Webmastering the Worldcon

Chaz Boston Baden, smofsweb@bostonbaden.com
Rev. 14-Apr-1997

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The infrastructure - that is, the servers and internet services used by L.A.con III - changed over time. When I started the L.A.con III web page, I had a Unix Shell account on Netcom (a flat-rate-service ISP), and did most of my work there (and on a friend's Netcom account). By the time the convention arrived, we still had a little bit of action on Netcom, but we'd taken over an entire workstation at a large, unnamed Southern California institution, and half of another. (The operating system on lacon3.worldcon.org had some kind of bug or configure problem that made it impossible to run all of our e-mail services through it.)

So if I were planning this from scratch, I would have tried to go directly to where we ended up - on a site named lacon3.worldcon.org. (Or insert your-Worldcon-name.worldcon.org. Or nasfic99.wsfs.org, or...)

We used a lot of services for L.A.con III, as I've mentioned in previous installments. We didn't use Gopher.... but we started setting up a WAIS program... We had the web, with fill-in forms and CGI's, we had a cron job on the server, we DIDN'T use server-side includes; we had multiple copies of the same web page, thanks in part to the miracle of macro processing to generate parallel text/graphics pages; we had a whole slew of e-mail aliases, and several mailing lists. We used Perl, and the only reason I didn't get Majordomo on the machine was the press of time; I never got around to coordinating my schedule and the sysadmin's, so that we could get it in there.

Okay, there's a couple of things going on there; how do you select what your Worldcon (or other large convention) needs?

Having your own domain is Nifty Keen. It's especially handy if you can set up a server to respond to the domain name - but even if you can't, you can still enjoy the benefits (if you're running a Worldcon anyway) thanks to the nice folks at the MPC. For example, you can actually reach the web sites and the e-mail addresses at the domain bucconeer.worldcon.org and lonestarcon2.worldcon.org and so forth; however, it's up to the individual Worldcons to take advantage of that, and to set up a server to respond to them if they don't want to have a simple "forwarding" arrangement set up, and like that.

But most conventions are going to start out, I think, with a simple dial-in account at an ISP, unless their organization already has a server. (For example, the webmaster for this year's Loscon web page can be reached at loscon24.web@lasfs.org.)

Shop around. You not only want a flat-rate service, but you also need web page storage. And it couldn't hurt to have an ISP with lots of dial-in numbers, good technical support, and you might go for the deluxe package that offers the capability of two or more users simultaneously.

Anyhow, an important consideration is storage space. You'll start out small... but it grows, and grows. (Especially if you decide to have an archive of pictures taken at the convention, but that's another story.)

CRL has a "standard" package offering flat-rate service and 5 MB of space... but for a little more a month, you can get 20 MB instead. I'd probably suggest that as a starting point. Some other ISPs are offering even more space in their deluxe packages. Look into it!

Of course, it's entirely possible that you'll have someone offer you a free server or a virtual server right out of the gate, and that you can access it through your own private internet account. It might still be money well spent to have an additional account in your convention's name. (This can be as simple as an additional free screen name, if you're on AOL - the upcoming Loscon has "loscon24@aol.com" as the official contact address, for example.)

Anyhow, I think you'll use that 20 MB. Not all at once - it'll build, and so forth - but it'll creep up inexorably. In fact, if you can get a 50 MB deal, go for it, especially if (1) you'll be keeping mail folders on-line - they'll mushroom, (2) if you'll have to install a lot of your own utilities (I had to install Perl and Procmail, for example, and I would have put Majordomo in if we'd had extra time.), and (3) if you do plan a collection of convention pictures.

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