FOSS.IN/2008: The Omelette Post :)
A lot of people have noticed that unlike in previous years, we are not as
loud about FOSS.IN as we usually are. Now that the Call for Participation
is about to be published, it is time to explain why FOSS.IN/2008 is going
to be different from earlier incarnations.
First a quick reminder: FOSS.IN/2008 happens November 25-29, 2008, in
Bangalore, India. The website is at http://foss.in
FOSS.IN has never been about advocacy, or philosophical discussions. While
such discussions may have their place, they steal valuable bandwidth when
it comes to getting things done. Especially here in India, where we tend
to lean towards political and religious aspects more easily than we tend
to roll up our sleeves and get some work done, it is important to
understand that FOSS.IN is meant to achieve tangible results.
With this in mind, FOSS.IN/2007 (last year's event) did not accept talks
that did not deliver practical, technical knowledge related to FOSS. And
the talks had to be delivered by actual contributors to the project being
Also, FOSS.IN is NOT a newbie event. A "newbie" is defined as someone who
has no skills or knowledge or experience that would allow him or her to
immediately contribute to FOSS development. As has been repeatedly
explained to anyone who would listen - there are lots of newbie oriented
events all through the year, all over India, and people should be geting
their introductions to FOSS and their initial learning at such events,
including at user group meetings.
However, I personally was still unhappy with last years' results. Despite
the fact that we made it clear that we did not want to see elementary
stuff being covered at FOSS.IN, many of the talks were just that. The
Projects Days were very popular, but FOSS.IN is not about popularity, it
is about results.
And the bottom line is that while there was a measureable increase in
people getting involved in FOSS contribution, the quality left a lot to be
desired. Most new contributors focused only on low hanging fruit, such as
translations, and distro-specific packaging. If people got involved with
code, it was usually bug fixes and code maintenance.
While all these activities are extremely important, they do not need an
event like FOSS.IN to be triggered off - these are things one can get
involved with instantly, without really asking anyone, or attending a
FOSS.IN is far more ambitious, and is definitely not meant to cater to the
equivalent of "outsourcing" code/package maintenance.
Our event is meant to highlight Indian contribution to Free and Open
Source Software - not just bug fixes, but real code contributions, real
innovation, real projects.
Last year, we changed the event slogan from
"Technology for a Free World"
(that we had used since Linux Bangalore/2001) to Linus Torvalds' immortal
"Talk is Cheap, Show Me the Code"
This, in no uncertain terms, firmly declares the focus of FOSS.IN.
Effective this year, FOSS.IN will focus on developers, and results. It
will highlight credible efforts by people in India contributing to FOSS,
and will bring together developers at peer level, to allow them to
interact, discuss, develop and deliver.
"Delivery" does not mean mere bug fixing. Delivery will be new features to
existing applications, completely new subsystems (e.g. file systems,
device drivers, etc.), (re)design of systems and applications, etc.
Now I understand that many people will feel left out. There will be howls
from the detractors about us abandoning the basis for Free and Open Source
Software, and us being "Anti-FOSS". This is because in their minds, we
must always cater only to beginners, and "bring more people into the
Thank you, but that line of thinking was old when someone said that "Linux
is cancer" and "Anti-American" (and I think there were a few chairs
involved, too). Just because we choose to do things differently does not
mean that we are doing it wrong.
Yes, we realise that this will reduce the number of people who may come to
the event. Maybe we will be 500 people, maybe 1000. But that is OK. We are
trying to produce results that are measurable by our yardsticks
(active/increased contributors out of India), not those invariably used by
others ("4.91 quantillion participants").
At FOSS.IN/2008, we want to see the best of the best from India. We want
to see the people who actually write the code, and who ARE contributing,
interact face to face with their peers from across the world. And at the
end of the event, we want to be able to publish results. *REAL* results.
And the names of the people involved. *PEOPLE*, not companies.
Over the five days between November 25th to 29th, we are going to change
the way the world perceives India in the context of Free and Open Source
So how are we going to do this?
First of all, we are dropping the talks.
Yes, you heard that right.
Well, no generic talks, bunched back to back.
This year, there will be talks only in the big 750 seater hall. There will
be an opening and a closing keynote each day, by a well known FOSS
contributor (except the closing keynote on the last day, which, by
tradition, is a non-FOSS, but related, talk). We already know who the
event opening keynote speaker will be, and the closing keynote speaker,
and I will introduce them as we get closer to the event.
Between the keynotes, there will be 3-5 talks through the day - again,
only in the 750 seater. These will in general be talks by important
FOSS contributors or FOSS project leads. They can/will be of variable
length, but in general between 45 to 75 minutes long. They will be
carefully chosen to ensure that maximum value is delivered to the
SPOTLIGHT ON INDIAN CONTRIBUTORS
FOSS.IN is about highlighting and encouraging Indian contributions to
FOSS. But along the way, the "Indian" part of FOSS.IN's mandate has been
kind of lost. When we look at last year's speaker/talk lineup, the number
of international speakers is overpowering. Almost all talks in "prime
slots" were by non-Indians, and the number of Indian contributors
presenting talks was seriously low.
This year, this is going to change, and dramatically so.
While there will certainly be a international speakers at FOSS.IN, the
spotlight will be on Indian contributors. And if we don't have enough of
them submitting talks - well, then we will just have fewer talks.
So then what happens in the other halls?
That, ladies and gentlemen, is where history will be made.
In each of the smaller halls, as well as across the venue campus
(including the lawns, the corridors, the BoF tents, and the cafeteria),
you will find small groups of people.
Really smart people.
Really, really smart people.
People who will huddle together, use the facilities available to them,
discuss, and code.
Each hall will be equipped with its own wifi and cabled network setup, a
local server serving up the latest git/svn/bzr/whatever repositories of
code, the tools and the bandwidth. Everything that these people need to
In the afternoon of the first day, after the inauguration, these groups
will meet to decide on their broad and specific objectives. They will
already have interacted over the weeks leading up to the event, and once
they have finalized things on day 1, they will use the next four days to
change the world.
Only people with laptops, and a clear understanding of the tools, and a
clear understanding of the project, will be able to participate in these
hacking sessions. If you don't have a laptop, or don't know anything about
FOSS or the tools or the project, don't bother sitting in, you will just
get in the way. To join the group, you need to have FOSS credibility, code
to show that you have written, that proves that you can deliver. If you
ave never written FOSS code before, then this is not a place you want to
In general, we do not expect more than about 10-15% of each hall being
occupied, in some cases, it could be as few as 4 people. Given that we
have three formal halls (apart from the 750 seater), with seating
capacities of 120, 90 and 60 people, we dont expect to see more than
12-18, 9-14 or 6-9 people in each of these halls. Hall marshalls will
ensure that things are left undisturbed, and that people inside have
everything they need - projector, whiteboards, bandwidth, connectivity,
To ensure that the sessions are undisturbed throughout the day, yet
"visible" to the people outside the halls, giant Plasma screens will
display what's happening inside, both in terms of camera video, as well as
what is being shown on the projector in the hall.
These screens will also be listing out the objectives of each group, and
their progress. This information will be available across the venue,
including on the venue LAN and on IRC, which will have channels for each
group/project, and will allow people not inside the halls (or at the
event) to participate (where feasible). The hall marshal(s) will monitor
the channels to alert the group inside if something would be worthy of
And these groups won't just be in the halls.
There is a reason why we will be gently cooking your brains with a massive
flood of wifi.
It is to allow people to remain connected anywhere they are on the
premises. And this means that if a group wants to sit on the lawn and
work, they can. If they want to sit on the steps of the lobby, they can.
If they want sit in the parking lot, they can. If they want to spread
themselves across the venue, keeping in touch via IM and IRC, they can. If
they want to sit in on one of the few talks in the 750 seater hall, and
continue working, they can.
If a bunch of people need to learn a new programming technique, or learn
about agile programming in FOSS - grab a tent, and get cracking. Or if you
want to reverse engineer the latest device driver over coffee and snacks -
by all means do.
And this is where the major aspect of FOSS.IN comes out and stretches in
FOSS.IN is supposed to be a meeting ground for existing and potential FOSS
contributors, so that they can put faces to IRC nicks, discuss, interact,
collaborate, plan, debug, etc. all through the event.
We want people to come to FOSS.IN with definite goals in mind, and fulfil
them at the event. Whether it is improving an existing project, launching
a new one, brainstorming with your peers, with international participants,
etc. We want to see high-intensity FOSS contribution happening, or being
seeded, in the 750 seater hall, the corridors, the BOF tents, the lawns,
the lobbies, etc.
So what happened to Project Days?
PROJECT DAYS -> PROJECT OF THE DAY:
An important aspect of FOSS.IN is Project Days - one FOSS project per
hall per day.
Last year, we had set apart two days exclusively for PDs, and eight
projects were covered in the process.
Unfortunately, while the selected projects themselves were pretty happy,
we weren't. Complaints of mildly condescending, talk-down presentations,
blatant commercial positioning, and no real take-home from some of the
sessions, has led us to believe that this approach wasn't optimal.
In addition, we seem to have split audiences last year - some people
coming for the PDs, some for the Main Conference.
So this year, there won't be separate Project Days. Instead, every day of
the 5 days, there will be a "Project of the Day" in the cavernous 250
seater hall - the Project Hall, where talks, discussions, BoFs, etc.
related to that project will happen.
And if the people handling that Project of the Day don't do things right -
well, then their audiences will have the choice of other things to do,
other talks to attend.
The selection of "Project of the Day" will be based on normal talk
submissions, along with a "Letter of Intent" by someone from the project
saying that s/he would like to have their project as a PoD. We will then
consider that request, taking into account the talks submitted related to
You will have noticed by now that FOSS.IN/2008 is going to be very, very
different from any conference you have been to before. It will certainly
be interesting (we have a number of things planned for every day, so that
if you decide to be picky and only attend some days, you lose out
We are STILL in negotiation with the Indian Institute of Science (the
venue owners) to allow us to make the event a little more human - simple
things, like being able to have coffee machines active throughout the day,
and to allow some simple, light Indian entertainment to show our foreign
participants a bit of our culture.
But if we fail to be allowed to bring the event to 21st century,
international standards, then we encourage people to provide their own
entertainment. We'll try and arrange for a few guitars, bongos and
keyboards for informal use in the community centre (the big, flat,
three-sides-open, carpeted, roofed area behind the venue).
Last year, we had FOSS projects tucked away near the big hall, to exhibit
This year, make sure you have clean jeans on - we are taking the FOSS EXPO
up front, right into the main lobby, alongside the sponsor stalls.
Remember the huge Platinum Sponsor stalls last year? Well, that entire
area will now be the FOSS Expo, as will some areas in the central area
between the 60 and 90 seater halls and the steps leading up to the 750
FOSS community/projects only - no commercial exhibits allowed.
The call for participation, which isn't very different from what you have
just read, just a little shorter, and a little clearer on some points,
will go out tomorrow. Because of the nature of the changes to the event,
registration will be very different for "speakers".
Since we are going to have so few talks (including keynotes, no more than
5-7 each day), we are going to accept only about 35 talks. So you bet that
we expect them to be high calibre. We are going to research each talk
proposal, look at the bonafides of the speaker, the history each one has.
Any speaker who looks remotely corporate ("you must get involved in this
project because my company is so great") gets /dev/null'd immediately. Any
talk that doesn't look technical enough quickly follows. And a talk by a
non-Indian speaker makes it only if there is no Indian contributor
offering to talk about the topic. And don't even bother submitting a talk
that is basically a computer science topic, with no relation to FOSS.
Shortlisted talks will be run past serious developers and contributors
from across the world - you know who you are. If a talk doesn't cut it
with them, it doesn't cut it with us.
Basically, we want you to respect the event focus, and the audiences. Dont
expect newbie audiences - so expect to get deep comments and questions.
and people voting with their feet and walking out on you. If we see a talk
going south, or becoming commercial (like one guy did last year during the
Debian PD), we are going to embarrass the hell out of you and yank you off
the stage. Even if you work for a sponsor organization.
Speaking of which...
FUNDING THE EVENT:
One of the bigger problems that we (Team FOSS.IN) face every year is
You see, the cost of everything is up. The venue gets more and more
expensive every year, cost of travel is through the roof, and even simple
things like printing are more expensive.
But we have sworn that we will stick with with our low cost model for
participation - which is why delegates just pay Rs.600 (Rs.500 for
bonafide students, Rs.2500 for corporate delegates), which pays for their
food and goodies.
This means that while "income" (as delegate fees can laughably be called)
remains fixed, we need to make up the deficit with (you guessed it) more
sponsor money. And that means more sponsor chasing, which in turn means
more sponsor demands (which we don't give in to), which leads to more
stress on everyone, which no one needs.
Clearly, we need to change a few things to balance things out, and since
we cannot reduce the venue fees, it means that this year, we have to
reduce the allocation for international speaker travel, which is the
second largest figure after the venue costs.
Instead, we are going to ask employers, community and commercial
organizations to pitch in to help speakers from outside India to come to
the event. It will be up to speakers to check if they will be able to get
This is a major change from previous years, where we had to bend over
backwards to raise tens of thousands of dollars to help selected speakers
to come to India. This year, that simply won't be possible. The economic
climate is miserable, the Indian Rupee is 47 INR to the USD, and rising
We will, of course, still provide accommodation to all our outstation
speakers. We are proud of our reputation of being excellent hosts, and no
speaker has ever had any complaints in this department. So if a speaker is
selected, and tells us that s/he has funding to come to the event, s/he
can expect to be put up in the comfort that speakers at FOSS.IN are
We are going to try and talk to a few airlines and maybe they will sponsor
some tickets in exchange for being tagged the Official FOSS.IN/2008
Airline. And we are talking to our employers to help as well.
But otherwise, we are going to raise just enough sponsorship to cover
event facilities and hospitality. We are NOT a commercial event, and don't
want to make finances the major focus, eating up all our time.
We are also levelling out sponsorship slabs - just two types, Gold (with a
stall in the front lobby) and Silver (with a stall near the Community
And we are actually lowering sponsorship rates, to encourage more sponsors
to come in. And we are going to be picky as well. If you aren't a
recognised FOSS-friendly/supportive organization, you really don't want to
be at this event. Your employees will tell us if you are a good fit for
our event. And if you are on the sponsor roster, it will be like a
certificate of authenticity - A Genuine FOSS-Friendly Organization.
We are doing this because we don't want the FOSS community to feel
exploited or targeted. And we are levelling out sponsorships to avoid what
has happened before - one sponsor grabbing all the limelight. Not
happening again. We love our sponsors, but we love them equally.
Yes, we know that we sound unrealistic, even idealistic. But we want to
raise this event to quality levels that exceed anything anywhere else. And
by that we mean in terms of results, not glitz. We won't have hostesses
escorting speakers to the stage. We aren't going to have receptions for
celebrity speakers, where the twist and turn in the limelight for the
press. We aren't going to raise huge sponsorship, just to spend it back on
the sponsors. This is a community event. Please recognise that.
We are FOSS.IN, and we are going to help change the world.
One pointer and null-terminated string at a time.
p.s. Why did I call this the Omelette Post? Because to make an Omelette,
you have to break eggs.