Why Community Shows Rule
On August 21 this year, Royal Pingdom ran a report on Linux popularity around the world, based on Google searches. One of the interesting data points was that Utah had a higher than expected interest in open source. I had a chance to confirm that result a week later when attending the Utah Open Source Conference, held from August 28 through August 30 at the Salt Lake Community College, in Salt Lake City, Utah.
The organizers took an interesting approach to keynotes by featuring a local keynote with someone from the Utah open source community, followed immediately by a main keynote given by a representative of a major distribution (specifically Fedora, openSUSE, and Ubuntu).
I attended two of the keynotes, Paul Frields' and my own. (Really, it would have been a very short keynote if I hadn't...) Frields, who works for Red Hat as the Fedora Project Leader, gave a really good presentation on Fedora's community architecture that had the audience (about 200 people) fully engaged. I didn't get to see Christer Edwards' talk on using Ubuntu LTS in the enterprise, but I was pleased that the organizers worked hard to present a balanced slate of talks.
As a presenter, I think that the conference was pretty well run, and the organizers were very interested in supporting the speakers.
Unfortunately, I only had the chance to attend one talk from a regular track, but I talked to quite a few attendees about the overall quality of the presentations, and the general feedback I received was very good.
The talk I did get to attend was by Glenda Rhodes on "GIMP for Photographers." Given only an hour, Rhodes didn't have time to delve too deeply into the GIMP, but she did a great job of explaining some tricks that were both handy and non-obvious when using the GIMP.
She demonstrated the procedures using the GIMP, helping the audience to play along. The only complaint that I have about her presentation was that it was far too short!
Although UTOSC had some fine keynotes and presentations, the highlight for me was the ubiquitous "hallway track" – which is to say, the discussions outside of presentations with other members of the community.
It's standard for open source conference attendees to be great people to talk to. Even though some open sourcers can be brusque online, most are actually quite fun to talk to in person. But I have to say that the Utah open source crowd is one of the most friendly and outgoing groups I've been around in some time – and given that I've been attending lots of shows this year all over the world, that's saying something!
One unique touch for UTOSC was the Family Day event on the last day of the conference. I think this was a brilliant idea, and I was very pleased to see so many families in attendance. Many parents brought toddlers and elementary age kids, who enjoyed the bounce house supplied outside and playing with each other while their parents learned about open source. I hope this particular feature is repeated at the next conference and spreads to other multi-day events as well. The only suggestion I would have for the organizers is to emphasize the family day even more, and encourage exhibitors to prepare some special open source demos for kids.
I'm not sure how much the kids picked up about open source, but many of the attendees probably wouldn't have been able to, or wanted to, attend UTOSC on their day off without their family. People have far too little discretionary time, so it's important to take that into account for a community show.
The show's exhibit floor was a bit weak this year, with only a handful of booths (including booths for Fedora, openSUSE, and Ubuntu) in an out-of-the-way corner of the conference. Typically, the exhibit area is front and center, as most conferences are geared to serving the vendors who want to display their solutions.
Seeing as UTOSC is a community show, held in a space that the organizers had little control over, the exhibits are not the primary focus. However, I hope to see more community projects at UTOSC 2009, and in talking to the organizers, I believe that is going to be a priority for next year.
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier works for Novell as the openSUSE Community Manager. You can find his blog at http://zonker.opensuse.org/.