Monday, January 08, 2007


Building a SF Convention IT Infrastructure

I've worked on CONvergence for nearly a decade now, and one of the things that I'm now looking at is the information technology needs for a science fiction convention (and also for the related nonprofit)

Unsurprisingly, the SF community is filled with IT professionals -- it is perhaps the most common job category. But then you also have a wide variety of skill sets -- people that are partisans about one sort of technology or another.

You have several departments in a typical convention that might have a need for some sort of data storage need -- convention and organization membership is the first, but then you also have your programming and other event schedules, your art show, and your dealers' room.

You have two environments as well -- you have the environment of 360 or so days a year, where the convention staff is geographically diverse, and unlike a business environment, there's no way to really dictate what sort of operating system people may use. The other 3 or 4 days you are all at the same location -- but it's an environment that you set up there, and in some situations may have need to get at that data at all hours.

One of the other challenges is that your available pool of skills is limited to what you can have for free -- but that means that you don't really want to make something that requires very specialized skills. You need something that just about anyone with IT skills can pick up.

Technology really helps the modern convention -- I can't imagine how this would have been done in the era before e-mail. But many of the pieces in place right now are frequently of the personal computer era; using Microsoft Office applications like Excel and Access. To go buzzword happy -- and as such I deserve serious abuse -- what is the Web 2.0 convention IT architecture for a Science Fiction convention?

Right now I mainly have questions, and don't yet have answers.

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This is a topic I've thought about in the past quite a bit when I was more interested in being more active with a convention's back end. The particular problem that I always wanted to solve was availability of local area information and "Voodoo Message Board" type attendee information. In large part the prevalence of cell phones and fairly ubiquitous internet access has solved that problem by itself by letting people get in touch with each other directly. But I don't think the local area information problem has been solved yet though with some of the public services like Vita.MN and the like that may be solved eventually as well.
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