When being Free costs Money


Paw Prints: Writings of the maddog

Aug 26, 2010 GMT
Jon maddog Hall


The Ohio Linux Fest (OLF, September 10-12, Columbus Ohio) is a great regional conference that happens every year. An all-volunteer driven conference, the organizers work hard to present a great set of speakers and offer to the attendees the change to learn about Free Software, as well as partake in activities such as LPI exams, …. all at no admission fee.


The most OLF asks is a “contribution” from people who want to be “supporters” of the conference, and for that “supporters” get a T-shirt, lunch, etc. There are additional Tutorials that have a "Professional" fee attached to them. And of course the organizers pass the hat for attendees to make contributions, but the fact still remains that you can attend the conference talks and conference meetings at no charge.....even if you walk in the day of the event with no registration. Sponsorships from vendors, “supporters”, "professionals" and donations pay the expenses of the conference itself.


Last year over 500 people attended the conference without registering first.


The issue is that OLF has to plan for the number of people that come to the event. They need to know how many chairs to order, what number and what size of rooms to allocate, how many programs to print, how many bags to have sponsor information printed on them, and other “variable” costs that are associated with having people visit their event. Vendors who are planning to exhibit would like to know some numbers of estimated attendees so they can bring enough brochures, give-aways, etc.


Some costs are fixed, and to a certain extent would be the same no matter how many people attended, but other costs are variable, and controllable, if the organizers have a good estimate of the number of attendees ahead of time.


Some people say that they do not register ahead of time because they do not know for sure if they are going, and while this might be true of a registration six months in advance, a month or less before a conference you might have a fairly good idea whether you are going to attend. Certainly a good percentage of the five hundred walk-ins last year knew a few weeks in advance that they would attend.


Of course the opposite is also true...there are a number of registrations that occur and nametags that are printed and arranged on the tables, but people never show up to claim them. Granted, things happen and even in the best of worlds sometimes you fully intend on going to an event, you register, and you can not make it, but these “no shows” also raise costs and contribute less than nothing to the event.


Being a pragmatist as well as a Free Software person, I suggested to the team the option of charging “walk-ins” five dollars for the privilege not not pursuing the simple act of going to a web site and registering yet still “walking in”, but the organizers felt that they wanted to keep the event “free”. I pointed out that the event was still free, and all the attendees had to do was register, but the organizers were animate about the current policy, at least for this year.


So my appeal is to those people who attend free events in general, and OLF in specific, if you know you are going to attend please register as soon as possible, and if you register, please try to attend. These two actions will help keep the costs down and allow OLF to be more focused in bringing you the best possible event. Registration will close on September 1st so they can do the final planning.


Finally, if on the day of OLF you wake up and say “OMG! I need to go to OLF!” and you have not registered, please come anyway. The organizers would be upset if you did not. On the other hand you might consider becoming a “supporter” or reaching even deeper into your pocket when the “kitty” is passed for the priviledge of being the “unregistered”.


  • OLF

    My best advice to any open source software user is that if you can dig up the costs to go to this event GO!
    The hotel nearby gives great rates, and if you can share a room with someone better yet.

    I hope to go again this year but I am dependent on carpooling from Ontario, Canada.

    Attending a Linux fest is a way that you can give back to the community, and as usual you will also receive.

    John Kerr
    Guelph, Ontario

  • I can't wait

    I can't wait for OLF to start. This will be my fifth year attending (and my third year as a "supporter"blunk. I've been looking forward to this since last year's ended. And I have to add that the t-shirt you get this year as a supporter or "professional" is probably the nicest looking t-shirt since I've been attending OLF.

    Still, I think the organizers need to bring the live penguins back at some point. Those were fun my first year.
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