One of my duties as a Developer Evangelist at Microsoft is to document things. Someone once said the main difference between a journalist and a spy is a journalist reports on government for the people, and a spy reports on people for the government. I wear both hats as a DE – I talk about MS stuff with people on the outside, and I take their feedback and report it back to the Mother Brain. (Yes there is a Mother Brain at MS; it is totally in a standing jar thing just like Metroid. But I digress.)
Anyway, I thought it would be fun and in the spirit of openness to post my internal trip report from Open Source Bridge here. Read and enjoy. (And a big congrats to Selena, Audrey, Jake and the gang for their efforts in making Open Source Bridge a reality – a truly impressive effort.)
Open Source Bridge is a new conference for developers working with open source technologies and for people interested in learning the open source way.
Open Source Bridge was born out of the void created when O'Reilly decided to host OSCON 2009 in San Jose after a six-year run in Portland. Local open source advocates saw the potential for not just bridging the gap, but in providing a more open alternative organized by the community themselves.
Open Source Bridge is unique among conferences in that it is non-profit, organized entirely by volunteers. The key point here is this is a true developer conference -- unlike Code Camps or other "unconference" style events, this wasn't held on a weekend or provided for free. People were paying to attend. It was held in the Oregon Convention Center, the venue for OSCONs past and even our own product launches (at least before we started doing them for cheap in movie theaters :)
The "Open Source Citizenship" Philosophy
As described by co-founder Audrey Eschright:
When we started working on Open Source Bridge, Selena and I came up with the term “open source citizenship” to describe what we hoped to explore. We’re planning a conference that will connect developers across projects, across languages, across backgrounds to learn from each other. We want people to experience something beyond “how to use tool X” or “why databases keel over when you do Y” (even though those topics are important, making up our tools and trade, and will be a central part of the conference content). We’d like to share what open source means to us, what it offers, where we struggle, and why we do this day in and day out, even when we’re not paid for it.
In order to do that, it seemed important to bridge the kinds of roles we have in open source, user/contributor/owner/institution, getting down to something more fundamental. What else are people who interact in this multi-directional way? Perhaps we’re citizens. Not residents—we do more than live here. We are, like citizens of a country, engaged in the practice of an interlocking set of rights and responsibilities.
Pasted from <http://dyepot-teapot.com/2009/02/17/open-source-citizenship/>
It is this sense of responsibility that drove the citizens of this community to work over the course of 7+ months to successfully organize and execute a professional developer conference for zero monetary gain. I've been involved with organizing many different events and know first hand the sheer amount of work organizing a conference of this size entails. Add to that the damage our current economic climate has done upon industry conferences across the board, and I have at times questioned the sanity and feasibility of such an endeavor. They pulled it off though, and with gusto. They've already made it clear they're doing this again next year, and with the momentum they have I expect it to be an even bigger success.
The business model was based mainly around corporate sponsorship, with Yahoo!, Google, WebTrends, Mozilla, and SourceForge among the principal sponsors. Conference passes were $250, with early bird pricing of $175, $99 for students, and discounts offered for user group members (as OSCON is known to do). People could also earn a conference pass by volunteering 8 hours worth of time staffing the conference, which is how I got my ticket.
By covering costs through sponsorship, the ticket price is more for establishing the conference's value. Many participants got in for free either through speaking, volunteering, or just walking in the door -- I didn't notice anyone checking badges. This approach has been discussed in the past amongst our team, and has had demonstrated success with events in LatAm. It would be nice to be able to put a price on more of our events, even if most of the attendees end up having their tickets comped -- it sets the perception that this is worth paying for.
Open Source Bridge was held as a three-day conference, the first two being more traditional with prescheduled sessions, and the third being the "unconference" day with OpenSpace/BarCamp style ad-hoc scheduling. Sessions ran throughout the day, followed by BOF sessions until 10pm at night.
Simultaneous with the conference sessions was the Hacker Lounge, found on the top floor of the Hilton downtown. The Hacker Lounge was open 24 hours a day for the entirety of the conference. (The conference actually adjourned at midnight on Friday as the lounge shut down.)
[Silicon Florist: A peek at the hacker lounge]
Sam Adams, mayor of Portland, made the call for increased collaboration between the city and the open source community in an effort to make Portland the "hub for open source". He wants to help the city move away from proprietary solutions and made a commitment to "out open source" Vancouver BC, which recently set goals to become a completely "open" city.
[good write-up about Sam's keynote on Silicon Florist]
Sessions were organized into five different tracks: Business (9 sessions), Chemistry (14 sessions), Cooking (31 sessions), Culture (21 sessions), and Hacks (12 sessions).
Over 260 session proposals were submitted, only about a third accepted. (I'm guessing there was a conscious decision to keep this first conference under control and not have too many sessions happening at once, but haven't verified that.) I had submitted two proposals and had both rejected. The only session with anything approaching .NET friendly on the agenda was Sara Ford's talk on CodePlex. (Speaking of which, about a quarter of the sessions were led by women.)
I found the sessions to be consistently high quality. Lots of passion, and better presentation skills exhibited than what I've seen at some OSCON sessions in the past. Reminded me of Code Camp in some respects. My favorite sessions included an overview of the Clojure language, and Chris Messina's talk on Social Network Supermarkets and how to defeat them (which was filmed and should appear on blip.tv sometime soon).
[note: I have more detailed notes on individual sessions that I can post if people are interested]
- Great experience overall for attendees. Event exhibited a high level of professionalism.
- Exhibit hall virtually empty. Not sure if this was due to vendors not seeing the value in product pitches at a community-run conference, the expected attendance, or what. Sponsors by and large were more involved with presentations from Yahoo, Google, and the like.
- Participants good about spreading the word for things to do, where to go for lunch, etc. Made a good time for out-of-towners.
- Not sure about attendance - looked on the ground to be somewhere in the 300-400 range, but a third-party source mentioned "500+" in a write-up. Registered attendees was in the 400 range as the conference began, so 500+ seems a bit unlikely. Whatever the number is, to get several hundred attendees for the first run of this conference I would consider to be a big success.
- Code Camps have been moving more towards a traditional sponsorship model, tiptoeing away from tenets of the Code Camp Manifesto. Maybe the "camp" aspect of Code Camp should be called into question as well. Some orgs don't get involved with Code Camp because of the perceptions around a weekend event. What about combining a Code Camp with a Bridge-type event? There are multiple ways to go with this.
- This event unfortunately demonstrated some "open source doesn't include MS" perception about it, not that there was a conscious effort to exclude us… but there wasn't much effort to involve us either. There were definitely some .NET developers in attendance, just not the content. This event could be twice the size easily if it was. For next year's conference I want to encourage more sessions on .NET, Windows Mobile, etc, and broader involvement to embrace open source on all platforms.