In praise of KansasFest's inclusiveness

January 20th, 2014 6:40 PM
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The year has just begun, and already it's been busy with conventions! Two weeks ago, I flew to Maryland for MAGFest, the Music and Gaming Festival. My full report is on Gamebits, where I mention checking out the dealer room:

Dozens of indie shops were selling used games, original art, posters, figurines, books, dice, and more. I desperately wanted to expunge all my cash on the awesome artwork and knick-knacks, but every time I stopped myself and asked, "What would I do with it?" That question guided me to buy Moviebob's book, Super Mario Bros. 3: Brick by Brick, from the Fangamer table, though absent from the table was Fangamer founder Reid Young, whom I'd interviewed a year earlier. The last day of MAGFest, I picked up some chiptune CDs at 50% off. That's all the swag I went home with.

Today, I attended a convention closer to home. Arisia bills itself as New England's largest and most diverse science fiction and fantasy convention. This time, I hung out in the dealer room almost exclusively, coming home with dice, hats, buttons, and other assorted knick-knacks.

Arisia 2014

Geekware everywhere!

To get into either of these marketplaces was not free; registration for all of the convention was required. MAGFest was a reasonable $45 for the entire four-day event, whereas Arisia charged that much to attend just the Saturday of show's four days. I found Arisia's prices very discouraging. I'd never attended either show and would've gone to MAGFest regardless, but my motivation to attend Arisia draw was not the costume contests or the panels and workshops but solely to support local artists. To charge $45 just for the privilege of looking at the merchandise made the event less accessible to those who have only a passing interest in the hobby.

KansasFest, by contrast, makes its vendor fair open to all. Anyone from the Kansas City area is welcome to come to Rockhurst University on Saturday afternoon to buy, sell, and trade with fellow geeks. It has been this way since my first time attending KansasFest in 1998, and it continues now that I myself am a merchant. Because of this policy, Juiced.GS has a demonstrably larger subscriber base. I appreciate the larger audience and increased opportunities to sell my product, and if I were a vendor at MAGFest or Arisia, I'd be disappointed at how exclusive the event was.

I appreciate that the organizers of these events are likely not meanies with no motivation other than greedily charging admission. Convention centers and hotels have maximum capacities, and especially in the case of Arisia, which had to close registration for Saturday after selling out, it would at best be awkward for the vendors' space to be so crowded; at worst, it would be against fire code. And with the event being so popular, it's not like they need to open any part of the show to the public for the vendors to do a brisk business. By contrast, KansasFest, whose attendance is only in the double digits, doesn't have any of these concerns; and with our hobby so niche, we can't afford to be exclusive.

And yet, it's an issue worth juggling. Having done my time on the KansasFest committee, I understand and appreciate the factors that convention organizers must consider. Few such cons are profitable, instead being held for the love of the community. But that's the very reason why these cons should also serve to embiggen the community by giving them a taste of what it offers. An open vendor space would serve as such outreach while also making it a profitable and attractive proposition for the artists.

The Apple II community in general and KansasFest in particular have not only survived but thrived due to the collaboration and openness of its contributors. The KansasFest vendor fair is one of many things we do right. When and where possible, other cons should look to us as an example of how to make its members feel welcome.

Cultivating and cataloging online resources

September 23rd, 2010 12:18 PM
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If you have access to the Internet — and if you don't, I'm curious how you're reading this — then Apple II support is just a click away. From software vendors to hardware manufacturers, message boards to chat rooms, program repositories to magazine archives, there's a Web site for everything.

Or is there? Doubtless there's room for growth in any community, and we should encourage new online enterprises. They needn't be commercial in nature. For example, this blog is a mere five months old, but I think it is doing something that no one else is: producing original content on a regular basis about what it means to be an Apple II user. What other online resources could serve the Apple II and its fans?

However, a problem with a growing community is awareness of its new members. When a site launches, how does one make its presence known, and how does it become able to be found? This isn't the old days of GEnie, when we could move to page 645 and find everything meticulously organized (or, in today's lingo, "curated") into searchable topics, categories, and libraries. Instead, the Internet offers so many destinations that any one site can easily be overlooked.

There are a couple attempts to address this issue. David Kerwood maintains the A2-Web!, intended as a comprehensive index of Apple II resources, from user homepages to emulator download sites and online stores. The site contains many vendors I've never seen referenced elsewhere, leading to some wonderful discoveries. However, A2-Web! is often dependent on user contributions for reports of new or broken links, resulting in some occasionally outdated data. A chronological record of changes lacks an RSS list, making it hard to discover these updates.

David also coordinates the 32-member Apple II webring, a pre-search-engine networking concept devised by GeoCities.

More recently, Bill Martens has been maintaining the Apple Archives, which links to Apple II content but also hosts quite a bit itself, including scans of well-known publications. Instead of textual descriptions of the site, the indices offer image thumbnails of the Web sites; clicking on these will sometimes offer a more verbose description with a link to the actual site, though some listings, like KansasFest and Juiced.GS, lack a detailed description. Like A2-Web!, the Apple Archives is broken down into several categories, but their entries aren't in alphabetical order, and a few could use more obvious categorization: for example, Syndicomm is listed under "Programming", "Support/Projects", and "Vendors", but not "Software" or "Docs". There also doesn't appear to be a category for blogs and other hobbyist pursuits.

Although the Internet offers unprecedented opportunity for peer-to-peer support, and the above efforts make creating and finding these sites vastly easier, it's apparent that the Apple II community still has work to do. Just as programmers sometimes solicit ideas for new software, I'm eager to hear your ideas for new Web sites and online tools. What changes or additions would you suggest the wealth of Apple II online resources adopt? And how can we disseminate news of those changes in a way that makes them able to be found not just by today's members, but by tomorrow's newcomers as well?

Communication is key in vendor-client relationships

June 21st, 2010 11:57 AM
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An Apple II user recently posted to csa2 his concern over the service he'd received from an Apple II vendor, who took 12 days to ship an order. His complaint is legitimate, but his respondents provided a perspective that he hadn't considered. He followed up later: "I did not know that the company was a one-man operation. That helps to explain the delay."

Despite the proliferation of Apple II software and especially hardware these days, the platform is sadly no a longer financially viable means of earning a living. What motivates those vendors who remain is their enjoyment and passion for the Apple II, with the hope of at least breaking even. It's this spirit that drives them to pursue their hobby in their extracurricular hours, even after a grueling day job leaves them exhausted. As a result, a customer's order does not always receive the attention that both the customer and the vendor want to give it, and delays such as the above do happen.

When this happens, guessing at the vendor's situation isn't the only solution, as some commenters on the csa2 post suggest. Communication from the vendor can help the customer set appropriate expectations. The hosting service with which this site currently resides, DreamHost, is especially good at this. They have a blog and a Twitter feed dedicated to communicating the status of their servers to their customers, so that no one is ever left uninformed of planned maintenance or unexpected outages. It's also an efficient means of communications: rather than fielding the same support ticket dozens of times, they can publish one blog post in anticipation of such questions. And finally, it's honest: DreamHost isn't covering up their outages but posting them for all to see.   Big money
This is about how much money there is to be made from the Apple II these days. Photo by Stavros Karatsoridis.
 

The Apple II community also has many examples of vendors who practice this habit. Eric Shepherd of Syndicomm sometimes falls a month behind in fulfilling orders. When that happens, he usually posts a message to csa2 informing folks of his backlog and his progress. Likewise, I recently placed an order for an issue of 300 Baud magazine. Before I ever handed over my money, I was informed right on the product's homepage, "PLEASE ALLOW 4-6 WEEKS FOR DELIVERY". Even the vendor at the focus of the csa2 thread had updated his Web site last summer to indicate a significant delay in shipping, as some recent publicity had led to a spike in the popularity of his product. Unfortunately, he has no such notice posted today that could've precluded the above complaint.

I'm an Apple II vendor myself, and for each Juiced.GS order I receive, I personally email the buyer to let him know when his order has shipped or will ship. However, my philosophy is a bit more selfish than the principles outlined above. There are so few Apple II users these days that I want to reach out to each one individually and learn their stories: How long have you been using the Apple II? How did you hear about Juiced.GS? Your name seems familiar — did you happen to write that program I used in 1988? Making such connections is vital to community solidarity and growth. That's how Brian Wiser, a first-time subscriber as of earlier this year, came to be someone with whom I now regularly communicate about podcasts, Firefly, scanning techniques, and more. At the least, the more I learn about my customers, the better I'm able to serve them in the future.

So, yes, vendors have a responsibility to their clients and their community — but it is the customers' responsibility to remember that we're all in this together, and though our patience must still have limits, we should adjust them accordingly.