The FOSS.IN/08 Omelette

02 Oct 2008

Atul recently posted an update on why FOSS.IN/08 is going to be a lot different than previous incarnations. This has already caused a bit of a stir in the both the Indian and International FOSS communities, just going to chip in with a few thoughts.

The goal of the conference seems to be encouraging Indians to create innovative pieces of free and open source software, rather than just contributing tiny bits by doing jobs “no one else wants to do”; read packaging for distros and localization. First off, that is just downright insulting to everyone who has being helping out in those areas so far - undoing months of evangelism in just one sentence. I understand that FOSS.IN isn’t about evangelism and philosophy, but I think it is a bit much to actively undo work that others have been doing. FOSS.IN is India’s largest conference on free and open source software that fair amount of people look upto - a statement like that from the team runs the risk of pushing potential localizers away - harming the FOSS ecosystem rather than helping it. I am sure that’s not the intention of the team, but “low-hanging fruit” is a poor choice of words at best. It’s fine to change the focus of the conference, but it’s possible to have done that without labeling other aspects of FOSS that you don’t want your conference to be about.

The second thing that puzzles me is the choice of putting the “spotlight on Indian contributors”. Given the goal of encouraging more Indians to make significant contributions to FOSS, I don’t see how eliminating international speakers helps. FOSS.IN, being hosted in Bangalore, is going to attract only Indians as delegates, why does it matter if the speakers are Indian or not? I am sure delegates at the conference care more about what the speaker is talking about rather that his/her nationality. In fact, nationality isn’t even relevant to FOSS in any manner. If the number of talks by Indians was seriously low last year, I don’t forsee much change this year either - simply because there are more contributors who are not Indian - a “problem” that FOSS.IN wants to “fix”; but again, how does selecting fewer talks help achieve that? Also, if there are going to be fewer foriegners at the event, why bother organizing “light Indian entertainment”? ;)

Lastly, I see FOSS.IN is drastically narrowing down on its target audience. In fact, I think there is nobody who falls under the category of the ideal participant in FOSS.IN/08. The conference is not for the “newbies”, it’s not for those who wish to help with localization, but rather for those who already possess the technical skills to contribute “significantly” to FOSS. Now, if they bothered to register for FOSS.IN as a delegate, they obviously know what open source is about and have initiative. Given all these conditions, I am sure they already have everything they need to start contributing, why do they need to attend the conference?

In the end, is FOSS.IN/08 just a giant hackathon? Where people just sit down and write code? You don’t need an elaborate 5 day “conference” hosted in Bangalore to do that.


I do look forward to the results of this massive experiment.