NaNoWriMo 2021: The Virtual World Tour, Part Two

Since NaNoWriMo remained all-virtual this year, there was only one thing for a Sushi to do: Continue the virtual world tour. I kept the same rules as last year’s tour with one twist: No repeat visits. And yes, this includes last year’s visits.

This twist eliminated almost a hundred regions, but hundreds of regions remained to visit. I set out on the tour, hoping to visit at least eighty more. With four non-weekend days away from work throughout the month, comparable to last year, this felt like an achievable goal.

Most of the logistics are the same as last year. Here’s where I talked about last year’s virtual world tour.

Let’s get to it.

Where I went

Once again, here’s a 270towin map to illustrate my adventures within the United States.

sushimustwrite's chart of states virtually visited in NaNoWriMo 2021. All states are some shade of blue except AK, HI, MT, WY, NM, ND, SD, MN, IA, AR, MS, DC, MD, RI, and NH.
The chart of states I virtually visited in NaNoWriMo 2020. Dark blue indicates I visited the state, while brownish gray indicates I did not.
  • 82 regions visited
  • 36 states within the United States
  • 24 regions outside of the United States
  • 7 no-shows (These do not count toward the total)
  • 1 write-in that turned out not to be a write-in (This does not count toward the total)
  • 1 write-in I’m not sure is a no-show but I’m counting it anyway (Screw it, I’m counting it since I talked to people during the time of the write-in)

I prioritized new-to-me states in this year’s tour, but even while doing that, some states remained out of reach. I still haven’t attended a write-in in Hawaii, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wyoming after two virtual years, and it’s not for lack of trying. Prioritizing new states meant some of the regions containing entire states went neglected, along with states where I’ve already visited all the active regions.

I visited seven regions outside of the United States, plus the Great Elsewhere region. This is the region I woke up at six in the morning for. The non-US regions were in Australia, Canada, England, Jersey, South Africa, South Korea, and Wales.

The rise of Discord

Most of the usual suspects from last year remain high on the charts but this year introduced a few newcomers.

  • Discord – 49
  • Zoom – 24
  • Google Meet – 3
  • IRC – 2
  • Gather – 1
  • Jitsi – 1
  • Skype – 1

Note: one region used a combo of Zoom and Discord. Those numbers aren’t included.

Unsurprisingly, Discord and Zoom remained very popular. But while Zoom and Discord were roughly equal in popularity last year, Discord overtook Zoom. This makes sense when you think about it: Zoom’s free plan supports 40-minute meetings, which is shorter than most write-ins. Discord also provides a place for regional Wrimos to chat and sprint outside of those write-ins.

Gather and Jitsi were new to me this year. Jitsi is similar enough to Zoom on the attendee’s side; the only big difference is that you use Jitsi in a browser instead of a separate application. Given Jitsi’s free feature set, I wish this one was more popular. (Unlimited meeting length! Up to 100 attendees, which is more thane enough for most write-ins! End-to-end encryption!)

Gather was an experience in itself. The Omaha region had built an entire virtual cafe that your avatar could wander around. The cafe had games and private spaces and space to stand around. Like in-person conversations, you could gather close to each other to talk (and stop hearing people if you walked far enough away) or you could go into a private room. I found myself wandering around the space with my avatar and exploring every nook and cranny when I arrived like the space was a video game. Was there a missing item on the floor? Could I talk to an NPC? (There were none, alas.)

And I won’t lie, I associate Skype with making voice calls back in my college days and not with modern virtual events. To be honest I forgot it was around and found myself signing in as a guest instead of my long-forgotten Skype account.

Last year’s write-ins versus this year

My time zone privilege wasn’t quite as handy this year. I’m in Eastern Time (UTC-5), and last year I was able to squeeze in two write-ins on many nights by completing a 6pm-8pm write-in and an 8pm-10pm write-in. The latter was usually in Mountain or Pacific Time, or if on a Friday evening, in Australia or New Zealand. This feat was more difficult to achieve this year. For some reason more Eastern and Central Time write-ins took place from 7pm-9pm, meaning a double write-in would keep me up until 11pm or later, or I’d have to find one that started right at 5pm. Believe it or not, a few write-ins did start right at 5pm Eastern Time. Even more surprisingly, I attended two West Coast write-ins at that time.

Thursday and Friday evenings were even more unpopular this year and I’m not sure why. It’s possible that because people are vaccinated now, some participants (or the MLs) are resuming regular weekend activities, when they couldn’t do so last year.

Side note: talking about in-person NaNo get-togethers on official channels was disallowed, which made things awkward because people were still going to other events and talked about those things, sometimes asking if other people were going. They’re not NaNo events but anyway…

The Global Write-In Crawl and One Hundred Hours of Writing were fun but they didn’t pad my regions visited as much as they did last year for one simple reason: most of the regions were the same as last year, so I didn’t participate as much.

There were more no-shows this year, where the host didn’t even show up. While both of last year’s no-shows happened later in the month, this year’s no-shows started early. They were sneakier no-shows too, the one where the host never started the meeting, or the ML said they would post the meeting link on the forum the day of the write-in and then never did. I also encountered a few last-minute cancellations that I didn’t count as no-shows because the cancellation communication did happen somewhere on the NaNo site where I could see it.

Overall, fewer people attended the write-ins. There were a few outliers, like a 21-person write-in in a medium-sized region early in the month. I noticed the change more in small regions, especially later in the month. I spent a lot of time assuring MLs that they weren’t the only ones experiencing lower turnout.

More regions weren’t posting events, or the MLs weren’t posting the events on the NaNoWriMo site. Finding write-ins was more difficult as a result, even for regions with MLs. Some MLs only posted write-ins to a regional message on the regional page, so I had to scroll up to find the info. I suspect that some MLs were posting events only to a private Facebook group or Discord server and not to the NaNoWriMo site, which makes the events harder to find for a new participant or prospective gatecrasher.

Why didn’t you visit my region?

Since I’ve visited over 150 regions in the past two years with no repeats, it’s unlikely that I’m actively ignoring your region because I don’t like you. If I didn’t visit your region, it’s for one of the reasons listed below.

Your region didn’t have an ML. This one is a given. While some ML-less regions hosted their own write-ins, these events were harder to find and often not posted on the NaNo site at all. (Side note: I have no numbers on this yet, but based on my casual clicking around from region to region and my memory of viewing every single regional page during the annual Wikiwrimo regional updates, it felt like there was a lot of ML turnover between 2020 and 2021.)

Your region didn’t have events posted on the NaNoWriMo website. I extended this to include recently posted regional messages on the regional page, an easy-to-find post on the regional forum, or a Google calendar linked from the regional page. However, all of these came with their own challenges. Some regions had themed discussion days on the calendar that were intended to be day-long, not the 3 hours listed, thus making me think those events were a write-in. At least one region used a Google Calendar and didn’t turn off the repeated events from 2020, but I had no way of telling that because they hadn’t been very active for the month up to that point.

Your region had write-ins only at times inconvenient to my schedule. Unfortunately I couldn’t do much about this one. I did wake up early for a couple of write-ins, including at 6:00 AM for the great Elsewhere, but other regions required staying up far later than my normal bedtime. Asking for a special time just for me would be rude, especially for regions where I don’t know the MLs. (Sorry Oahu, I saw your write-ins but they were far past my bedtime.)

Your region speaks a language besides English as its primary language. I also observed this rule last year because many non-English-speaking regions use their regional community as the primary place to talk about NaNoWriMo and writing in their own language, and insisting on English as a visitor would be rude. I used existing messages in the regional page and forum as cues here. (Sorry, Central and South America and much of continental Europe.)

I tried to visit but the write-in was cancelled last-minute, wasn’t actually happening, or wasn’t actually a write-in. This happened noticeably more often than last year.

What about a part three?

Based on the challenges in planning this year’s world tour, I’m confident in saying that if NaNoWriMo is all-virtual again in 2022, touring the world again with zero repeats will be impossible. Given the number of remaining regions, the number of regions without MLs, and the number of regions that don’t list events on the NaNoWriMo website, some regions would receive a repeat visit.

Like everyone else, I hope we can return to in-person write-ins in 2022. If we can’t, the tour will continue. Even if we do, let me know if your region keeps doing virtual events. You may get an out-of-town visitor…

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