General thoughts on Registration
Treasury interface is frequently an issue. DDB remembers years of fighting about whether all checks must be seen by the treasurer, and years where we photocopied every check. There is information on the check that helps registration get the right information into the database, it's important they have this information. DDB has run a number of conventions quite successfully using a system where registration directly makes the deposit, and turns over records to treasury showing how many registrations of what type were in it. At that time, the registration software he wrote produced those reports.
Checks are presumably getting less common, but it's difficult to measure trends with our small numbers. We currently (Minicon 44/45) accept cash and checks at the con, whereas we accept checks and PayPal for pre-reg (well, and cash too, but rarely). Since three quarters of our members register either at-con a year ahead, or at-the-door, this leaves the pool of people who can use PayPal at only about 100. For Minicon 44, pre-registrations were about 2/3 PayPal, 1/3 checks, but with statistical variation alone (to say nothing of issues of how much we advertise each method, how friendly the website registration form is, etc.) means this is barely distinguishable from 50/50.
Speed in cashing checks is frequently a problem. People grouse about this nearly every single year. It confuses people, makes us look unorganized, and exposes the checks to opportunities for loss and theft. For Minicon 27 we set ourselves a goal for maximum time from PO Box to deposit, and essentially met it. For Minicons 44 and 45, Matt has been trying to check the PO box at least once a month and to cash checks within a week of pickup.
Confirmations should be sent relatively promptly, not just in a big batch at the end. Again, it's a question of looking organized. Given people's usual organizational skills (our members' skills), it might be a good idea to also send everybody another confirmation right before the con.
Nevertheless, we haven't been sending confirmations in the last few years (as of Minicon 45) except on PR mailing labels and sometimes right before the con, and then only by e-mail (which doesn't reach everyone).
Plan the interface from registration to badge-making! Test it before the last second!
Plan ahead on how to attach programming schedule labels.
Plan ahead on whether there will be registration "packets" or not. This depends on how important you think it is that each member definitely get (1) a program book (2) a pocket program (3) whatever else we printed enough for every member to get one of and (4) if there are non-directly-convention-related materials that we have agreed to get into our members' hands, i.e. coupons to nearby restaurants. Matt comes down on the side that it's pretty important to get (1), (2) and (3) into everyone's hands, especially new members who don't know what to expect.
Are people who they say they are?
Many cons these days are requiring photo ID on check-in for pre-registered members. Presumably this is meant to prevent someone from stealing someone else's pre-registration. In Matt's opinion, this is unnecessary while being also highly unfriendly. Minicon does not currently do it and he hopes that we continue in this manner.
Let's consider the problems with asking for photo ID:
- People in our society are not required to carry photo ID. In particular, minors often don't have any. And since our population is -- I'll say it -- odder than the average, we're more likely to encounter adults that don't fit the general mold of always-have-their-wallet-with-driver's-license. As soon as you let a single person check in without ID, you've reduced the effectiveness of the whole system to zero.
- Hardly any cons that claim to check photo ID actually do it consistently. Matt even checked into Anticipation (the 2009 Worldcon) without showing ID when they claimed to require it. Again, this reduces any possible benefit to zero.
- In all likelihood, nobody working at registration can tell a real ID apart from a fake one.
- Our subculture has a subculture that takes it as a challenge to break weak security systems such as this.
- It prevents any possibility of someone registering without divulging their legal name to us. (Matt, at least, doesn't think that we need to know people's legal names if they don't want to tell us.)
So there are two questions: What is the incidence of attempts to steal pre-registrations? How can we guard against it in a friendly manner?
To the first question, there's no clear answer. However, probably the smaller the con, the lower the rate (per capita, not just scaling down by size). At a huge 4000 person party con like CONvergence, you might reasonably think someone might try to steal a badge. At a 400 person relatively sedate convention like Minicon? Seems less likely. Matt hardly has extensive experience, but knows of no attempts in the last 5 years of Minicon.
To the second question, we currently do the most minimal thing, which is to have people sign the registration book when they pick up their badge. This is a common strategy among cons of our size and nature. So let's say that someone who is not Volstead Gridban comes to steal Volstead Gridban's badge. He signs Volstead's line. Later the real Volstead comes along to get his badge. He sees that his line is already signed. What now? First the person working registration has to decide which is the real Volstead. (Although it seems doubly unlikely, someone could theoretically try to steal a badge by loudly claiming that someone has stolen his badge.) We don't have a signature database and don't generally cart around last year's registration book, so we could at this point ask Volstead for photo ID. Or, alternatively, we could just take him at his word and issue him another badge. No doubt he will now go hunt down the person who stole his (who must be publicly displaying it, after all, or else it isn't worth stealing!). Badgers can be put on alert to aid him. Worst case -- if somehow the fake Volstead is never caught but manages to eat food and otherwise use con resources all weekend -- is that the con loses the marginal cost of supporting one non-paying person, which as of Minicon 44 was $15.
If this seems like too big of a risk, security can be dramatically stepped up without asking for ID. Instead of letting people find themselves in the sign in book, keep the the book out of sight. When someone comes to check in, ask them for their name, look them up in the book, and then give them the book to sign. This requires that someone trying to steal a badge know (1) a name of someone who is pre-registered, which isn't too difficult since we often publish the list, but also (2) that this person isn't well known to the person running registration or anyone standing nearby and (3) that this person hasn't yet checked in.
You can step it up again by asking the person to recite their street address, e-mail address, phone number and/or whatever other identifying information they registered with. This now raises the bar again so that a potential thief has to (4) have looked up someone's contact information, which we do not list publicly. This is particularly difficult if we ask for e-mail addresses.
While it won't apply to all members, it's actually fairly likely, at our current convention, that the member is personally known to the person at registration when they show up. In that case ID is definitely superfluous, as there's no doubt as to identity. And, if there's trouble, like a claimed stolen registration or something, just a little work to find somebody who knows the person can pay off. If we lay hands on somebody who knows Volstead Gridban, then we can quickly tell if the person standing there is the real one, whose membership has been stolen, or is a fake, trying to scam their way in. It's not good to count on this as our only identification procedure, but it can often be quick and painless in real situations.