I “went” to the Fan Studies Network North America conference last week. It was awesome. It was invigorating. I feel energized coming out of it.

I am not going to do a round-up of relevant content right now. I’ll be unpacking that over the next week or so, trying to consolidate some notes and ideas. I “met” a bunch of cool people. But for now, I want to talk about the structure and process.

The conference used five tools: Discord for conference-only chat and posters, Conline as a general conference platform, Zoom for live sessions, Vimeo for archived sessions, and Twitter for sharing ideas with the public.

The Discord space and the Zoom chat were the highlights of the event for me, and I want to write briefly about them and some possibilities I think they offer for future conferences.

Ideas for the layout of the Discord space were borrowed from CON.TXT 2020. I love physical spatial metaphors for digital spaces, so this was a delight to me. Here’s what the structure looks like:

    • Start Here
    • Check-in Desk
    • Announcements
    • Help Desk
    • Self-introductions
    • Code of conduct
    • Safety
    • Meeting etiquette
    • Twitter policy
    • Tech resources and info
    • Schedule of events
  • MAIN
    • The lobby
    • The hallway
    • Coffee tea and sad cookies
    • The bar
    • Safer spaces
      • There were a number of spaces for people to go based on their own identity to decompress. For example, I was in a space for people with mental illness. You signed up for these spaces by clicking a specific emoji, then the organizers would add you to the relevant channel. You could not see any of the channels that you had not been admitted to.
    • Each poster had its own channel. Posters were uploaded as the first message in the channel.
    • Each event had its own channel.
    • Each workshop had its own channel.
    • Each salon had its own channel.
    • There was a channel here for each session of any type with a link to the recording on Vimeo.
    • Each publisher had their own channel where they could share discounts and answer questions.
    • In this section, the organizers offered thanks to a bunch of people and organizations.

The MAIN section was especially valuable because it made me feel like I was at an actual conference. And because it was a chat and not real life, I could jump in on conversations without feeling too awkward and share resources whenever I saw a place where one might be valuable. The posters, events, workshops, and salons sections were vital, too, because they allowed conversation to continue after the session. You know how you want to talk to the presenter but you have to clear the room for the next session? No worries here! Just take it to Discord!

The chat channels in Zoom were where a ton of awesome activity took place. There was a lot of backchanneling with varying degrees of on-topicness, but also lots of sharing of ideas and asking of questions.

One of the things Discord made possible was the creation of new channels on the fly, so the organizers were able to be responsive to topics that came up in Zoom chats and create new channels for things like fan tattoos, people sharing animal photos, job-listings, a space just for graduate students, ethics and resource methods, sharing syllabi, and sharing fanfiction recommendations. This was a brilliant way to keep conversation going and make the whole conference extra congenial.

I hope other virtual conferences can learn from the wonderful organization of this one, but more than that, I think this provides an opportunity for both conferences and conventions to leverage virtual tools to enrich the experience of attending.

I’ve been big into backchanneling since I started library school in 2009. If implemented wisely, it has the potential to add vibrancy to an event. It works best with someone to moderate or observe the chat, an enforcable code of conduct, and time for processing the chat. #FSNNA20 had all of this.

I see no reason why face-to-face conferences couldn’t have it as well. Obviously, the difficulty of the task depends on the size of the conference. But for smaller conferences especially, I hope people will continue using these sorts of tools once they go face-to-face again.

I also hope over time to find ways to incorporate wikifying into the process, because so many resources are shared and fly by so quickly. I kind of would love to be an official conference librarian, grabbing all the resources everyone mentions, capturing and organizing them, and putting them in a place where other people could add their impressions and ideas. This is basically how the IndieWeb wiki works - chat in IRC, documentation in a wiki - and more and more I like it as a way of operating. (The IndieWeb wiki can be overwhelming. I don’t know if a conference wiki would be or not.)

I’m so impressed with the work the organizers put in, the way that attendees used the space and tools, and the promise this has for the future.