A lot of people have noticed that unlike in previous years, we are not as loud about FOSS.IN as we usually are. Now that the Call for Participation is about to be published, it is time to explain why FOSS.IN/2008 is going to be different from earlier incarnations.
First a quick reminder: FOSS.IN/2008 happens November 25-29, 2008, in Bangalore, India. The website is at http://foss.in.
FOSS.IN has never been about advocacy, or philosophical discussions. While such discussions may have their place, they steal valuable bandwidth when it comes to getting things done. Especially here in India, where we tend to lean towards political and religious aspects more easily than we tend to roll up our sleeves and get some work done, it is important to understand that FOSS.IN is meant to achieve tangible results.
With this in mind, FOSS.IN/2007 (last year’s event) did not accept talks that did not deliver practical, technical knowledge related to FOSS. And the talks had to be delivered by actual contributors to the project being discussed.
Also, FOSS.IN is NOT a newbie event. A “newbie” is defined as someone who has no skills or knowledge or experience that would allow him or her to immediately contribute to FOSS development. As has been repeatedly explained to anyone who would listen – there are lots of newbie oriented events all through the year, all over India, and people should be geting their introductions to FOSS and their initial learning at such events, including at user group meetings.
However, I personally was still unhappy with last years’ results. Despite the fact that we made it clear that we did not want to see elementary stuff being covered at FOSS.IN, many of the talks were just that. The Projects Days were very popular, but FOSS.IN is not about popularity, it is about results.
And the bottom line is that while there was a measureable increase in people getting involved in FOSS contribution, the quality left a lot to be desired. Most new contributors focused only on low hanging fruit, such as translations, and distro-specific packaging. If people got involved with code, it was usually bug fixes and code maintenance.
While all these activities are extremely important, they do not need an event like FOSS.IN to be triggered off – these are things one can get involved with instantly, without really asking anyone, or attending a talk.
FOSS.IN is far more ambitious, and is definitely not meant to cater to the equivalent of “outsourcing” code/package maintenance.
Our event is meant to highlight Indian contribution to Free and Open Source Software – not just bug fixes, but real code contributions, real innovation, real projects.
Last year, we changed the event slogan from
“Technology for a Free World”
(that we had used since Linux Bangalore/2001) to Linus Torvalds’ immortal oneliner:
“Talk is Cheap, Show Me the Code”
This, in no uncertain terms, firmly declares the focus of FOSS.IN.
Effective this year, FOSS.IN will focus on developers, and results. It will highlight credible efforts by people in India contributing to FOSS, and will bring together developers at peer level, to allow them to interact, discuss, develop and deliver.
“Delivery” does not mean mere bug fixing. Delivery will be new features to existing applications, completely new subsystems (e.g. file systems, device drivers, etc.), (re)design of systems and applications, etc.
Now I understand that many people will feel left out. There will be howls from the detractors about us abandoning the basis for Free and Open Source Software, and us being “Anti-FOSS”. This is because in their minds, we must always cater only to beginners, and “bring more people into the fold”.
Thank you, but that line of thinking was old when someone said that “Linux is cancer” and “Anti-American” (and I think there were a few chairs involved, too). Just because we choose to do things differently does not mean that we are doing it wrong.
Yes, we realise that this will reduce the number of people who may come to the event. Maybe we will be 500 people, maybe 1000. But that is OK. We are trying to produce results that are measurable by our yardsticks
(active/increased contributors out of India), not those invariably used by others (“4.91 quantillion participants”).
At FOSS.IN/2008, we want to see the best of the best from India. We want to see the people who actually write the code, and who ARE contributing, interact face to face with their peers from across the world. And at the end of the event, we want to be able to publish results. *REAL* results. And the names of the people involved. *PEOPLE*, not companies.
Over the five days between November 25th to 29th, we are going to change the way the world perceives India in the context of Free and Open Source Software.
So how are we going to do this?
First of all, we are dropping the talks.
Yes, you heard that right.
Well, no generic talks, bunched back to back.
This year, there will be talks only in the big 750 seater hall. There will be an opening and a closing keynote each day, by a well known FOSS contributor (except the closing keynote on the last day, which, by
tradition, is a non-FOSS, but related, talk). We already know who the event opening keynote speaker will be, and the closing keynote speaker, and I will introduce them as we get closer to the event.
Between the keynotes, there will be 3-5 talks through the day – again, only in the 750 seater. These will in general be talks by important FOSS contributors or FOSS project leads. They can/will be of variable length, but in general between 45 to 75 minutes long. They will be carefully chosen to ensure that maximum value is delivered to the audiences.
SPOTLIGHT ON INDIAN CONTRIBUTORS
FOSS.IN is about highlighting and encouraging Indian contributions to FOSS. But along the way, the “Indian” part of FOSS.IN’s mandate has been kind of lost. When we look at last year’s speaker/talk lineup, the number of international speakers is overpowering. Almost all talks in “prime slots” were by non-Indians, and the number of Indian contributors presenting talks was seriously low.
This year, this is going to change, and dramatically so.
While there will certainly be a international speakers at FOSS.IN, the spotlight will be on Indian contributors. And if we don’t have enough of them submitting talks – well, then we will just have fewer talks.
So then what happens in the other halls?
That, ladies and gentlemen, is where history will be made.
In each of the smaller halls, as well as across the venue campus (including the lawns, the corridors, the BoF tents, and the cafeteria), you will find small groups of people.
Really smart people.
Really, really smart people.
People who will huddle together, use the facilities available to them, discuss, and code.
Each hall will be equipped with its own wifi and cabled network setup, a local server serving up the latest git/svn/bzr/whatever repositories of code, the tools and the bandwidth. Everything that these people need to get cracking.
In the afternoon of the first day, after the inauguration, these groups will meet to decide on their broad and specific objectives. They will already have interacted over the weeks leading up to the event, and once
they have finalized things on day 1, they will use the next four days to change the world.
Only people with laptops, and a clear understanding of the tools, and a clear understanding of the project, will be able to participate in these hacking sessions. If you don’t have a laptop, or don’t know anything about FOSS or the tools or the project, don’t bother sitting in, you will just get in the way. To join the group, you need to have FOSS credibility, code to show that you have written, that proves that you can deliver. If you
ave never written FOSS code before, then this is not a place you want to be.
In general, we do not expect more than about 10-15% of each hall being occupied, in some cases, it could be as few as 4 people. Given that we have three formal halls (apart from the 750 seater), with seating capacities of 120, 90 and 60 people, we dont expect to see more than 12-18, 9-14 or 6-9 people in each of these halls. Hall marshalls will ensure that things are left undisturbed, and that people inside have
everything they need – projector, whiteboards, bandwidth, connectivity, etc.
To ensure that the sessions are undisturbed throughout the day, yet “visible” to the people outside the halls, giant Plasma screens will display what’s happening inside, both in terms of camera video, as well as what is being shown on the projector in the hall.
These screens will also be listing out the objectives of each group, and their progress. This information will be available across the venue, including on the venue LAN and on IRC, which will have channels for each
group/project, and will allow people not inside the halls (or at the event) to participate (where feasible). The hall marshal(s) will monitor the channels to alert the group inside if something would be worthy of their attention.
And these groups won’t just be in the halls.
There is a reason why we will be gently cooking your brains with a massive flood of wifi.
It is to allow people to remain connected anywhere they are on the premises. And this means that if a group wants to sit on the lawn and work, they can. If they want to sit on the steps of the lobby, they can. If they want sit in the parking lot, they can. If they want to spread themselves across the venue, keeping in touch via IM and IRC, they can. If they want to sit in on one of the few talks in the 750 seater hall, and continue working, they can.
If a bunch of people need to learn a new programming technique, or learn about agile programming in FOSS – grab a tent, and get cracking. Or if you want to reverse engineer the latest device driver over coffee and snacks – by all means do.
And this is where the major aspect of FOSS.IN comes out and stretches in the sunlight:
FOSS.IN is supposed to be a meeting ground for existing and potential FOSS contributors, so that they can put faces to IRC nicks, discuss, interact, collaborate, plan, debug, etc. all through the event.
We want people to come to FOSS.IN with definite goals in mind, and fulfil them at the event. Whether it is improving an existing project, launching a new one, brainstorming with your peers, with international participants, etc. We want to see high-intensity FOSS contribution happening, or being seeded, in the 750 seater hall, the corridors, the BOF tents, the lawns, the lobbies, etc.
So what happened to Project Days?
PROJECT DAYS -> PROJECT OF THE DAY:
An important aspect of FOSS.IN is Project Days – one FOSS project per hall per day.
Last year, we had set apart two days exclusively for PDs, and eight projects were covered in the process.
Unfortunately, while the selected projects themselves were pretty happy, we weren’t. Complaints of mildly condescending, talk-down presentations, blatant commercial positioning, and no real take-home from some of the sessions, has led us to believe that this approach wasn’t optimal.
In addition, we seem to have split audiences last year – some people coming for the PDs, some for the Main Conference.
So this year, there won’t be separate Project Days. Instead, every day of the 5 days, there will be a “Project of the Day” in the cavernous 250 seater hall – the Project Hall, where talks, discussions, BoFs, etc. related to that project will happen.
And if the people handling that Project of the Day don’t do things right – well, then their audiences will have the choice of other things to do, other talks to attend.
The selection of “Project of the Day” will be based on normal talk submissions, along with a “Letter of Intent” by someone from the project saying that s/he would like to have their project as a PoD. We will then consider that request, taking into account the talks submitted related to that project.
You will have noticed by now that FOSS.IN/2008 is going to be very, very different from any conference you have been to before. It will certainly be interesting (we have a number of things planned for every day, so that if you decide to be picky and only attend some days, you lose out MAJORLY).
We are STILL in negotiation with the Indian Institute of Science (the venue owners) to allow us to make the event a little more human – simple things, like being able to have coffee machines active throughout the day, and to allow some simple, light Indian entertainment to show our foreign participants a bit of our culture.
But if we fail to be allowed to bring the event to 21st century, international standards, then we encourage people to provide their own entertainment. We’ll try and arrange for a few guitars, bongos and keyboards for informal use in the community centre (the big, flat, three-sides-open, carpeted, roofed area behind the venue).
Last year, we had FOSS projects tucked away near the big hall, to exhibit their stuff.
This year, make sure you have clean jeans on – we are taking the FOSS EXPO up front, right into the main lobby, alongside the sponsor stalls.
Remember the huge Platinum Sponsor stalls last year? Well, that entire area will now be the FOSS Expo, as will some areas in the central area between the 60 and 90 seater halls and the steps leading up to the 750
FOSS community/projects only – no commercial exhibits allowed.
The call for participation, which isn’t very different from what you have just read, just a little shorter, and a little clearer on some points, will go out tomorrow. Because of the nature of the changes to the event, registration will be very different for “speakers”.
Since we are going to have so few talks (including keynotes, no more than 5-7 each day), we are going to accept only about 35 talks. So you bet that we expect them to be high calibre. We are going to research each talk proposal, look at the bonafides of the speaker, the history each one has. Any speaker who looks remotely corporate (“you must get involved in this project because my company is so great”) gets /dev/null’d immediately. Any talk that doesn’t look technical enough quickly follows. And a talk by a non-Indian speaker makes it only if there is no Indian contributor offering to talk about the topic. And don’t even bother submitting a talk that is basically a computer science topic, with no relation to FOSS.
Shortlisted talks will be run past serious developers and contributors from across the world – you know who you are. If a talk doesn’t cut it with them, it doesn’t cut it with us.
Basically, we want you to respect the event focus, and the audiences. Dont expect newbie audiences – so expect to get deep comments and questions. and people voting with their feet and walking out on you. If we see a talk going south, or becoming commercial (like one guy did last year during the Debian PD), we are going to embarrass the hell out of you and yank you off the stage. Even if you work for a sponsor organization.
Speaking of which…
FUNDING THE EVENT:
One of the bigger problems that we (Team FOSS.IN) face every year is chasing sponsors.
You see, the cost of everything is up. The venue gets more and more expensive every year, cost of travel is through the roof, and even simple things like printing are more expensive.
But we have sworn that we will stick with with our low cost model for participation – which is why delegates just pay Rs.600 (Rs.500 for bonafide students, Rs.2500 for corporate delegates), which pays for their food and goodies.
This means that while “income” (as delegate fees can laughably be called) remains fixed, we need to make up the deficit with (you guessed it) more sponsor money. And that means more sponsor chasing, which in turn means more sponsor demands (which we don’t give in to), which leads to more stress on everyone, which no one needs.
Clearly, we need to change a few things to balance things out, and since we cannot reduce the venue fees, it means that this year, we have to reduce the allocation for international speaker travel, which is the second largest figure after the venue costs.
Instead, we are going to ask employers, community and commercial organizations to pitch in to help speakers from outside India to come to the event. It will be up to speakers to check if they will be able to get
This is a major change from previous years, where we had to bend over backwards to raise tens of thousands of dollars to help selected speakers to come to India. This year, that simply won’t be possible. The economic climate is miserable, the Indian Rupee is 47 INR to the USD, and rising sharply.
We will, of course, still provide accommodation to all our outstation speakers. We are proud of our reputation of being excellent hosts, and no speaker has ever had any complaints in this department. So if a speaker is selected, and tells us that s/he has funding to come to the event, s/he can expect to be put up in the comfort that speakers at FOSS.IN are accustomed to.
We are going to try and talk to a few airlines and maybe they will sponsor some tickets in exchange for being tagged the Official FOSS.IN/2008 Airline. And we are talking to our employers to help as well.
But otherwise, we are going to raise just enough sponsorship to cover event facilities and hospitality. We are NOT a commercial event, and don’t want to make finances the major focus, eating up all our time.
We are also levelling out sponsorship slabs – just two types, Gold (with a stall in the front lobby) and Silver (with a stall near the Community Centre).
And we are actually lowering sponsorship rates, to encourage more sponsors to come in. And we are going to be picky as well. If you aren’t a recognised FOSS-friendly/supportive organization, you really don’t want to be at this event. Your employees will tell us if you are a good fit for our event. And if you are on the sponsor roster, it will be like a certificate of authenticity – A Genuine FOSS-Friendly Organization.
We are doing this because we don’t want the FOSS community to feel exploited or targeted. And we are levelling out sponsorships to avoid what has happened before – one sponsor grabbing all the limelight. Not happening again. We love our sponsors, but we love them equally.
Yes, we know that we sound unrealistic, even idealistic. But we want to raise this event to quality levels that exceed anything anywhere else. And by that we mean in terms of results, not glitz. We won’t have hostesses escorting speakers to the stage. We aren’t going to have receptions for celebrity speakers, where the twist and turn in the limelight for the press. We aren’t going to raise huge sponsorship, just to spend it back on the sponsors. This is a community event. Please recognise that.
We are FOSS.IN, and we are going to help change the world.
One pointer and null-terminated string at a time.
p.s. Why did I call this the Omelette Post? Because to make an Omelette, you have to break eggs.