An Open Letter to Anime Boston Artist Alley

Anime would be nothing without art. This forum is here for artists to discuss the art show and artists' alley.
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aquare9ia
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An Open Letter to Anime Boston Artist Alley

Post by aquare9ia » Sat Nov 04, 2017 4:24 pm

To Whom This May Concern,

The frustration with Anime Boston's Artist Alley registration is a familiar feeling that arrives once year, every year with as much certainty as Christmas or New Years. The system to register artists feels more like a battle royale of internet speeds versus AB's server loads, and the cascading effect is felt on the hundreds, maybe thousands of artist waiting at their computers and mobile devices for up to 5-6 hours. To add injury to insult, we have been postponed to upwards 24 hours after the initial drop with only marginally better sever handling reducing our wait time to 1-2 hours.

And yet, every year, like clockwork, artists, organizers, and staff blissfully forget about the incident and it's never brought up again until after the next occurance.

I myself have never gotten into the Artist Alley, even after 5 years of attempts. I pay $80 a month for internet slightly out of my budget and I have had jobs and classes that conflict with this schedule. I have given up family gatherings and important dinners waiting for AB, and I have never been rewarded with a table either in Pro Row or regular AA. While I understand the limitations of accepting artists within a limited number of tables, I feel that the process can be improved in a lot of ways.

Some suggestions for the new AA staff are to go through as many of the feedback as possible to find a possible compromise. While we respect the tradition of keeping AB AA more or less the same as before, here are a few suggestions that have been brought up:

1. Change to Jury
- Knowledgable Staff
- Time to Review Apps - App cutoff x000 qty

2. Change to Lottery
- Screen for faulty or duplicate submissions
- Random Number Generator method assigned to each applicant to prevent favoritism or system abuse

3. Category
- Limit admission based on prints/crafts/services
- Requires staff to enforce merchandise rules (prevent bypass and sell whatever they want)

4. Keep FCFS
- Improve servers or host off site (Suggestion: Evemtbrite or Google)
- 10+ staff on technical support during the hours before and after the announced time

5. Something Else Just Not What You Have Now

For the love of everything please consider.

Sincerely,

A Frustrated Applicant

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pulsedemon
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Re: An Open Letter to Anime Boston Artist Alley

Post by pulsedemon » Sat Nov 04, 2017 8:05 pm

We definitely aren't specifically looking to make everyone's lives harder! This is a really vibrant community (and there are quite a few people in it) so we want to do what we can to support it.

Kathy, Elaine, and I have been discussing this same kind of thing for a few weeks. It's definitely no kind of surprise that it was again rough, though the scale was the unexpected part. We'd already been planning to get some thorough feedback data later, both from people that will be participating in the Alley and from people that didn't get to participate.

There are some obvious changes that need to be made, but it's also not something to rush into. The problems this year are not strictly new, but the magnitude was clearly greater.

Apart from this specific examination of sign-up approach, though, there's always more data that is useful. To even approach some of what you'd mentioned, we need more data. Making changes in a carefully considered fashion should help get us to the best plan. Also, I don't expect one thing will serve as a panacea for everything that causes headaches and stress in the whole process. We'd already been considering an iterative process for the future, too.

For all the stress this puts on you, it also puts it on us!
Christian Daly, Director, Exhibits Division, Anime Boston

Look out! It's my last.fm profile!

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Re: An Open Letter to Anime Boston Artist Alley

Post by myken » Sat Nov 04, 2017 9:36 pm

At the risk of ganging up here -- it is very, very hard to understand why year after year, only AA management seem to be the ones surprised by the scale of the interest. You say that you were not surprised that the process was rough, yet you were surprised by the scale -- what parts, then, did you think would be rough? What goes into estimating how much traffic the servers should be able to handle? What goes into the preparing the servers to handle this traffic? Does it account for the fact that the number of applicants will grow yearly, and the pace of that growth? In Faceman's thread, he explained that the load conditions are "hard to test" in the first place -- in other words (it seems), no means of assurance with current resources. The questions I'm asking above are mostly rhetorical, as the artists have necessarily limited insight into what goes on behind the curtain. The short of it is that a third-party host should have been the obvious solution after the second or third time AB's best efforts at server upgrades failed to mitigate the problem.

You say you need more data -- what kind of data do you need? I don't mean this in a snide way -- I'm curious what the unknowns are here. Aquare9ia has made strong and specific suggestions in this thread for a number of possible directions in which to proceed. We understand that no solution is perfect, and any solution will be a compromise; we look forward to working together toward the best possible outcome. Thanks.

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Re: An Open Letter to Anime Boston Artist Alley

Post by aquare9ia » Sun Nov 05, 2017 1:41 am

Hi Pulsedeamon. Thanks for responding. I understand it's a tough job and its easy to underestimate the circumstances.

FCFS are also very stress inducing to any individual, no matter how much of of an indicator it might be as to how much you want to be a part of AB, doesn't mean you should sacrifice this amount of time and sanity just to buy a *chance* at getting into the con. Sometimes the margin is a matter of milliseconds. Did the one who made it deserve it more than the one who was 0.01 seconds?

It is important to create a good system. Don't hesitate to combine systems if that's what suits AB best.

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Re: An Open Letter to Anime Boston Artist Alley

Post by pulsedemon » Sun Nov 05, 2017 8:22 am

myken wrote:
Sat Nov 04, 2017 9:36 pm
You say you need more data -- what kind of data do you need?
That's a super fair question. Going simply off what was already written in this thread, I can immediately come up with questions. Now, these questions might not seem like great ones or "important" ones, but they're still ones that come to mind in trying to adapt.

1 - full jury - How large a portfolio do we evaluate? How do we get that presented? How do we ask questions of artists in a way that keeps everything going to everyone while not then essentially doxxing everyone to the overwhelming majority of applicants we can't accommodate? How does this process work to try to minimize the appearance of bias when the process is inherently subjective? That basically ties right back into the previous question. How do we continue to grow and provide opportunities for 'new' artists when they're compared to seasoned veterans with a lot more experience behind them? Do we apply criteria like we do for Pro Row, where a specific percentage of what's on display has to be original work? How do we gauge that in advance while looking at someone's presented portfolio and knowing that it's actually representing their work and what they would plan to bring?

2 - a lottery - This is probably the easiest option to change to, obviously. Do we screen any of the entries? How do we screen any entries? Do we look for the same email address multiple times? Do we look for the same name multiple times? Do we look for the same website multiple times? How far down a rabbit's hole do we go to try to work around the extremely easy possibility of 'stuffing the box'? Even if it isn't done maliciously, let's say there's someone that isn't sure if their form loaded properly and sent the data, so they hit the button again. Honest mistake, but still has the same effect. In addition to all of this, how do we work around different table size requests? Do we just eliminate smaller sizes and make only one size available? There's some obvious difference in what that would cost everyone and the one-size-fits-all approach might not really work for everyone. So if we adjust the process based on what everyone requests, do we get to a point we essentially keep drawing numbers until we get to someone that makes that specific size request? Do we filter requests out? Do we go through everyone's size requests in advance, come up with a proportional fit approach and bin requests based on size, then draw numbers from each bin as needed, while also keeping everything proportionate to what was requested by everyone?

3 - categorical representation - How many categories? Which categories? How do we get everyone to represent the breadth of their work? Just choose one category that represents a lot of your work, or place restrictions on someone to tell them they have to only bring work in a specific medium? How do we come up with any idea of how these categories should be represented? It it even important to honor representation, or do we just make sure to have at least some token efforts from every category? We could, for example, take the temperature of 'the scene' in advance so we have some kind of a 'fit' to apply. We then probably have to adjust that 'fit' every year as people maybe try new things, so how do we do that? How do we address questions of representation in a way that's transparent enough to everyone to be satisfying while simultaneously not just essentially doxxing everyone that applies in every category?

4 - stay the course - Are the problems we encountered exacerbated by a small number of people trying to hammer the server across several devices simultaneously while a majority of people were only working on one device? Where exactly were our computational bottlenecks this time? Has the number of people that have been interested in space continued to grow so much from even last year to this year that by essentially doubling our capacity from last year (which is more or less what happened) still wasn't close to enough? We had a bunch of people monitoring it while things were going on yesterday, but it takes time to just add a bunch more capacity, so we'd still need to have a better idea in advance of how much we can handle to try to soak everything.

5 - something that isn't one of these options - Is there some information we could gather that would indicate a new direction we could take? Should we offer only single-day spaces so we can increase the number of people that can get a chance to get in the room? Does that then alienate everyone that has a broad variety of pieces and needs time to set up elaborate displays?

There are certainly other factors we could look at. We could dramatically raise prices to limit the number of people that are interested. We could get data from everyone to get a feel for what prices seem to work and if it's already too high or not.

We'd polled people a few years ago and there was no clear 'best plan'. The three primary approaches we'd interrogated (jury, a lottery, first-come) all have their strengths and weaknesses. Some are more obvious than others. First-come works totally fine provided the server can soak all the requests. It's certainly the quickest option. A lottery or a jury could work fine, too. What I want to do is come up with a well-considered approach to get a lot of information from as many people that are part of the process (whether they got space or not), come up with a plan that emerges from the data, and present that data to the community.
Christian Daly, Director, Exhibits Division, Anime Boston

Look out! It's my last.fm profile!

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Re: An Open Letter to Anime Boston Artist Alley

Post by egyptianruin » Sun Nov 05, 2017 12:09 pm

2. You could always do lottery just for the specific size requests. But...

I don't see why you don't just do full table sizes of 6ft and let the artists figure out who they will share with if they wish to do so. Allowing 3 artists per table. Otakon doesn't really have an issue with screened lottery. Meaning once someone is picked you do a quick review of portfolio to make sure they are legit. Duplicates and people trying to break the system can be eliminated altogether. Set a time limit of an hour for entries. Everyobe does theor bizz and is on their merry way for the day. Their is so much less stress.

Other solutions: Raise Pro Row to $750 and 6ft to $400. Add a application fee to avoid duplicates.

I have high BP and I have to take anti anxiety meds and more BP meds before AB signups. My heart races. I get sick. All for a chance to be there. I havent been in 4 years because I don't have fast internet and I don't open a billion tabs to try. Maybe I should of but I try to be cool and relaxed. Never works. Nothing should make someone this anxious and upset. Something needs to change.

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Re: An Open Letter to Anime Boston Artist Alley

Post by aquare9ia » Tue Nov 07, 2017 12:25 am

Hello,

I can help offer some ideas for the different selection methods by borrowing on some existing AA's policies from different conventions!

1. Full Jury
- Portfolio must be artwork only and provide 10-20 examples of artwork to be sold. All types of merchandise must be represented in the images (but different varieties of prints plush and etc may be sold as well)
- Limited window of submission and applications are cut off at the first 500/1000/2000 submissions but upwards to 5000 responses are collected
- Duplicate submissions are screened and discarded. If any information is invalid, allow 24 hours for change otherwise moved to waitlist
- TRANSPARENT CRITERIA - important for applicants to trust the jury. Must follow 5-10 elements that can be ranked on a scale of 1-10. Scores can be private or public

2. Lottery
- Require ID upon check in **be strict** - only the one who registered can pick up badge. Must also reflect the artwork being sold at table -- ask for portfolio at registration. (prevents friends box stuffing for other artists)
- Use email confirmation method. One email, one submission. Must be verified by link send to email to be valid.
- Use automated search query to scan for duplicate names/urls/emails
- Eliminate table size requests -- artist can share if they don't need 3 ft, but only with people who submitted lottery submissions in the time frame

3. Category
- 2 category - prints and crafts
- More categories - bead sprites, perfumes soaps, costumes and wigs, fabrics sculptures plush, published books or comics, Traditional art
- Limit number of admittances to each category - can have larger categories than others - aim for at least 1-5 of low number categories for good representation (avoid print merch hell)

4. FCFS
- Always host on Eventbrite or Google. It's probably obvious to everyone by now your own servers are not working well enough.
- Look for flaws in this year's Google Forms submissions and fix them
- The demand will only grow. Anime Expo is the largest artist alley and STILL not everyone who wants to attend can get a table. Assume things will be 2-3 x worse than they were last year

5. Other
- Single day spaces are definite no - each day for the AA is unique and you shouldn't price them the same or even offer it at all. Last min tables are still fine, but single day spaces are strange.
- Table pricing - it's up to your convention, but if you require more staff to do registration properly, please raise the table rates to hire some people to handle the workload. That means if it costs $100 for someone to work a whole day during registration, divide up that amount between the tables to make it happen. I'm sure most applicants won't shy away from a $5-20 increase on tables if it means they don't have to wait for 3 hours in high anxiety mode.
- Many cons charge higher rates for premium spaces under no premise. 8 ft tables or 10 ft booths can be sold if you are willing to work with a floor plan that can accommodate them.

And finally, to give a disclaimer, I'm just offering suggestions and in no way fully understand all the difficulties of AB's staff's future issues. I just participate in this mess of a registration every year and am trying my best in a different way this year. You can take any of these or even halves of each system and use it to your liking, or none at all. In the end, it's a balance of what is the least work for both artist and coordinators to get the best experience out of Anime Boston.

Thanks for reading!

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Re: An Open Letter to Anime Boston Artist Alley

Post by Icesky » Thu Nov 16, 2017 6:51 pm

I think that the lottery system makes the most sense. A jury is too biased and I think that all artists should get the chance to be in the artist alley and it allows the alley to have a significantly larger variety. Here are some of the posed questions about a potential lottery and what I think some answers could be.

Do we screen any of the entries? How do we screen any entries? Do we look for the same email address multiple times? Do we look for the same name multiple times? Do we look for the same website multiple times? How far down a rabbit's hole do we go to try to work around the extremely easy possibility of 'stuffing the box'? Even if it isn't done maliciously, let's say there's someone that isn't sure if their form loaded properly and sent the data, so they hit the button again. Honest mistake, but still has the same effect.

Yes, screen entries for duplicates. Keep it to the legal name. If someone doesn't provide their full legal name and they try to do tax forms with a fake name that they use to try to get more of a chance, then they're just going to run into an issue further down the line. Make this clear upon application, and anyone who does run into issues with their tax name and application name not lining up, then there's always the potential to take their table.

If you notice two of the same name, then delete the duplicates but still allow them into the lottery. I also don't hate the idea of an application fee, but I think it would kind of unethical to have people pay for a fee if they don't get refunded upon not getting a table. And that would be a significant amount of work since more people would need refunds than actually get a table.

I don't know how application acceptance works right now, but realistically it shouldn't be that different than the potential for duplicates in FCFS. As it is, artists can easily have their friends put in applications for them at the same. How do you usually address that problem as it is - if you do, then I'm sure it can be done the same way. If you don't, then perhaps this is something that's been necessary to think about anyway.

I get that screening entries would be an incredibly long process in order to ensure everything is fair, but if other cons can do it then I'm sure AnimeBoston can find a way.

In addition to all of this, how do we work around different table size requests? Do we just eliminate smaller sizes and make only one size available? There's some obvious difference in what that would cost everyone and the one-size-fits-all approach might not really work for everyone. So if we adjust the process based on what everyone requests, do we get to a point we essentially keep drawing numbers until we get to someone that makes that specific size request? Do we filter requests out? Do we go through everyone's size requests in advance, come up with a proportional fit approach and bin requests based on size, then draw numbers from each bin as needed, while also keeping everything proportionate to what was requested by everyone?


Have a set amount of tables per size. Say you have 10 6t, 10 3ft, and 10 2ft. (I obviously have no remembrance of our size limits haha.) You then have a lottery for the 10ft, the 3ft, and the 2ft. This will filter out people since some aren't willing to pay for more than a 2ft, whereas others aren't willing to have less than 6. However, you should ALLOW people to sign up for all three if their flexible. If they get two tables, then they /must/ forfeit one, and whichever they forfeit can go to whoever's on the waiting list (so, people who were pulled after the first 10). Yes, it gives them more of a chance to get a table, but everyone is open to that option if they're willing to not get exactly what they want, so I don't believe it's unfair.


I've never run or volunteered for a con, so I don't know how things run really on the inside. Therefore, I'm not sure if any of this actually makes sense. But! Figured it doesn't hurt to add in some input as to a way I think things might run a little more smooth.

(Also, I don't like the idea of a time limit for application. People have jobs or classes in which they're not allowed access to computers or phones, and we shouldn't exclude them from this since they have obligations they can't put on hold. I'd say at least a full day.)

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