Thursday, August 20, 2009

The Importance of Speaking at Conferences

In Why We Send Developers to Conferences, Thomas Abthorpe discussed the value in face-to-face networking with both committers and BSD users.

In this post, Ion-Mihai Tetcu discusses the importance of BSD developers speaking at non-BSD specific and international conferences. His report also shows some of the lessons that can be learned from meeting with users and learning first-hand how a global project is meeting their local needs.

I had the opportunity, with the Foundation's help, to participate as a speaker at FISL 10 in Porto Alegre, RS, Brazil. This year's anniversary edition had 8,232 paying attendees, speakers from 28 countries, a lot of vendors and user groups, and a powerful media presence. FISL was sponsored, among others, by the Brazilian Federal Government and Brazil's President Mr. Luis Ignacio Lula da Silva gave a nice speech .

Open source in Brazil has a powerful momentum, being promoted by the federal and various states and local governments. It is seen as a way to reduce the country's dependency on foreign companies, a way to reduce unemployment, and generate local revenues and expertise. It is used by the national bank, federal government institutions and even by local subsidiaries of big multinational companies. Open Source in Brazil pretty much equals Linux, especially RedHat, Suse and Debian (who all have powerful user-groups) and a few local distributions. (Free)BSD is also used, especially by telcos and in the embedded market. More that 50% of the attendees didn't understand English and the situation is even worse in the general public. This practically implies that, without localization, a software product can not have any significant market share in Brazil.

Apart from my DSPAM talk, I gave a general talk about FreeBSD ports and packages and PCBSD's PBIs, was one of the hosts of the BSD-Meeting and assisted at the FUG-BR stand. Unfortunately, the other BSDs had zero presence. The 6 hours of the BSD-Meeting were a micro-conference attended by 65-70 people. Of the 5 talks, 3 could have easily found a place on the main schedule and I repeatedly kicked those speakers for not submitting their talks to FISL organizers. From the Brazilian user's perspective, the biggest problem faced is the lack of a localized version of FreeBSD. For example, I was asked if we could provide a framework for localizing the OPTIONs and pkg-message of our ports. When faced with a new operating system, many users will choose a localized Linux variant over the effort of learning both a new operating system and a new language. As a first step, I am pursuing with the PC-BSD folks the idea of doing a custom-built PC-BSD variant localized for Brazil. Marcelo Araujo presented what the translation process implies and one of the results of the BSD-Meeting is a restart ofthe Brazilian Documentation Project.

Lacking any promotional materials except a few posters, the FUB-BR booth didn't attract as many people as the other booths. However, it was a place where people could meet some FreeBSD committers and we had many interesting discussions with both FreeBSD and Linux users. One of the things practically everybody I spoke with during the conference told me was that they desire international speakers. At least 30 people attended FISL because there was a FreeBSD speaker from abroad. I think this is an important idea and that we should also encourage developers to give talks at general F/OSS conferences.

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