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Attending FOSDEM 2020

This year I'll be back on FOSDEM, the conference about free and open source software happening in Brussels on the 1st and 2nd of February. Last year I attended the conference for the first time and it was a worthwhile experience.

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I've been looking into the schedule and these got my attention:

Friday

  • 16:00 onwards @ Delirium Café - Beer event. Last year I also attended this event. The only bad thing I have to say is that it was too crowded, but hey I guess that's the cost of doing business.

Saturday

Sunday

This year it seems like there aren't as many talks that I want to see like last year, I am specially missing some talks about Solid. It's also true that last year I enjoyed many talks I hadn't noticed on the schedule.

On the flip side, this time I have some people I want to meet. I'm going with a friend from Barcelona, I am seeing some people I met last year and I'm also meeting some co-workers from Moodle. So maybe this year I'll do more "networking" and I won't stay holed up in the Decentralized Internet and Privacy devroom like I did last time.

First day of FOSDEM and second day in Brussels! As I had planned, yesterday I attended the beer event at Deilirum Café. I met some people from the previous year and also some new faces. Something interesting I came across was aleph.im, which as a project aimed to create decentralized applications. Since I prepared solid-focus to be decoupled from the data storage (using soukai), I think it should be possible to create an Aleph.im engine. It may be a fun project for the future.

Today I started the day attending the Selfish Contributor talk, and it was quite interesting. After meeting with some more people I went to the second talk I had planned, but this one I didn't enjoy as much. It was good and I agreed with the message, but too long for the content in my opinion (it could have perfectly been a lightning talk).

I was supposed to attend the third talk in my schedule. But I recently found out about OFFDEM, an alternative event to FOSDEM. In there, I could find some people who are into ActivityPub and I also learned about some other projects. I'll probably go back next year if I'm around and it happens again. Tomorrow some of them will be on the privacy and decentralized internet room, but I also have other talks I'd like to watch and almost none of them is in that room. So let's see how I manage.

I ended up the first day at FOSDEM by attending some lightning talks and a State of the Onion talk about the Tor project.

My second day at FOSDEM was more talk heavy than the first. I started attending the first talk I had planned and I ended up assisting to all of them plus another 4.

One of the talks, Building Ethical Software Under Capitalism, was done by the Software Freedom Conservancy. This was one of the talks I enjoyed the most, and last year I also liked one of their talks, so I'll keep that in mind for the future.

Interistingly enough, the Javascript talks were the ones I enjoyed the least. I think the main reason is that I didn't learn anything new. People are still taking about PWAs like they are something new and assuming nobody in the audience knows what they are. But I think at this point they are old news and I just hope that people start using them. With the tools there are out there (Ionic Framework, Workbox, etc.) it should be really easy for anyone to get started.

I also attended one talk about the current state of mobile operative systems and the existing alternatives to Android and iOS. My impression is that it's in a sorry state of affairs, because all of them looked like developer focused and it doesn't seem like any of them will become user friendly anytime soon. I guess I'll just install LineageOS in my 5-year old phone and hope for the best.

Finally, I only attended one talk in the privacy and decentralization devroom, and that was about decentralizing the fediverse. There had been a talk earlier about The Dat Protocol and I regret missing it, so I'll probably watch the recorded session.

Talking with some people from work, I also found out about a Japanese company called Wafflecell. It seems really cool because they provide internet modems that come with Nextcloud installed. Of course, this is only available for Japan but it is awesome and I hope that more companies start providing this kind of solution. In the end, decentralization will only go mainstream if this kind of things start popping up.

So that's a wrap!

I realize this task is already completed, but someone asked my opinion on the pros and cons of attending the conference. So I may as well post it here for everyone to see :).

Good things:

  • Free access without registration. I wouldn't mind paying something or signing up, but I feel like the environment that is created wouldn't be achieved otherwise.
  • Inclusive environment. Again, not something that affects me in particular, but the organizers often mentioned the code of conduct and made sure that it was respected.
  • There are a lot of talks. The schedule is enormous, the conference consists on multiple developer rooms focused on niche technologies/movements and a couple of main rooms for broader topics. It was impossible not to find something you liked, and empty slots in one's personal planning were easily filled in real time. Each room also had their own particular atmosphere, which is something I appreciated (some provided snacks, some had their own system for taking questions, etc.).
  • Everything is recorded and streamed in real-time. The fact that there are so many talks means that you're bound to miss some. But everything is live-streamed and recordings are made available shortly.
  • The barrier of entry for speaker is low. It was easy for anyone to give a talk with a proper notice period. You could tell some of the presenters had little experience giving talks, but they were passionate about the topic. That lead to some unique talks that couldn't be achieved in a more "formal" environment. This was accentuated in lightning talks.
  • The stands. As an alternative to talks, it was also possible to walk around and visit stands. This offered a good opportunity to talk with some of the people behind the projects and get stickers and other swag.
  • The conference lasts two days. With the ammount of talks and content, it could be extended to 3 days or more. But I consider the fact that it only lasts two days to be a good thing, because I wouldn't want to spend a lot of time in conferences.
  • The venue. Happening at Université libre de Bruxelles, there are plenty of big an small rooms to accomodate for any type of audience. I also personally enjoy that it's done in a university because that's an environment I'm particularly fond of.
  • Organization and information are great. The schedule had been posted with enough notice to ponder over it, and everything ran as expected. Which is impressive considering the ammount of talks.

Things to improve:

  • The audience is too narrow. For the huge variety of talks and rooms, I am dissapointed on how narrow the audience was. Some talks could be useful for people who is not versed in tech and open source, but almost everybody attending seemed to be a developer. And I think that's a problem that feeds itself.
  • The quality of the talks is uneven. I mentioned that I like how the barrier of entry is low, but it's also true that this causes some talks to be quite bad. The worst ones in my opinion were the ones that consisted on some click baity title and ended up being a product showcase. I guess at the very least they could validate the outline of the talk before accepting the title.
  • There is a lack of networking and interactive activities. For how many people is there, I talked with a surprising low ammount, most of whom I already knew. You can easily attend this conference just to watch talks and avoid speaking with anybody. But I think it's a shame not to promote some networking given the opportunity.
  • After talks, there is a very short time to make questions. It's a shame because questions are often the part I enjoy the most, and to make matters worse they sometimes cut questions too short (or accept none at all) to accomodate to the schedule. I appreciate the rigor, but they could have scheduled more time for questions. In their defense, it was always easy to grab the speaker and ask any questions in private, but my questions are not always the most interesting.
  • Healthy food options are scarce. Most of the food consisted on carbohydrates in fast food carts. There were some vegetarian and vegan options, but that doesn't mean they were healthy.
  • The schedule is too packed. One thing is the ammount of talks, another one is the lack of breaks. Breaks consist on missing talks, because the schedule doesn't have any.
  • Some rooms get too crowded. Fortunately, this is not something that happened to me, but I know some of the rooms got too crowded and it wasn't possible to get in.
  • Tshirts sell out very fast. I'm surprised about this because it happens every year, it seems like by the second day there aren't any more tshirts available.

I realize some of the things in both lists contradict each other, but I guess that's the point of balancing trade-offs :).

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