Free Software and Open Source Symposium 2011
Written by: Hyungryul Chun (ID:066606096)
When I was first told that I would need to go to FSOSS for DPS909 because we need to write a report on the symposium, I felt devastated. I liked open source and I definitely like free software, but I wasn’t sure if I liked the idea of giving up good chunk of my reading week, when most of the week would be already used up finishing up major assignments and studying for the business midterm which was scheduled the first thing after reading week was over. So what is FSOSS? Well, as the name suggests, it is a symposium for free software and open source. People gather to listen to other people talk about free software and open source topics… great! But, what can I, as a student who does has barely experienced real world programing by contributing to the popcorn.js project, gain from going to these seminars? How can I relate myself to those who is living and breathing open source? Would I even be able to understand the kind of things they are talking about?
I doubted myself with questions like above and was hoping that I can make some sort of observation during the symposium in order to write this report. On the first day, I went to 2 workshops. The first workshop that I attended was a processing.js workshop was provided by Professor Humphrey and John Buckley. It was weird being in the usual class room that I have with my fellow classmates and my professor, but with bunch of old folks! These older people seemed to be professionals who are out in the real world programing. It felt weird but interesting that I would be taking a workshop with these people who probably have a load of experience developing. Even though I didn’t have a positive view about attending FSOSS, the seminar was very exciting and I had a lot of fun. I loved the basic commands that Mr. Buckley showed the class. We were able to test the code on the processing IDE, and also edit the code so that we can have our own variation to the tutorial code. The first workshop on the first day of FSOSS was already starting to change my mind about FSOSS.
I ended up going to all 3 days of FSOSS. On the first day I went to “Introduction to Processing.JS for Web and Mobile” by Jon Buckley and David Humphrey”, then finished with “Android Development – Web Service and Data Access” by Simon Chang. On the Second Day, I attended “Site Building Extravaganza” by Emma Jane Hogbin, “Free and Open Source Strategy as Practice: Participant Perspectives” by Mekki MacAulay and “XB PointStream: Rendering Point Clouds with WebGL” by Andor Salga. On the Third day I went to “Intoduction to the Google Android Platform” by Simon Chang, “When you cannot be there… Remote access and collaboration” by Raul Suarez and “How Web Browsers Work” by Ehsan Akhgari.
I was disappointed at times, because there was two talks that I really wanted to attend but they were both allocated to the same time slot and had to flip a coin to decide which one to go to… Out of the presentations I went to, I would like to talk about “Site Building Extravaganza” by Emma Jane Hogbin and “Free and Open Source Strategy as practice: Participant Perspectives” by Mekki MacAulay. I feel that these two talks involved a general topic of free software and open source when the other talks were a little more narrow, technical and talk specific.
Site Building Extravaganza - Emma Jane Hogbin
This talk was provided on the second day. I came late and missed the first 2 time slots. So for my first time slot of the day, I did not have any topic that interested me. I decided to take the “Site Building Extravaganza” just because the other topics sounded really boring and I was hoping to pick up tips on how to build better websites. I was completely wrong on my presentation expectation. Because the previous day sessions were workshops that teach the attendees how to do certain stuff and let them get hands on experience, I thought the presentations would be teaching the attendees on how to certain stuff. So in this case, I thought it would be about building websites and showing us how to do it efficiently and what not. I was not expecting it to be what it was.
The presentation was about her experience on trying to make money from open source. This was interesting to me and others as well because she will be sharing her direct experience and I will be able to learn from her experience. Emma started to adapt open source as a form of income by creating websites. She used Drupal, which is an open source content management system. She would develop websites and sell it to clients ranging from 2000 to 10000 dollars. She says that 8000 would be the average cost of her sites. I found this to be amazing as that is pretty good money for building sites with Drupal. Emma then wrote a book on building sites with Drupal, but did not publish it because as soon as she was ready, a similar book came out and she figured that direct competition means that her book won’t sell as well. However, she saw that there was a “hole in the market” and edited her book towards theming Drupal sites. When she saw that she only made $2 per book but the professors who teach using her book is making much more than she was, she wanted, as she worded it, “a piece of that pie”.
In order to make money instructing Emma decided that she needed to make a teaching program. The name of the program was “Site Building Extravaganza”(Which she named this seminar after). Site building Extravaganza was a 1 year long program where the users will get detailed instructions on how to build websites that the students may profit from. Emma decided to price her program $500 per person and set the minimum to 100 participants for it to start. She was able to get over $50000 by getting 107 people to sign up. This was great because she was presented with large lump sum but she would have to spend it wisely because she would need to be devoted to creating manuals for these “students” to follow.
After her program has begun, she had to put a pause because she had to run for elections. When she notified her students, some wanted their money back, which she did. Emma had to find more people to take her program before she began to make up for the loss.
She found that writing these manuals were no easy task. Some of her students had zero skill in web developing so she had to make her manuals detailed and easy to follow. That’s when she realized that building Drupal site was “time consuming”… after she has written down the steps.
Emma suggested that it was a risky selling the program before she had a program to sell, but Emma also pointed out that it was what was so great about it. By not having the program, she can test the market with zero effort on her part. (Unlike the book, which she spent a lot of time on but turns out to have made very little money) She also stated that her program was successful because it provides the community that her students were desiring. Her students took up the course because they wanted to be with 100 other people that they can share their experience learning Drupal and discuss their problems. They wanted the support community
I got the feeling that Emma was more of a business woman than a software developer. This quote of her view on open source developers stuck with me. “Open source developers are great at making new technology, but are very bad marketers.” Her quote and her shared experience made me realize it’s really hard to be a proper software entrepreneur and be good at both making desired products and selling the desired products. I was surprised that Emma shared all her income broken down by the products she sold, which included books, workbooks, sites, and her teaching programs. I was able to take a peek at what is involved to properly market a product like price points, group buys and popularity. This gave me an insight on how tough it was to be a successful open source developer, if being successful would mean good at making money.
Free and Open Source Strategy as Practice: Participant Perspectives - Mekki MacAulay
After the site building extravaganza I’ve decided to attend “Free and Open Source Strategy as Practice: Participant Perspectives” by Mekki MacAulay who is a PhD Candidate for strategic management at Schulich School of Business. I was drawn into it because I thought I would be learning about how to about open source strategies and practices and would be useful for my DPS909 course. How stupid was I for not digesting the rest of the topic. “Participant Perspectives”.
Although the presentation was not something I was expecting, just like the previous talk I attended, I found the talk very interesting. So instead of talking about the practices that new programmers should use, Mekki decided to go deep into strategies and practices that are being used. I personally wouldn’t even be able to split the practices like he was able to but after listening to his talk, it started to make sense why research like his were important.
Mekki started by identifying the type of users in the open source community and questioned the room whether the core developers or the end users would feel the burden of wrong practices the most. Although people from the room blurted out core developers, he told us that it is the people who are further away from the core developers has more opinions about practices because they are hit the most. In the beginning I just made a guess that it would be core developers, but after listening to his presentation, I can understand why it is not.
Mekki’s main focus on his study is how practices affect the outcome of an open source community. He understands that communities can split, make have unclear directions or does not make progress at times and wants to study why these effects occur. First, Mekki classified enabling and disabling practices. Mekki further broke them down to recursive and adaptive practices.
Mekki interviewed various people involved in the open source community. He did not identify who the interviewees were but they ranged from project leader to passive users. The interviewees gave examples of practices and Mekki was able to categorize the practices and make a table to show that recursive practice tends to be disabling while adaptive practice tends to be enabling. He also compared recursive practice to cathedral and adaptive practice to bazaar, which I found interesting because I have read the story less than couple months ago and knew about the topic to agree with his presentation.
I love the fact that he seemed happy to present his topic. He was prepared to answer questions by the audience and did not discourage the class to have an open discussion. There were many types of programmers in the room ranging from students like me to people who had looked very experienced with open source sharing what they thought about various parts of the presentation.
I would definitely say that attending FSOSS 2011 was an “enabling” experience. I enjoyed being there. Even though I was dreading to attend, I am happy to say I am converted! It is hard to express how educating it was for me to attend the symposium and no brainer for the open source class, DPS909, makes students attend FSOSS. If I was asked what the most important thing was that I gained from FSOSS, I would answer that I learned open source is about the community. Strong community is what drives programmers to help out and reach a common goal. It provides developers with comfort while they develop the next level. Even though FSOSS was not my first conference, I have to say it was the conference where I learned the most. Having a chance to hear from such a variety of speakers who have such broad and different experiences is what makes FSOSS so exciting. You can count on me to be at FSOSS 2012… All three days of it!