Spider-Man answers his cell phoneComic book convention season has begun, and I’ve updated my Tips for Comic-Con with a bunch of ideas for keeping connected during and after the con. Smartphones, live-blogging and social networking have changed expectations and added a new set of challenges to the crowded event.

Getting Online

  • Wi-Fi is available in some parts of the convention center (which ones varies year to year). It’s frequently jammed, though.
  • If you see both free wifi and a paid hotspot on a service you already subscribe to, go with the paid service. It’ll be less crowded.
  • If you need to get online but can’t connect on the convention floor, hit a nearby hotel lobby.
  • Hotel internet access is often faster early in the morning than late at night, because no one wants to get up early to go online. That’s the time to upload your photos.
  • Cell reception can vary a lot by carrier in some convention centers, especially those with basement exhibit halls (Long Beach, I’m looking at you.)

Social Networking

  • If you want to update multiple social networks from the con, don’t spend time posting to all of them on a busy connection. Pick one and have it sync to the others using built-in connectors or IFTTT.
  • Tag your photos by convention+year and topic. Examples: Comic-Con 2013, #SanDiego, #cosplay, #SDCC, #StarWars.
  • Look for photo pools/groups dedicated to the convention (ex: SDCC on Flickr) or topics.
  • If you aren’t posting photos instantly but do want to share them, post them nightly or as soon as you get home. Interest drops off quickly after the con is over.

Hardware

  • Set your phone to vibrate and text instead of calling. You won’t be able to hear it ring or carry on a conversation on the main floor. Even then, you’ll want to check frequently for messages you’ve missed.
  • Bring a spare battery for your camera so you can swap it out in the middle of the day.
  • Make sure you bring chargers and data cables for ALL your electronics. Charge your phone every night, even if you don’t think you need to.
  • If you heavily use a power-hungry phone, carry a battery extender so you can recharge without finding a socket.
  • Save battery by turning off or slowing down notifications that you won’t be keeping up with during the con. If you only plan to check (for instance) Facebook in lines and after hours, you don’t need your phone checking every 5 minutes while you’re on the floor.

Head over to Speed Force for the full list of Comic-Con tips!

LEGO Comic-ConComic-Con International was a lot more fun and a lot less overwhelming than usual this year.

Maybe it’s because we skipped the busiest day to go the San Diego Zoo. Maybe it’s because we picked our battles on what we tried to do. Maybe it’s because last year we crammed the whole experience into a single day, and having three days felt like a luxury in comparison. Or the fact that the logistics of getting to and from the con were so ridiculously complicated (more about that later) that they made the convention seem relaxing.

Batgirl (Cassandra Cain)Whatever the reason, the floor did seem a bit less crowded this year. Both of us remarked on the fact that we never felt trapped as we usually feel on the busiest days.

(Skip to the photos if that’s what you want.)

Thursday was the day I spent mostly on the floor, exploring. I hit the usual haunts: DC Comics, Sideshow Collectibles, Studio Foglio. DC was really plugging their upcoming fighting game, Injustice: Gods Among Us.

LOTR FigurinesSideshow seems to be displaying more figurines (and a wider variety) every year. Their Lord of the Rings figurines are absolutely incredible. Though I’m not sure what the target audience is for the life-sized Han Solo in Carbonite or Boba Fett. I can’t see putting one of those in my living room. They also had a very cheesecaky Poison Ivy statue. I overheard someone saying they couldn’t see themselves buying it because it would be like having that lamp in A Christmas Story. At another booth I discovered that you actually can buy that lamp.

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With all the talk of Comic-Con International moving out of San Diego someday, it was pretty much impossible not to consider this weekend’s WonderCon as a test case.

The Anaheim Convention Center definitely has the floor space. WonderCon used about 1/4 of the main floor this weekend (all of Hall D, unlike Wizard in 2010, which only used about half to two-thirds of it), not counting registration downstairs.

Rooms for programming might be a problem. As near as I can tell, WonderCon used all the meeting rooms on level 2, and the large ballroom that takes up most of level 3. The Arena might be a good replacement for San Diego’s Hall H, but for the smaller panels they’d have to spill over into the nearby hotels. Fortunately, those hotels are next to the convention center, not at opposite ends or across a railroad like in San Diego.

Parking was the major breakdown this year, and Comic-Con will need even more. (I’d guess a lot of the people at the volleyball and cheer competitions were staying in hotels from out of town, or bused in from closer schools.) I suspect if they can use the stadium lot all four days and direct people to it clearly (including signs between the freeway and convention center letting people know that the convention lot is full, and accurate directional signs all the way to the stadium lot), it will probably be all right.

Food could be a problem, but it’s easily solved by bringing in food trucks or encouraging people to walk a few minutes. You know…like we do in San Diego. (Though hotel restaurants and a half-empty mall have nothing on the Gaslamp District.)

Hotels, to me, are the biggest open question. Most of the pro-Comic-Con-in-Anaheim articles I’ve seen sort of gloss over the fact that Disneyland is right across the street, or use it to bolster the claim that there are lots of hotels.

But you know, Disneyland visitors are going to be using those hotels, too. Especially during the height of summer.

Update 2017: The convention center is building a whole new wing with 200K more square feet. WonderCon is now using 3/4 of the main floor for the exhibit hall, the remaining section for registration, and programming is spilling over into the Hilton. There are a lot of new hotels in the same block and the next one over. Restaurants are about the same, but they’ve brought in more food trucks every year. Parking’s still a problem, though.

Banner: Comic-Con International

If you’re trying to get a message out, or provide a service, analytics are great. They tell you what’s working and what’s not, so you can focus on what does work. Unfortunately, when it comes to email, a lot of organizations use a third-party click-tracking service, which registers which mailing the user clicked on, then redirects them to the real website.

Why do I say unfortunately?

Because it’s what phishing does: Sets up a link that looks like it goes one place, but sends you somewhere else instead. In the case of a legitimate email with a click tracker, you end up at the real site eventually. In the case of a phishing message, you end up at a fake login page that wants to capture your username & password, or a site with drive-by malware downloads. Using this technique in legit mail trains people to ignore warning signs, making them more vulnerable to the bad guys. And it makes it harder for security software to detect phishing automatically.

Now add another reason: You don’t control that click-tracking service, so it had better be reliable.

That’s what happened with Comic-Con registration today.

Getting tickets to San Diego Comic-Con used to be a breeze, but last year the system broke down repeatedly. It took them three tries, with multiple handlers, to open a registration system that didn’t melt in the first few minutes.

A few days ago, Comic-Con International sent out a message with the date and time registration would open, and a link to where the page would be when it went live. They went to a lot of trouble to make sure their servers could handle the load, as did the company handling registration. They built a “waiting room” to make sure that people trying to buy tickets would get feedback, and get into a queue, when they arrived, but could still be filtered into the registration system slowly enough not to overwhelm it.

The weak link: The click tracker.

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