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Mon, 31 Jul 2006
OSCON 2006 Summary

It's becoming increasingly hard for me to do a decent job of blogging conferences in anything approaching real time. The face to face time is so rare and precious that it's hard to justify dropping hours of sleep to do the analysis and posting, especially when I am already dropping hours of sleep just to keep up with the face time.

Instead of going to the tutorial track, this year I once again attended a meeting for people working with the non-technical end of open source foundations. I haven't been able to get to every meeting (some are in Europe), but I've found the gatherings to be very informal. Last year, I learned an enormous amount about what is happening in the Eclipse community, and I think that it's worthwhile for open source people to be aware of the things that are happening at Eclipse, particularly if your community is going to interact with companies.

This year there were a pair of topics that stood out to me. Zak Greant of the Mozilla foundation discussed how he is using a bug/issue tracker to deal with community issues. This sounds like a no brainer kind of activity, particularly for open source projects, but I am not aware of any other community that is making use of this practice. I think that Zak is going to put up some documentation on what he has been doing, and I plan to link that when it goes up.

The second topic was kind of a side discussion on the topic of how to explain open source software to non computer people. Two of the phrases or labels that caught my attention were "green" software and "organic" software (as in organic food). I don't know whether these are the right labels for the job, but the whole notion of applying food labelling to software and technology issues is an interesting one.

The OSCON program looked much stronger to me this year. There were several slots where I had to make tough choices about which talks to attend. Also, this year there was a much larger number of talks on community building and other soft topics (not including business topics, of which there have been many over the years). While writing up this summary I realized that the only technical talk that I attended this year was the presentation that some OSAF'ers gave on Cosmo and Scooby, our web projects. This happened partly because I inserted a few "hallway track" sessions. But it happened mostly because I prioritized community/soft talks over technical ones. OSCON is a conference about open source. The whole point is that any "outsider" ought to be able to go to a project's web site and get up to speed by looking over the documentation and other materials that are available. If that can't happen, then either the "outsider" can't read, or the "insiders" can't write. So while it would be nice to sit in a session to get the scoop on a topic, I ought to be able to find that information on line somewhere. My view of open source, heavily influenced by my participation at Apache, is focused on the community aspects, not the licensing or technical aspects. The community building part is the hardest part of open source and plays a huge role in determining whether projects are successful over the long term. More than anything else, I think that these topics are the "secret sauce" of open source.

The best talk of the entire conference was Brian Fitzpatrick and Ben Collins-Sussman's talk How Open Source Projects Survive Poisonous People (And You Can Too). This was a hugely practical talk on dealing with difficult people. Part of the reason that their talk was so practical is their opinion that a strong community is the best defense when dealing with difficult people. So not only did they discuss difficult people, they also discussed what a healthy community looks like. Fitz and Ben are developers on the Subversion project -- Fitz is also an a Apache guy -- as is Karl Fogel, author of Producing Open Source Software. I think that the Subversion team's work in helping people understand community building is growing to be (at least) as significant as the work that they are doing by producing Subversion itself. I hope that Fitz and Ben will be posting their slides soon.

Other talks that I really liked: Jeff Waugh's talk on the Ubuntu community. It was a tough choice to go to this talk because it was opposite the panel "The Art of Community" which had some friends on it. For some reason that I can't explain, I had not really looked carefully at the governance and community organization of Ubuntu. The problem is now rectified, but I wish that I had paid attention sooner (kind of like Eclipse). Jeff started by talking about shared vision and shared values. I think that it is somewhat common for open source projects to have some kind of (codified, even) shared vision. It seems to be less common that they have explicitly thrashed out what the shared values of the community are. That lack of values is one of the sources of tension in communities. I am very interested in a lot of the things that the Ubuntu folks have done.

r0ml was all over the place at OSCON -- I think that he gave 3 presentations, including a keynote. Having sat through the first two parts of his "The Semasiology of Open Source", it was "inconceivable" that I would miss the final portion. As always with r0ml, the presentation skill and style is as much the draw as the content -- look for the audio when it hits IT Conversations.

Karl Fogel gave a great session on tools for facilitating open source communities. I am definitely an admirer of Karl's work, and it was great to meet him in person after the session and tell him a bit about the impact that his book is having amongst people that I know. One of the things that I have been thinking about is the need for better tools to facilitate the entire open source process, and Karl has been doing some good thinking about this, which he shared in his talk. I hope that he will be posting his slides or some other kind of write up soon.

I've already gone on record as being "not a fan" of the 15 minute keynote format. I'll make an exception for r0ml's 15 minutes of presentational virtuousity. However, the other two keynotes that got my attention were longer than 15 minutes. Damien Conway did a wonderfully entertaining keynote lampooning various product oriented keynotes. I can only assume that his keynote was inspired when something inside of him snapped. This keynote will not translate well to podcast, since you'll miss some of the accompanying video cues. I hope that somehow the full video winds up on the web. Eben Moglen delivered a speech that epitomizes what I think a keynote should be. He started by taking on Tim O'Reilly's question "Do licenses matter?" and showed why in this day of "open source triumph", licenses still do matter, why the desktop and pant's pocket are still important, and called upon the open source community to do their part in answering the question "do users have rights?".

Last year's OSCON was the first conference that I attended with a camera, and a photo that I took accidentally (I messed up the white balance setting)

OSCON 2005: Outside the keynotes

accidentally (I didn't consciously enter - all you had to do was tag photo's the "right way") made the final group of the HP sponsored photo contest.

This year I actually paid attention to the directions and consciously entered some photos. I was very happy when one of my photos was selected as one of the grand prize winners:

OSCON 2006

My thanks to the gentleman that allowed me to take this picture (I asked before I took the shot). You can see the other prize winners here, and you can see all the photos that were entered here. There were lots of good photos taken for the contest, and I am happy that my skills with a camera are improving.

[00:32] | [computers/open_source] | # | TB | F | G | 6 Comments | Other blogs commenting on this post
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I work at the Open Source Applications Foundation (OSAF).
The opinions expressed here are entirely my own, not those of my employer.

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