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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Darth Joker cosplay at Comic-Con 2011This year, we approached Comic-Con International a bit differently than usual. For the last seven years we’ve been staying in town for all four days. With the baby, we decided to do Comic-Con 2011 in just one day. So we left him with relatives and took the train down to San Diego for the day. We arrived in town about 9:00, walked down to the convention center, and had our badges just after the floor opened at 9:30.

(Full photo set on Flickr, Flash-related coverage on Speed Force.)

Jack Skellington Puppet/Costume at Comic-Con 2011Planning a trip to Comic-Con is always about trade-offs. It’s so big that you can’t see everything, and there are so many events going on that you can’t attend them all. With four days, there’s some wiggle room. With just one, it seemed like I was constantly thinking about those choices.

One of the first choices I made: No news panels. I could get that the next day online (and did). I wanted to focus only on what was unique to the con: exhibits, meeting people, the art show, etc. Basically, I wanted to experience as much of San Diego Comic Con as I could in one day.

Katie decided to pick two things and build her day around them: visiting The Field, an Irish pub our friend Sean introduced us to a few years ago, and seeing the new Thundercats screening. Continue reading

Comic-Con 2011 ticket sales crashed under heavy load shortly after going online.

I think we’re seeing another shift in the process of getting to Comic-Con.

It used to be that, as long as you were aware of the onsale dates and could both plan your trip and pay for your tickets far enough ahead of time, getting those tickets wasn’t a problem. Sure, the show might sell out months ahead of time, but it would take weeks or months to get to that point.

Now, people are looking at preview night already being sold out, and looking back at their last experience with hotel reservations, and freaking out: We can’t just buy our tickets this week – we have to buy them NOW, as soon as they go on sale, or we won’t be able to get in!

Get enough people reacting that way, and it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Fear of a rush ends up creating a rush, just like fear of a run on a bank often triggers one. Add in the live progress bars as a feedback mechanism, and it snowballs even faster.

Until it crashes the server, anyway…

(Originally posted as a comment at The Beat.)