I'm home from my first ever trip to FOSDEM and I'm pleased to say had a great time there, most of all because of the chance to meet up with so many fantastic KDE people. I've never been to a conference with so many different FOSS groups involved and the vibe from so many geeks was incredible. It was especially refreshing to see so many female contributors there and so actively involved in their communities. I had planned to blog more about my impressions while there, but my laptop was quickly expropriated as the booth demo machine, and there was no free wifi at the hotel, so here's a long brain-dump of some random thoughts. You can see a few photos here.
I spent most of my time manning the KDE booth, more than I had planned and I missed a few talks I had wanted to see, but it was a pleasure to be able to interact with so many people, almost all of whom were overwhelmingly positive about KDE4. I had only one "Amarok 2 sucks" (he didn't have the guts to tell Sven on the 'rok booth to his face though...), and one "I stopped using KDE after 4.0" but who was very keen to give 4.4 a go as he believes our technology is on the right track. Much of my time seemed to be spent directing traffic. There was the guy who wanted to get involved with the Windows port who I demo'ed stuff to in Virtualbox and referred to the Windows team. Several people were eager to point out bugs they had found (directed them to bko). Others wanted to know if an obscure bug was fixed (err, I may be a dev, but I don't know every bug or feature). Someone wanted help with the openBSD packaging (hmm, dunno, Sune wasn't about, try Ade or the freeBSD guys?). Someone else wanted to know how to get the latest version of their app packaged by all the distros (talk to them at their booths just along the hall, or attend the OBS talk in 5 minutes time...). Someone demanded to know why KDevelop had made certain design choices (palmed off on Milian, sorry!). Someone else wanted to recruit some KDE devs to work on some desktop stuff (company business cards were quickly produced and handed over). Someone wanted to know about colour management in KDE, so they got Boud's e-mail address :-) An openSUSE developer wanted to check if a patch of his worked on my install (it didn't). And the guy wanting to interview a Dutch-speaker for a podcast was directed towards Jos (poor soul ;-).
The best chat I had was with a guy from the Netherlands who walked up to the table and loudly declared "I Love KDE!" (no, not Paul). He explained he was asked by a friend to help their mother with some PC problems. He visited her at her retirement village and replaced Windows with Kubuntu. A while later she asked him to visit again as some of the other residents wanted this Linux stuff too. He refused to install it himself but instead he taught them to do it themselves. Long story short, it spread like wildfire, last time he visited to give a talk there were over 80 very happy users aged 60 to 90 who had their own support community going. They love Linux for how fast and stable it is, but also because they can play with it. The beige box is no longer some mystery machine, but something they understand and control, and they are now contributing back to projects like OpenStreetMap and doing translations. Inspirational stuff.
For all the positives however, I think we can do some things better next time.
I know it's been talked about before, but we really do need a small demo machine with nicely pre-configured demo users that can easily be restored once messed up. The obvious tricks we missed this time were to have an open-pc as our demo machine (cross promotion and sales opportunity there), an N900 running Qt/KDE stuff (the one on the Gnome table was constantly being pawed at), and a netbook to show off the new Plasma Netbook containment (I had planned to bring my eee but it died last week). And the biggest screen we can lay our hands on, with some kind of very flashy demo program running to draw people in (could we steal one from the openSUSE booth???).
We also need to give more thought beforehand to what we want to achieve with the booth. Are we just there to sell t-shirts? Or something more? It's a decision we need to make for each event, and for FOSDEM I don't think the traditional "attract new users with a flashy demo" mode is going to work. I think we need to focus on attracting new community members and interacting with upstream/downstream projects. People mostly either wanted swag, or wanted to talk about technical stuff, there were no "What is KDE?" style questions. These people are either already involved in a FOSS community and wanted to know how we can interact with them, or were looking to get involved. Saying "visit the website" or "Google it" just doesn't cut it. The "KDE Handbook" was hugely popular and we need more handouts like it. We need to have "How can I help? / How to get involved?" handouts pointing potential contributors to the main participation entry points (wiki, mailing list, irc etc). We may need some kind of (private?) KDE directory to know which person or mailing list project X needs to talk to about problem Y. Knowing the areas of expertise of each KDE attendee would also be useful so you can grab an expert when needed.
There probably wouldn't be room, but rather than a table cutting us off from the people who wanted to talk, I think a "KDE Kafe" could work well at this sort of event. Several chairs or beanbags, a few developers/translators/packagers/etc, a few demo workstations and laptops, free coffee for those who stop to talk, and lots of time to talk, network, bug triage and collect brainstorm ideas.
FOSDEM itself is impressively well organised, as you need to be with 5000+ visitors. I'll just highlight two points, firstly their signage was very good, there was lots of it and it was very big, no getting lost here. That's something I've always thought we could improve on at Akademy/Desktop Summit. Not so good was the room allocation, where each project/stream got one room to use regardless of the size of audience each talk was likely to generate. So talks about "What's in the KDE 4.4 Release" and "What's new in Drupal 7" in smaller lecture rooms were massively overcrowded and had to turn people away while bigger auditoriums next door on obscure topics were sparsely populated. While staying in one room is good for a stream's more specialised topics, each major stream's keynote talk aimed at the mainstream could be given an auditorium slot.
Free foot massages for booth volunteers would be a welcome feature :-)
Fingers crossed, I'll be back next year, if only for the chance to eat waffles and drink beer at 11am while listening to a talk!