1.1 Conference Ideas: The Good, The Bad, and the Unforeseen

What is a good idea for a conference on The WELL? No one knows, ahead of time. New conferences come from that mysterious realm of creativity which is generally recognized after the fact, but completely unheralded before it happens. Further, the success of a conference can depend as much upon the energy, creativity and approach of its host(s) as it does upon the proposed subject matter. Still, if you have an idea for a new conference on The WELL, there are a few questions you might ask yourself to help you decide on the feasibility of a new conference idea:

1. Does it cover ground which is already being covered by an existing conference? If so, is there some basic differentiating quality which would make your new idea clearly unique?

2. Is the theme broad enough to support a multitude of topics? A conference which relies too heavily on a single issue or topic of discussion can get tiring quickly, like a one-issue candidate or a one-joke movie.

3. Do you think there would be enough interest in, and knowledge of, the subject area to promote lively participation? Starting a topic in a related conference may help you test the waters, and looking for related topics may show you where the audience for your concept regularly gathers. Developing an audience is the major challenge of opening a new conference.

New conference ideas are born in a multitude of ways. Perhaps you’ve noticed a gaping “hole” in The WELL, an obvious need for a conference which doesn’t exist. Perhaps a general subject is being discussed in topics scattered across a number of conferences, which would be better organized under a single conference heading. Perhaps you simply have a completely new idea for a conference which no one has ever thought of before.

Some conferences don’t click, others become successful online scenes. Perhaps you have decided to give it a try, and put time and energy into cultivating an exciting conversational space.

What then?

1.2 Proposing a New Featured Conference

One of the first steps in developing your conference idea is to choose which conference type would best suit your subject matter and target audience. There are five different types of conferences available: Featured, Featured Limited-access, Independent, Independent Limited-access and Private. For a more in-depth description of each type, type  hosts at the PicoSpan OK prompt or go to https://www.well.com/conf/hosts in your web browser. You can also take a look at topic 289 in the hosts conference for a few more tips on constructing a good conference proposal and the things that make a good online host.

To propose the creation of a new Featured conference, email the Conferencing team (confteam) with your idea. Proposals needn’t be formal. Just tell them as much as you can, in your own words, about how you envision the new conference and include some specific examples of possible new topic titles, some old topics elsewhere that would make good links, and samples of the banners and, most important, the cfinfo description of the conference. (Type cfinfo cooking at the PicoSpan OK prompt for an example.).

If you have started topics about related subject matter in other conferences, point them to those discussions as examples of enthusiasm about the subject, or as an example of how there is not a good existing environment for hanging out and discussing the subject! Either approach just might work. They may have some additional questions to ask you — they may suggest that you team with a cohost with other online talents or knowledge, or she may just accept it or reject it based on your original proposal. The decision of what volunteers to work with, and what conferences to feature, is theirs.

Even if they reject the idea, there’s no need to feel dejected. With more than 150 Featured conferences presently on The WELL, much of the ground for new conferences has already been covered, and even talented hosts of long association with The WELL have had new conference ideas rejected. That doesn’t mean, however, that there are no new conferences out there waiting to be born. There are plenty! It’s just a question of deciding which ones are likely to work. While the task of making that decision is an unenviable one, confteam has experience with building lively conferences and an appreciation for diversity and difference, and they might surprise you by accepting an idea you didn’t think they’d go for. So keep those ideas coming, or create an Independent conference and prove there’s a demand for your area of discussion.

1.3 The Hosts Agreement With The WELL

(This agreement is for hosts of Featured Conferences Only — anyone may have an Independent, Independent Limited-access, or non-listed Private conference to use as an adjunct to email and to run as he or she chooses. The Hosts Conference is a good resource for all hosts.

Agreement Between Featured Conference Hosts and The WELL

The WELL seeks Hosts for its Featured conferences among users who are exemplary citizens of the online community, who offer help and support to other users, and who are willing to share their expertise on specific subjects. It is expected that the Host will continue to display these characteristics.

The duties of a Host include keeping the conference running smoothly, managing it in consistency with the technical needs and limitations of The WELL, ensuring that users can find information as easily as possible, and helping maintain an open and useful conversational environment in the conference.

The WELL and its Hosts jointly agree to cooperate in maintaining a hospitable environment for conference users. The WELL appoints and supports Hosts, and Hosts donate their efforts, for the benefit of the conference participants and The WELL community.

Technical Conference Management

The Host of a Featured conference can hide or scribble any responses, freeze, retire or kill any topics, and install or modify menu information and banners within the conference.

* Censoring another user’s response (by means of the hide or scribble commands) should be never be done lightly. Scribbling another user’s response should be considered only in the most extreme circumstances, and only where simply hiding the response is insufficient to accomplish the Host’s purpose.

* The Host of a conference has the right to ban users whom the Host judges to be nuisances within his or her conference from further posting in that conference. This is a serious and very, very rare move. It should be done only with notification of The WELL management, and it should be considered only as a last resort, after discussion with the problem user has failed and where the problem user is posing a serious obstacle to others’ participation. In general, it is wise to discuss moves of this nature in the Backstage conference first, and seek advice from other Hosts as well as from the Conferencing Manager; often the problem can be resolved in this way.

* The Host(s) of one Featured conference may link appropriate topics from other conferences, with the permission of the Host(s) of the other conferences.

* Hosts should post a notice in the conference some time before killing topics, so that users have time to download topics if they wish. Hosts are also encouraged to consider archiving topics before they are killed, and making them available to users, if practical for the Host.

* The conference’s directories in /well/info and /well/web are the places for archives, special programs, and other files for the use of all conference participants. It is not an appropriate place for personal files of the Host.

Making Information Easy to Find

* Since, if the list of topics is allowed to grow indefinitely, users eventually will find the browse list so long as to be useless, Hosts should prune inactive topics regularly. In particular, Hosts should periodically remove outdated topics (such as announcements of an event now past), or other information that conference users will probably not find interesting or useful.

* The Host of a conference can reformat or otherwise organize inactive topics into read-only files which may be accessed from within that conference by menu-driven or other commands. Hosts can add to or delete from such conference material at their discretion.

* Occasionally, a topic will be started with an inappropriate or mistaken name. In such cases, the Host can ask confteam to change the topic name.

* Hosts are encouraged to set up a single topic devoted to administrative matters, questions for the conference Host, and discussions of conference policy.

Maintaining the Conversation

Hosts of Featured conferences are empowered to set policy within their conferences, subject to overall policy of The WELL.

* The purpose of almost all Featured conferences is open conversation. Hosts should make and revise policies with an eye toward the goal of maintaining a good conversational environment.

* The frequent introduction of new perspectives is an asset to the conversation. Therefore, Hosts are encouraged to pay particular attention to inviting the contributions of newcomers to the conference, particularly users who are new to The WELL or to computer conferencing. Hosts should consider whether their conference is welcoming and interesting when seen through the eyes of a newcomer reading it for the first time.

* Hosts should be aware that due to their position of authority, they may inadvertently intimidate users in their conferences. Consequently, if a Host takes a strong position in a controversial discussion within the conference, the Host should keep this possibility in mind and try to mitigate it. At all times, Hosts should resist any temptation to misuse their technical powers to squelch opposing viewpoints.

* Personal attacks by a Host on a user within the Host’s conference are never appropriate. One way of dealing with a user with whom you have a personality conflict is to make arrangements with a co-host who will handle all communications with that user. In any case, Hosts are expected to deal with personality conflicts in a way that does not infringe on users’ rights to participate constructively in the conference.

* Hosts are responsible, along with their co-hosts, for being aware of what is happening in their conference(s). Any host using the bozo-filter or forget commands within the conference must make sure that this responsibility is covered; for example, by making arrangements between co-hosts to make sure no topic is forgotten by all the Hosts. This will ensure that the entire conference is being read by at least one person in a Host capacity.

Obligations of the Host and The WELL

* The WELL Conferencing Team is the Hosts’ liaison to The WELL staff, and should be the first contact for questions or requests for Host support issues. Hosts may be notified if complaints are received regarding conference contents. The Conferencing Team will confer with the Host if a conference appears to be poorly hosted, and will work with the Host to improve the conference.

* The WELL will provide current Host Manual online.

* Hosts are expected to visit their conferences at least once every 30 days; most Featured conferences require attention considerably more often. It is important for Hosts to notify the Conferencing Manager if they are planning to be away from the conference for more than 30 days, since Hosts who fail to visit their conference for 30 days without such notification are subject to replacement.

A vacationing Host may wish to appoint a temporary co-host to watch the conference during his or her absence. If you need help in finding a co-host or a temporary substitute Host, ask the Conferencing Team for assistance.

* Hosts are expected to keep up-to-date on the discussion in Backstage (the private Hosts’ conference) and hosts (the Featured conference), where policy and other discussions between Hosts and staff take place. These conferences each contain a condensed “banter-free” topic with important Host information, for time-saving purposes.

* Hosts have no proprietary rights to the material in their conferences, with the exception of material they have authored.

* Hosts of Featured conferences may be granted extra storage space on the system. Please email confteam at well dot com if you want more space in which to save, organize and archive conference material.

* The Host of a Featured conference may, at the discretion of The WELL, be exempted from our monthly service charge to allow the Host to tend his or her conference(s), to read the Backstage and Hosts conferences, and to participate in The WELL at large. To preserve their accounts, Hosts must pay all non-exempt charges according to The WELL billing policy, as posted in the Policy conference.

* The WELL awards and revokes hostships at its sole discretion. Either party has the right to terminate this agreement at any time. The WELL reserves the right to change the conditions of this agreement. These changes will be preceded by a period of discussion, the length of which will vary depending on the urgency of the change, but will normally be at least 30 days.

* Hosts are customers of The WELL, and not employees, consultants, staff or partners, nor are they in any other way related to the business entity The WELL.

1.4 The WELL Policy Regarding Censorship

Hosts of conferences, in the community interest, may delete a comment, but may not edit it. In the event that a user has a comment deleted by the host of a conference, and disagrees with the deletion, the user has a number of options: email the host and discuss the deletion privately, start his or her own topic, post the deleted message in a read-only file with a pointer in the conference, quit the conference, post a complaint in the Hosts conference, or change his or her tack to make the presentation more acceptable within the conference.

The WELL administration does not and will not impose explicit rules upon hosts governing such deletions. To do that would, we believe, undermine the freedom of hosts to exercise their creativity in handling their conferences. Hosts are also empowered, under duress, and with a warning, to ban a nuisance member from their conference. Nevertheless, because hosts are not always present online, or necessarily knowledgeable, they cannot be held responsible for damaging comments that may appear in their conferences. Responsibility rests with the writer. The WELL reserves the right to refuse service to anyone, for any reason, and termination of an account on The WELL should not be construed as censorship.

For more details about member’s rights, please see The WELL Member’s Agreement.

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