Finally, time to try to cover some more of my thoughts on SLCC 07. If you aren’t particularly interested in the Second Life Commuity Convention 2007 – or in ideas for next year – skip this. Otherwise, read on.
First up, its worth considering what type of event SLCC was. This I hope will be useful in helping people think about what kind of event SLCC should be.
Convention not Conference
It wasn’t an academic conference, though it did have an education track. It wasn’t a business conference, though it did have a business and commerce track. SLCC was a volunteer run Second Life fan-convention. If you have a look at the coverage in the last edition of the popular Second Life digital newspaper Metaverse Messenger (a mixture of good and bad reviews) you’ll see the barest of mentions of the education track.
In discussions, people have compared SLCC against big education conferences and even big media events. SLCC is more like a (smallish) Science Fiction convention than a conference. (At this point I’ll have to admit that I’m a SF fan, and have not only attended, I’ve helped out at a number of conventions) At a conference, delegates get lunch and coffee. At a convention, the fans buy their own drinks and snacks between events. Conventions commonly have packed timetables, but work on the principle that fans won’t attend all sessions – the social areas (bars) tend to stay busy throughout.
At SLCC we had something like a conference being run inside a convention, but it still wasn’t an academic conference. The over packed timetable was largely my fault (I have to get better at rejecting proposals!). Some educators were shocked not to get coffee for free, I doubt many of the SL fans in attendance expected to get coffee. Many were surprised that lunch was provided.
The significance of the difference between conference and convention? Simply that I think they have different norms, and the people turning up at SLCC had some very different expectations. A valid question is to ask which set of norms should SLCC serve?
One event – Many Tracks, Difference Audiences
This year SLCC had four tracks running throughout – Business, Education, Machinima and Social. From what I’ve gleaned in feedback, there has already been quite a few good ideas about having a mixture of 2-day, 1-day and 1/2 day ‘tracks’, however that works out. I’ll admit that cross-track integration did not work out as had been hoped at first. I think the communication across track organisers broke down to some degree, and perhaps we need a different approach next year.
Barry Joseph’s Non-profit meta-track was able to thread its way across all four tracks, but I know that some educators wanted more cross-over. One question is, to what degree should an education track engineer this cross-over versus simply leaving people free to choose which events to attend? I can understand that some didn’t want to miss programming in the education track, and were disappointed not to have time for the other tracks. Should we have a lighter timetable next year, or try and spread it over an extra day (make Friday a full day) to create more space?
Another issue that I was aware of before this years SLCC, and which perhaps should be considered more widely, is that one of the main sponsors of SLCC is an ‘adult entertainment’ company. There is no reason why such a company shouldn’t sponsor SLCC as a fan convention – but having such a company as a very visible sponsor, along with the prominent emphasis on fun (this is a fan convention, remember) has some consequences. Several attendees were denied funding because SLCC was seen by college administrators as being a fan event. I also know of a few people who were not at SLCC because they were denied funding. The ‘leather and lace’ masquerade in particular was something college admins could object to.
As the process of seeking a location for next year’s SLCC starts (see the blog, here), I know a few people have suggested in emails that a college should host – as they’ll certainly have the bandwidth. Before you submit a proposal for a particular college, check that they are OK with hosting a mild-bondage themed party and with alcohol being served. [Aside: the party wasn't really that risqué, it seemed pretty good fun and I did spot quite a few of the educators present in fancy dress!]
How can we both meet peoples wishes for a more integrated programme with a need to somehow separate the education track from content that’ll give your Dean a fright?
Discussion vs. Presentation
This was mentioned a little previously, so I’ll limit what I have to say about it now. I really hope that next year the education track is more open, with room for more formal and informal content. This will most likely require either to run across three days (we need more breaks than we had this year!) or to use two or more rooms for the track. There will be situations where people are forced to choose between multiple events that they would like to attend, but I’d rather people had this choice than were left thinking at some point that there was nothing they wanted to see or participate in.
I also should have given better guidance to some of the panels – in my mind panels would have had short presentations, and lots of room for discussion and audience participation. But this remained in my mind, as I didn’t explain this to panel moderators – and so some panels ended up with almost no time for questions or discussion.
Money, Money, Money
Hotels cost. Bandwidth costs. A lot. Hotels and conference centers typically charge a hefty premium to conferences and conventions for networking. As far as I am aware, TFU were refunded a significant portion of this due to issues this year – but obviously this was not known when budgeting. I think SLCC individual fees were probably near the limit of the costs that fans are prepared to pay (see the editor’s comments in the Metaverse Messenger). Depending on which field of academia you are in SLCC was: expensive; about right; or maybe incredibly cheap. For example, I’ll be attending a two day conference next month that will charge me over $700 in attendance fees. And probably won’t have free wireless either.
SLCC cannot charge fans significantly more, so how can they meet the demand for very-high bandwidth wireless networking, audio streaming of all tracks, lunch and coffee, more rooms and more more?
One option is to charge a premium on people wanting to attend particular tracks. This is possible, and I’ve been to events where it is done. Also requires additional organisation of volunteers to enforce. Especially if only those paying for the education track get the free coffee. This could also be used to finance printed proceedings.
Increase the sponsorship fees? This might be a simpler route. Increasing the number of sponsors would be less effective – as the lower cost sponsorships included free passes, the amount of money raised by these over memberships alone was quite small. Would enough organisations pay up if the lead sponsor fees were doubled? Can we squeeze Linden Lab to pour a lot more money into this? I don’t know.
One option for next year would be to have a Second Life Education Workshop that is organised as part of the SLCC – but which is separated in a number of ways. It could start a day earlier, and cost more to reflect this. On this one day, multiple tracks could be organised and breaks, networking and coffee provided a-plenty. A separate web-page could be created for registration – and with a separate list of sponsors.
People might find that getting most (maybe not all) of the education out of the way before the fun stuff begins gives them more time, not less, to mix with the other tracks.
Or we could abolish tracks altogether, and have a tagging system for talks. While there would be multiple events happening at any one time, it would be up to the presenters and convention timetablers to tag individual items as ‘RL-Education’, ‘Machinima’, ‘RL-Business’, or whatever.
In the end, what counts is what kind of education content do you want next year at SLCC, and how you think it should sit with the rest of SLCC.
Your comments welcome. There will also be an in-world SLCC review discussion in Second Life next week, Tuesday 18th, at 2pm SL Time (10pm UK) at the Muriel Cooper Coliseum on NMC Conference Center:
The essential caveat is that I personally might not be in a position to make anything in particular happen – I haven’t run any of my ideas past the TFU board, and have no idea as yet what they might think of them. All I can do is see if we can build consensus about what we want and report that to the TFU. Then they have to struggle with budgets, projections, costs, venues and so on to try to deliver as much as they can!