedalus Con". Going back to the root page, a British flag indicates an option to go to the new English page... no, it's a trap! Either flag takes you to the German pages.

Now we have the dates, but there's some confusion about the convention name. On the front page, it's "Daedalus Con 2009" and "Scotty's Revenge". One click away, it's "Daedalus-Con", "Phase II" and "Die Rückkehr der Socke". After some deliberation I go with last year's spelling of "Daedalus Con" and the English version of the title.

Returning to the States, Mountain-Con's front page is a bunch of photos. Clicking "Information" takes me to a page with the dates, but I'm puzzled by them being out of sync with other conventions on that weekend. After a lot more clicking around, I finally realize why: this is the site for the 2008 convention. Do you think it's stupid to include the year when giving the dates of your convention? It isn't.

Fantasycon has become FantasyCon this year (or fantasycon, if you go by the banner), but at least gives up its information easily.

FallCon's page from last year is no longer available. Backing up to the root of the site reveals that it has gone with the increasingly popular approach of converting the entire thing into a blog, which may simplify site management but means that the crucial space just below the page banner is filled with whatever minor announcement was made last. In this case, it's "One Week Left to Vote" for something that ended last week. Also the post is actually dated 5 days before the deadline it talks about. I locate the information I'm looking for in the right- hand column and move on.

Next to Gamer's Reunion, which has the punchy tagline "A Rochester, MN Gaming Convention". Well, at least it didn't use the word "premier". Dates are similarly prominent.

Anime Weekend Atlanta is "The Southeast's Premier Japanese Animation Convention". Okay, so there are other anime conventions in the southeastern US. (I wonder how the Dragon*Con anime track would stack up against it, though. Dragon*Con, interestingly, doesn't claim to be the premier anything, just the largest, which Comic-Con might have something to say about.) The dates and location are in the middle of some text, which is normally a no-no, but they've bolded the important bits to make them pop out.

MikomiCon's Web site starts with a Joomla banner and a message titled "Welcome to the Frontpage" which is dated February 1st. For the dates I have to dig into their forums.

Con-Galoosh is merely organized around a Yahoo! group, which would be fine if the information page were a little more informative. Dates are there, but details on the location are hazy. Okay, I know it has to be Orlando, but it helps the casual page visitor to mention these little things.

KrimiCon and Oxonmoot are a return to easy updates. Then we get to Hispacon, the travelling Spanish national sf convention, which is always a pain to find. This year, is parked. Appealing to my favorite search engine leads me to, which has a blog post about the XVII Hispacon (title) or possibly the XXVII one (text). Clicking on "Más información aqui" leads to... a forum posting with identical text.

Foolscap is easy to update. Conjecture still has the 2008 information up, but reading further, it explains it's not coming back until 2010.

SIBCON is a wily beast which needs tracking down. The main page for it lists the town, but for dates, only allows that it is "typically the second weekend in September or October." The left-hand column has a menu with reference to "Cons", but it doesn't actually work like an actual link until JavaScript is switched on. The menu leads to information to SIBCON XIV, except the link to Warhorn (a site hosting gaming convention schedules) says SIBCON XIII, and then the day-specific links say the convention starts on a Friday in 2009 and continues on a Saturday in 2008.

Having sorted that out, the next con is RainFurrest, which this year is called "RainFurrest Zombie Attack" if you read the banner, or "Zombie Rainfurrest" if you look at the title bar. Dates are in the banner, but for the location you have to click through to the hotel information.

Tsubasacon, Abunai, and Yaoi-Con go quickly, even though the first has moved to October. The New York Anime Festival is similarly obliging about dates, but only gives the name of the facility where it's being held. Well, the name of the city is in the convention name, isn't it? Only if you assume that (a) the "New York" in the con name cannot possibly mean New York State, and (b) unlike many conventions, the con will actually be inside the limits of the city it's based around.

Phantasm was based entirely at Warhorn last year, but if that URL ended in "Phantasm2008", changing it to "Phantasm2009" seems worth a try. This works less often than you might think, but this time I'm rewarded with the dates, location, and an otherwise blank page.

Games Day Memphis has expanded to become GameCon Memphis, but is still forthcoming about dates. The Starfleet/Klingon banquet and Chibi-Pa are just as obliging.

BellCon probably felt modern and hip when it went onto MySpace as "bellcon2007" a couple years ago. It probably felt awkward when it was stuck using the same nick for BellCon 2008. No such worries this year, as it's had no activity since October 2008.

Finally, Aurora-Con has switched from using years to Roman numerals at IV, which seems to be the most common year to do that, but is also skipping this year.

That concludes the returning conventions-that is to say, the ones which have had at least a year or two to build up some experience and maybe fix the initial mistakes on their sites. Now the real pain begins.

Step 2 is to go to my notes on cons I heard about more than a year in advance. Here we have the North American Discworld Convention, which is fine, and then a note about the MESSENGER spacecraft making its next flyby of Mercury. To check the date on that, I head over to NASA's site and locate the mission timeline, which uses Flash to render content amounting to about a hundred words of text.

Step 3 consists of visiting various other convention lists to see if there are any I've missed. Since I'm only looking at one month this time-usually I do 2-3 at once-several of those have no new entries for me.

Ansible's listings are unusually fruitful this time, though, starting with Con*Stellation, which proudly proclaims, "This year we've moved Con*Stellation to September so that you don't have to wait nearly as long to enjoy the con." This immediately arouses suspicions about much more awkward reasons for having to move it. Anyway, the information I need is right at the top.

FenCon has information in multiple visible places. The Maelstrom International Fantastic Film Festival sounds impressive, much more so than the "Seattle Genre Film Festival" that the text further down the page talks about, so that's the name I use for it. Weekend at the Asylum desperately needs some contrast enhancements, and to unbury the dates and location from the big block of text they're currently hiding in.

The Browncoat Ceilidh page leads to serious contemplation of contacting Web Pages That Suck, but I eventually decide it wouldn't make the cut for the Daily Sucker because it's only one page and the colors aren't hideous enough. first serves up the Erie Anime Experience, which directs visitors to the "tempery" forums on Google Groups while the Web site is under construction, and TigerCon, which gives its location only to the extent of being on the campus of Towson University. Which is where? Checking the directions suggests proximity to Baltimore, but I finally have to resort to my favorite search engine again.

Steve Jackson Games's gaming convention list mentions 2º Pira RPG with a link to a blog, which in turn links to the actual convention site, which ultimately clears up the confusion about the "São Paulo" it's located in-the state, not the city. It also mentions Fields of Honor, which has dates but gives its location as the "Stoney Creek Inn in Johnston", no state. Clicking through to the hotel site says it is actually the Stoney Creek Inn of Des Moines and does not provide an address with which to clear things up. Clicking their "Driving Directions" option, however, takes me to Google Maps, where the address is revealed.

There's also the aforementioned Phantasm, which has given SJG the link to its new permanent site. In fact, it's abandoned Warhorn entirely, with the current schedule link leading instead to an XML file that renders as a huge pile of undifferentiated text.

Locus contributes KillerCon, which has taken the low-contrast approach to its text, and is very coy about its theme. After looking over the listed guests and events, I finally decide it's probably horror.

The Southern Fandom Resource Guide has OutsideCon, which has a low-tech site to go with its low-tech approach and thus poses no difficulty in finding the dates or location.

Gildia, which covers Poland, lists HAX-2, but the link leads to a site which is still on HAX-1, which requires you to turn on JavaScript so that you can see the annoying dancing cheerleaders at the bottom of the frame while you try to concentrate on the actual information available. In the end I have to take Gildia's word about this year's dates.

It also lists Bachanalia Fantastyczne 2009, which has a nice-looking site, but it's blog-based again and there is no helpful listing in a side column this time. In fact, I'm about to give up and take Gildia's word again, when my eyes wander to the title bar to find the dates and location listed there.

And there you have a month of conventions. Total assembly time: 2 hours with notetaking (this article was written later), for a process that can take up to 3 for a single month, which means this was an unusually cooperative set of Web sites. Now you know why most con listing sites simply sit back and wait for you to send your information to them.

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