Four to five years ago, Pictochat, an inbuilt chat system on the Nintendo DS where you can IM chat with other nearby people on DSs, was used during the costume play (cosplay) event of Animania, a Japanese Popular Culture event. People anonymously sent feedback and chatted amongst themselves about the entries parading and strutting their stuff on stage. Given the nature of some of these exchanges, it was a good thing it only stayed between the IMers and their tiny double screens.
One thing did come out of this though; it was one of the most talked about things to happen at the event, and people enjoyed it. People interacted with one another as the event unfolded and became engaged and participated in the discussion. I received a modest amount of post-event feedback looking at instigating DS ‘hotspots’ for people to play multiplayer games and to chat over the DS. I know it’s weird; why chat on devices when you should be socialising amongst everyone else in the convention hall. That’s the nature of our niche demographic; they are introverted and proud of it.
The Pictochat jig was successful for numerous reasons:
1/ There was an available and commonly owned platform to disseminate their messages
2/ The nature of anonymity gives users free rein on what they wanted to say or draw, creating a lot of interesting content
3/ There was an element of socialising and engagement involved.
Fast track to now, and the most commonly used platform to provide a live conversation during an event is a twitter stream utilising a hashtag. I can imagine a twitter broadcast at a cosplay event being able to emulate the same experience Pictochat provided: where the audience can have a united conversation about what’s happening on stage. The problem is that it currently doesn’t live up to the first two reasons why Pictochat was successful.
PROS, CONS & CONCERNS
++ Interactive audience participation will provide a means for attendees to be more involved with what’s happening on stage by tweeting questions and sharing immediate feedback.
++ The interactivity extends out to participants who can’t attend the show; they can be following or participating in the conversation online.
++ A new revenue stream for sponsored tweets can be introduced during a broadcast to further support the convention financially
++ Lack of participation – how many people in our demographic have access to a smartphone, have a dataplan and use twitter?
++ Heavy and careful moderation would be required; you want to filter derogatory remarks but also keep relevant tweets.
++ Event cannibalisation – Can this be an incentive for people not to attend an event and merely participate from home?
++ PR control – this can be a godsend or a nightmare for event management and really depends on how they handle it. A dedicated management team focused on customer service and an active understanding of social media practises would be able to turn a potential PR nightmare into another positive review by addressing negative feedback and sharing positive feedback, whilst an undedicated management team might not be able to follow up and thank their customers on good event reviews.
Moderation is probably the biggest question mark on this initiative. The anime convention’s demographic is the impressionable 16-21 year old who have had some experience with 4chan, a safe haven for anti-censors, and a peculiar brand of humour only understandable by someone who is online at least 14 hours a day. It’s often celebrated and in many ways has shed some light on the wonders of the internet, no matter how appropriate or inappropriate it is relative to mainstream civilised society.
But where do we draw the line between genuine criticsm and downright slander? How do we tackle this unique sense of humour? Is there room for tactful conversation at these family-friendly events? Once we filter out everything, is there any room left for a conversation? Can we talk about lolcats and goatse at the same time? Can goatse even be mentioned?
Can we expect convention attendees to change from talking like this…
@Pinindaimono: what a fat cosplayer! #auscon
@Pinindaimono: this cosplayer needs to carefully monitor his/her diet. #auscons
or from this…
@Pinindaimono: what a hot cosplayer! I totally want to have sex with her #auscon
@Pinindaimono: what an attractive cosplayer! I would love to take her out for a walk on the beach #auscon
Should we even approve messages like above? The user is entitled to their opinion; but at the expense of the other person. Should there be a disclaimer? A warning perhaps? What’s the responsible thing to do?
With nothing but questions and moral dilemnas, this is only the beginning of what is going to be a complicated yet challenging and wonderful trend in the popular culture industry which is going to open doors to a lot of online conversations. There is no doubt that it is a question of when and how, and not whether it will or won’t. Despite the problems of distinguishing what should and shouldn’t be publicly broadcasted, one important thing remains; everyone should be allowed to talk and be responded to, no matter what language they’re using.