Date: Tue, 20 Oct 2020 11:46:10 -0500
  Subject: Capclave tech mini-review, and other con concepts
  To: <various-tech-folks>

I'm hoping to glean some more of the lessons-learned info from the Capclave
crew, from last weekend.  I helped fairly extensively with that one, and
it was actually lower-stress in general than some of the others this year --
partially because we're all getting more used to the working model.  There
seem to be relatively few deep debriefs from these things so far; I'm aware
of one or two documents but an extensive "howto" probably doesn't exist yet
and would probably be obsolete by the time anyone finished writing one.

One thing that struck me about Capclave was their very simple approach to
the "gating" function, i.e. authorization of registered attendees.  I recently
muttered some things about this to a smaller group.  The main website simply
had a treehead behind HTTP "basic auth" over TLS, i.e. a username/password
that the browser asks for, and it's not even a cookie to store.  Under there
was all the info that an attendee would need -- the invite to the Discord
server, a duplicate of the whole schedule grid *with* the Zoom links they'd
need, and some other private-to-attendees stuff.  Sure, it wasn't "SSO" in
the classic sense but with a little bit of copypasta, people were able to
reach their target resources easily.  And it *was* a single place to bookmark
and go back to for all the con information they needed over the weekend.

By contrast, I've never personally touched Grenadine from any viewpoint but
I gather that it's been a source of many knotty problems.  Given the cost
and complexity that seems to be the complaint, it seems entirely reasonable
to forgo striving for a full-blown SSO/OAUTH/whatever "solution" while
chasing some glory-goal of being able to kick someone out of the entire con
by changing one place.  Creative time-based provisioning of the live info in
six-hour or whatever chunks into the "authorized" area of a simple website,
i.e. such that nobody has the *whole* attending-level schedule grid for the
weekend in advance, seems sufficiently granular for that purpose.

Registered attendees were simply emailed a generated username/password for
the website, and that was all they needed as a starting point.  Well, and
their own Discord account set up but I think that's always been true.  I
don't know how payment was handled, but there are probably numerous plug-ins
for that which aren't Grenadine.

On Discord ... that's one of the big things a lot of people complain about.
Many folks have trouble getting started on it, and it presents a somewhat
steep learning curve to navigate around it if you're not used to the model.
Folks aren't happy about downloading yet another app, even if most of the
functionality works well enough in a browser if you don't care about the
voice channels.  The Capclave crew *bent over backwards* to try and make
Discord easy for everyone, with their own instructional videos and detailed
steps, and it still didn't really get the horses to drink once they were
there at the water.

Unfortunately, short of IRC or my old "bullshit" script, Discord seems to
be the de facto standard for social chat now.  Yes, I just expressed both
ends of that spectrum.  Oh, and Slack isn't even on the table as far as
I'm concerned; I gave up on that a long time ago.  It's also not free.

I took the opportunity this time to dig in and learn about "bot" integration
in Discord, and now have YAGPDB associated with my mini test server and
handling various wacky role giving and taking, and command-matrix stuff.
So I can probably help with some of that sort of thing going forward.

Another non-con event in September was National Drive Electric Week, which
ran mostly on Zoom but had a few presentations that were on other platforms
instead.  A few youtube and facebook streams -- those were okay if you
didn't care to comment or ask questions, as some people don't have or refuse
to have youtube or FB accounts.  They also have the advantage that you can
go back and watch the event later, and time-shift yourself a longer con.
There was no Discord for that, which could have provided an alternative path
for Q&A similar to the NASFiC "chat relayer" model.  Good example of more
exacting client-side requirements which I could not know or experiment with
in advance -- one event ran on Google Meet, which try as I might I could
*not* get to work in Firefox, so I had to grudgingly fire up Chrome and work
through various settings to get anywhere, and then sit there watching it
rewrite its 30 megabytes of config files.  What a dog.

On Zoom ... webinars and meetings ran fairly typically, although a minor
bit of license-juggling was needed partway through.  Every event was its
own thing, pre-scheduled at the website and with REV captioning preset and
ready to invoke -- Kathi O. did about all of that, and it worked pretty
well during Saturday and then REV itself fell over on Sunday so we had
no captioning for most of it.  Personally, I would have used simpler
meeting/webinar passcodes, but at least Capclave's usual six-digit model
was far simpler than the gobbledygook strings that NASFiC generated.  Heck,
they could have all been set to "cap" or something -- the obscurity of
the exact *transient* meeting number and a waiting-room or webinar format
really is sufficient barrier against random bombing.

Capclave tried to offer all-day-long meetings with a ton of breakout rooms
as a "con suite" and alternative social space, also as another nod to the
Discord-challenged.  Other than a couple of book-launch gatherings, it
was rather distressing that *very* few people took advantage of this.  It
basically became another tech hangout all day.  Heck, with that many
preconfigured breakouts [Kathi uploaded a big .CSV] you could have almost
run an entire con within that one meeting tree.  I like the idea as it
was originally intended, but now the question seems to be convincing people
to actually come use it.  They presumably spent most of their time in the
actual sessions, and of course this "consuite" didn't have free food.

The schedule was what made things less stressful in general -- each track
ran on 55-minute live time, in 90-minute blocks, and *not* overlapped.
If you were working a multi-session shift in that track, it left 15 minutes
to relax in between, and then 15 minutes of setup time for the next thing.
It also takes half the number of live Zoom accounts to juggle, and helps
eliminate those "multiple device" conflicts.  One point of constant confusion
is that many people still don't quite understand the differences between a
logged-in Zoom client, logging a browser into the Zoom web-portal, meeting
links that hop through the Zoom website and come back as MIMEtype launchers,
and a simple meeting-ID and passcode.  When the clickable links don't work
or don't invoke someone's client the right way, you get multiple facets of
supposed (mis)understanding about what the problem is.

Many of the specific events were given as webinar registration links, which
forces everyone to go back through Zoom for the real join-info and generates
an excess ton of confirmation email.  Simply providing the webinar-ID and
passcode up front may have reduced the number of steps needed to simply
attend, but there may be other aspects for which registering was still wanted.

Of course there was no artshow or dealers area, so I can't offer much
thought about those ... but again, I'd suggest keeping the gating as simple
as possible in general, whether it's all on one website or several, and keep
a quick list of resources to modify for the (hopefully rare) occasions when
someone needs to be removed.  With a bunch of high-tier techies keeping an
eye on the moderation and "backstage" areas anyway, a lot of that can be
quickly delegated to the people with their hands on the knobs.

My understanding is that the Capclave crew and associates are already
involved in improvements to Zambia for program management, so hopefully
the development efforts for that will continue.  Not my area, but it was
mentioned enthusiastically in the "feedback session".

I'm sure there are nuances I'm missing here, but I'm happy that I can now
speak from *some* bit of live experience.


Shortly after I posted this and pointed a larger readership to it, a colleague asked a couple of other things about the event.
The big issue I encountered was a familiar one - navigation.  How did
you find your way around?

This was complicated by an artifact of Zoom Webinars - there isn't a
single userid/password good for the entire event.  Each webinar requires
a separate invite.  You are best served to examine the program, pick what
you wish to attend, and sign up for all of them in advance, but you must
know you need to do that.

Philcon is fast approaching, and navigation and advance info for attendees
is a concern.  Philcon is using Zambia for program scheduling, and Program
Director Lynati was an attendee at a Zambia show-and-tell by PeterO I
arranged for last Philcon.  Syd is a Zambia dev and spun up an instance for
her to use.  Instead of Grenadine, Philcon is using KonOpas for program
scheduling, and it will get programming data from Zambia.

The default standard emerging for SF cons seems to be Wordpress for front
end, but that's not what Philcon is doing.  It has an existing site it will
use.  There have been issues in the past about timely updates.
Not surprisingly, I responded at some length, because now I was reminded of a few other aspects of Capclave vs. previous events.

  Date: Sat, 24 Oct 2020 14:22:37 -0500
  Subject: Re: more post-con thoughts: Capclave

I really think that attendee interaction with the Zoom website itself should
be kept minimal to zero -- it's not needed, wastes a lot of time and email
bandwidth, and as you note isn't the most reliable thing [although you can
scrape the invite off the site when you sign up].  All most people need is
the meeting or webinar ID and passcode, or perhaps the generated link with
the ?pwd=GObBleDYg0ok auto-password mechanism.  But not the "sign up here"
stuff, that's just running in more circles.

Meeting-IDs can also be reused, if they're set "recurring".  That way the
same ID could correspond to a "room" the entire weekend, needing only a host
to fire it up and let people in.  Webinars are a little more squishy for
the panelists, but those links can be generated with totally fake email
addresses that don't even get delivered to, and can then be scraped off the
site and sent out to the panelists any other way.  Getting mail from Zoom
is rather impersonal; getting mail from your con-side program coordinator
gives it much more personal warmth.  I don't think panelist links can be
re-used even if it's a recurring webinar, though; I did have a little
chance to play with that but I may have missed something.

However, in the interest of being able to exclude bad actors, the various
IDs *should* change periodically, maybe the six-hour interval I noted or
even less, but maybe not a new ID for *every* session.  Or never, until
there's an incident requiring someone to be booted out.  Basically, if the
attendees just come back through the website to get the info for the next
session they want, they're always up to date.

What the Capclave website needed most was a big banner at the top, "scroll
down past the grid for the per-event descriptions and links!" ... it took
folks a long time to realize the rest of the info was there.

I had the "tech spreadsheet" to search through for when I was on duty
and get the zoom setup info, so I mostly ran from that as opposed to the
website.  But then to figure out who my *panelists* would be, I had to go
back to the website.  It was a lot of look here, look there, check the tech
GDrive for something else, and I wound up creating a simple text file for
myself with all my event data in order so I could just c&p stuff from that.

The "signupgenius" setup for shifts tried to carve out and email day
schedules out for everyone, but in a very mangled HTML format that was
almost impossible to read without taking a browser to a message copy.
I yelled at signupgenius about that; they were dropping HTML into a MIME
section labeled "text/plain".  Duh.

I'd suggest for Philcon and any of the others, have a SINGLE attendee-level
website starting point leading to all the info with minimal clicks, that
everyone can just bookmark and/or leave a tab open into as long as the
remember to reload once in a while.  Have a "this info good until xx:xx
eastern time" as a reminder, maybe, and a meta-refresh to help.  It should
be on a website that can be updated instantly by uploading a file, without
that provisioning delay that really screwed up NASFiC for a while.

I don't know if we're going to get solid debriefs from anybody, really,
other than my little views.  There was a very short doc from z! post CNZ
with a few points in it, and Ben L. wrote various GDocs on the events over
the summer from an attendee standpoint, but there isn't really a go-to
place for this stuff.  Maybe I should augment what I've got out there with
some links if I can find them again.