From the Westin to the Web: Arisia 2021 goes virtual, section 2

start real login-path testing!  R:integ Good news came Wednesday morning: Gail was ready to test her Discord login integration piece.  The reader is directed toward

      Rathole:   testing Discord/Arisian integration

for the grungy details, but suffice it to say that after a bit of high-intensity thrashing, the tests were successful and we were now ready to sort of "re-onboard" the rest of the existing staff.  I offered to shoulder the bulk of the personal interaction needed for that job, and to help process most of the inbound flow of people over the rest of the day.

like it or not, we're hot on early-access inbounds After running one or two more examples to get the workflow set, I was in the swing of this and my direct-message area started lighting up like a Vegas marquee.  I was now even more the point-person for Discord, as people had been instructed to DM me to support getting them back on via the "early access" list placed into my hands.  This was now *the* entry mechanism -- we closed the "portcullis" for now and bricked up the wall in front of it, directing all new arrivals to the "welcome center" a hundred feet to the east.

It was a little frantic at times but fine overall, and I was glad to see all our new Discord arrivals and help them get set up correctly.  In parallel, I was still building menus and messing with bot programming and handling various staff requests.

Thurs morning thoughts about grocery run In the "before time" of 2019, I got up early Thursday morning and headed down the road a bit to where we'd parked a full truck at Wal-Mart overnight, and then drove it into town.

In 2021, I got up early and headed to that same Wal-Mart plaza, again in real life, but only for some quick banking and shopping and then back home to dive back into our crazy online world.  So I at least got to do a little over-the-road transportation that morning anyway, even if it was to just stock myself up against a busy and potentially scary weekend.

start of at-the-westin, bump the dock Ben had the absolutely brilliant idea of a channel to add to the social spaces, called "at-the-westin".  The intent was for people to describe, in almost-real-time, what they would be if we were in real life at the real hotel.  I was fortunate to be right in here with one of the first at-con activities, and as more people chimed in it totally became a textual role-playing game, heavily laced with departmental in-jokes.  Farther into the con, it could have become a running ad for Starbucks.

slack: req for masq photos and coffee-line stuff One of the online site navigation-page features was indeed a "line for the coffee shop", with a rolling display of prior-con photos.  A request went out on Slack for sets of old masquerade shots to add to it.  People still have quite a few repositories of those.

session signups: ooh, starship == Willie Yee In looking at the remaining gaps in the Zoom-hosting schedule, I realized that one of the unhandled events was a panel by an old friend who I hadn't seen in years, so I grabbed it.

Here's the relevant roadtrip page.  By now many of the links in it have gone stale, but it was great fun to compose all the Treknobabble at the beginning.

prelim access instructions to mail out A mass email went out to everyone registered, reminding them of the process to sign up and access the convention resources.  We would officially open the next day at noon.

oop, zoom-startup conflict on test meetings And just like in real life, building and testing continued into Thursday night, with the techs firming up their knowledge of how to start sessions and wrangle the various layers of applications they'd need.  The process was not always seamless, and we began to see some issues around meeting launches.  The big difference here was that with the site API integration, Zoom meetings and webinars would be created on the fly from backend code, at the appropriate pre-start time, and launched shortly thereafter by whoever was hosting them with one click on the website.  That was the theory, anyway, and the inner workings were still being finalized.

big interests menu first go  R:interest Meanwhile, I had collected enough input to build a big role-menu for people to add a choice of general interests to their ersatz "badges".  A peek into

      Rathole:   big menu-making

provides more insight into the process.

pondering merits of text/chat format As we worked into the night, I kept enjoying the nuances of this text medium and especially how Discord caters to that even more through its "markdown" facility.  And to some extent the emojis, I suppose, but I'm still not a heavy user of those.  In general I'm not a long-timer on chat systems and didn't grow up on IRC, but I've always appreciated the flow of writing and when it's this informal and this rapid-fire, it definitely evolves its own style.  Then when I have to go back and write about it, I'll fall back into the more normal prose style.  That's why there's so much human interaction captured in these images -- some of those moments were precious, and I wanted to preserve them and let others experience some of the warm *human* context we created in this cold sea of bits.

... and we're live!  X:friday Friday morning brought some last-minute fixups and readiness checks on many fronts, and then ... noon arrived, and we were officially open!  Well, modulo a few minor hiccups.  The helpdesk stayed pretty busy throughout the day, and was very competently staffed.

So here's a full-screen dump of my bot-work environment -- main Discord client on top, my secondary user in a browser off to the right, and one of the bot configuration pages peeking out to the left. And this was before starting to run any Zoom sessions, with all their extra participant and chat windows.

at-the-westin LARP still running The fun continued in our "virtual ballroom" and hallway outside, as I tried to remember to dip back into our "hotel LARP" channel every so often.  Soon it would be time to tetris all the dead cases, clear the tech gack out of the house, and get ready for opening ceremonies... wait, what?
  But then it was time to get down to the *real* work of this year, or is that actually virtual but we were really doing it, or ... oh, my brain.  Anyway, as we started running stuff Friday evening, things started to go a little weird.  Some people may want to forget about that evening, so they can handily skip the

      Rathole:   Friday night follies

and pick up when things smoothed out again on Saturday.  One TL;DR point from that is that the Arisia Discord racked up about 680 members by late evening, with more on the way.

tech-meeting early Sat 'to make sure stuff works' Those improvements were largely due to more frantic late-night efforts from our backend team to fix some bugs having to do with concurrency or something.  Saturday morning we had the equivalent of that 9am all-tech-hands meeting in the ballroom to make sure things were going to work as intended now.  I had noted a handful of issues in how Zoom sessions were being launched, and since then learned that Zoom's API has some fairly stupid defaults for meeting and webinar settings [also noted in the "site" rathole].  The main visible problem for our host crew was the unusual workflow, especially confusing for those who had done any number of hand-launched sessions at prior events.

battery puns The Discord became pretty busy in the social spaces, with totally expected fannish things like a SERIES of bad battery puns.  [When you add all that up, it can be a bit shocking!]

Overall, this was one of the most active Discord servers I'd been on to date, not counting the bot-support ones, and it was interesting to see and help it work from my lofty perch of privilege.  Still, unless I had a direct answer or relevant comment for something, I could mostly stay out of the way and let people have fun.

raven's second 'how to navigate' session I hosted for the second go-round of Raven's "navigating the con" session, where she once again did a great job explaining how to get around the different pieces of infrastructure we had.  This prezzo likely had to be adapted in every run, to reflect the live conditions that were still in the process of settling down.

Teseracte Buffy zoom-shadowcast late-night DJ Dirge run

As in Real Life, Teseracte and the dance DJ kept the late-nights going.  This went out over streaming services, so we didn't really have to do much about it.  Concurrently, the Zoom-based con suite was going, with some of the breakout rooms picking up a decent quantity of people.

discuss DC pre-inauguration lockdown By Sunday morning, Armed Insurrection v2.0 hadn't happened, and our participants from DC reported an eerie quiet and plenty of razor wire.  We know how all that turned out now, but things still felt sort of like a living X-Files in certain sectors.

bartender_bot arrives! I happened to be glancing at the event-log channel and noticed a particular name go by.  I had actually reached out to this person earlier, to see if he was intending to make it to the con -- he was busy Fri/Sat, but said he'd try to make it in on Sunday.  And here I totally got lucky to spot him arriving in the airlock, and I immediately knew what I had to do!

In the time it took him to get through the uniquely Arisian decontamination chamber and figure out where to head next, I had constructed a bar space and had it swept clean for his arrival.  Talk about what you can do in a text-chat context -- this fella is a grand master.  He went right into persona, set up shop on the back wall of the bar, and was off and rolling for the entire rest of the weekend.  He's great -- when people ask for things I don't know how he comes up with the text and emojis so fast.  There must be some amount of automation or scripting behind it, or he's just really fast on the Discord UI.

We've had this featured but entirely unofficial guest at several events over the past year, and it's been great every time.

bar built and swept clean

prep to run covid panel, and things were still working smoothly  R:covid One of my items to host was a COVID panel, which had some fun details that I've moved into

      Rathole:   COVID facts

and no surprise, they didn't get anywhere near through the whole blizzard of questions.

clearing 'room 5' for corp mtg discussion Then it was time for the at-con Corporate meeting, which I sat in on and made sure the Discord chat-space was ready to run alongside it. Good thing, too, because the meeting ran its entire assigned hour and the API *cut it off* abruptly, but there was already a good conversational flow in its Discord channel so it just kept going there for a while longer.
At this point I had also taken on the function of turning over the "room topics" before the panels started.  It requires admin capability and a bit of tedious banging through the UI to set channel topics, but a little bit of local scripting and c&p from the schedule itself streamlined that process a bit.  I didn't get as sophisticated as trying to build a bot function to fully wrap it, but still kind of had fun doing the equivalent of going around to the hotel's meeting-room signs and slipping those little session-label pieces of paper into the slots.

Westin LARP: 'the ALPS truck is here!' on the out To keep my part going in the "Westin LARP" on Monday, I searched back in the channel to copypasta one particular message and then replay it here, with a nod to it being the same thing -- but that would very likely have happened IRL, and right around the time I posted it.  Beep, beep, beep, thump.

Oddly, loadout and return to Storage were surprisingly easy this year, and we even made it back for the Dead Dog Live Cat.

Discord takeup discussion, better than I thought As things started winding down, I was curious about the percentage of active "adoption" of Discord among attendees.  I think we topped out at just over 900 users total, some of which left again at con's end.  Ben later supplied a nice graph over time based on the "membercount" stats he was semi-regularly taking.  It turned out to be better participation than I thought, at least proportionally within people who were also using the website.  Previous events had been down around 50 - 60 % uptake, and we do know that people often find Discord soggy and hard to light at first.

thanking IRT desk people Various congratulations and kudos flew around between different departments, and in this environment it was so easy to do without having to walk all the way across a big building.

'being a dick' funny screenshot from Youtube And I managed to get through it all without having this happen to me!

I was pleased that I could once again be instrumental in making it go and making it fun.  Favorable community feedback on the event was already coming in, ranging from "it was better than having no con at all" to "awesome job!"  People came "together apart" once again, which we've all gotten so used to over the past year, even if we still miss the in-person aspect.

Technology has certainly played a pivotal role in this -- if the pandemic had come a decade or even less earlier, none of this would have been remotely possible, so to speak.  I regard that technology and its infrastructure as a sort of phase of human evolution, one that we've constructed instead of naturally grown.  We're not the only organism that builds things, but our work-product is almost a symbiotic lifeform of its own.  Think about it -- our brains are linked together via magical, unseen means, we can see almost any part of the globe without moving from place, and we have instant access to broad knowledge.  I could only wish we could stop manufacturing our own downsides to this.

bartender_bot's parting words Bartender_bot issued last call, and later closed up and exited with an elegant flourish.  I was really glad it worked out and that I was right there at the right time.

  The Discord server stayed up for a few weeks after the event, rendered into read-only "archive" mode by one simple change: turning off the handful of bits on the "Arisian" role that allowed sending/reacting.  It was good to keep all that history around for a while; I dipped back in several times to look something up or clarify some timing.  I also severed the bot connections and cleaned up the associated configs, since we didn't need that interactivity anymore.

Since this particular server wasn't going to continue on as a community resource, a secondary one was started up by interested parties as a kind of organic, grassroots space for social interaction to continue.  [Unfortunately, all the invites have "gone poopy" or I'd link to one here.  Check the "Friends of Arisia" FB group.]  The thing is, I know such efforts have been tried in the past and for some reason it doesn't seem to be enough to keep people chatting on Discord if they weren't already on it and part of other communities there.  There are numerous convention servers from the preceding year still kicking around and still open for interaction, perhaps in the same hope that they'd continue on as active social resources ... but they're all ghost towns now.  It must take a certain mindset to want this type of interaction as an integral part of life long-term, and people who feel semi-forced into an environment like Discord seem to bounce right out again after the requirement is over.  And yet they'll spend hours a day being hoodwinked on corporate-controlled "social media" instead -- go figure, see above about "downsides".

_H*   210201