Three best features of open source events

As part of Stormy’s ongoing blog challenge, here’s my take on “Three best features of open source events.”

1. The hackathon

While there is considerable evidence that the term “hackathon” should be avoided (No, I can’t find the article right now. I’ll keep looking), the collaborative space at an event is, in my opinion, the most important part of an open source event.

Open source events are educational, of course. You can attend a talk and learn things. But most of the information that you need to learn is available, free, online. So to me the most important part of an event is the opportunity to meet and collaborate with the other people on the project.

Defining a specific space for this is critical to get people to sit down and play along. Signs identifying project teams or topics is even more welcoming. Having a white board where people can identify specifically what they are working on gives a way for introverts to be overtly welcoming of other people with similar interests.

Publicizing the collaborative space well in advance of  the event gives the opportunity for people to discuss what they might work on, and gives some people the added incentive to show up at all.

2. The after-party

While it’s indeed a cliche (because it’s true!) that open source events have too much alcohol, having an after-event, with or without food and/or drinks, is a critical part of the event. It gives a specific time and place for your community to get to know one another in a less formal atmosphere, and talk about something other than code. These kinds of community bonds will simply never happen on the mailing list, which is by design focused on the project, the code, the design, and so on, rather than on the personalities.

Open source communities fail because of personality issues at least as often as they do because of code issues. Providing a specific time and space to address these issues saves communities. As we say at Apache, Community > Code.

3. The keynotes

Picking good keynotes is really hard, because keynotes should be inspiring. As such, they don’t always have to be directly related to the topic of the event, but should be, in some way, of interest to the audience.

A keynote should be delivered by someone who is engaging and eloquent. And it should have some kind of call to action, or end on a note that inspires the audience to go do something.

I’ve been attending technical conferences for 20 years, and I remember only a handful of keynotes. I remember Douglas Adams because he was funny. I remember Hugh Howie because I got to sit on stage with him and grill him about the process of being an author and engaging your fans. I remember an OSCon keynote about maps, and one by a guy from WETA about the making of the Lord of the Rings movies. I remember Gema Parreño talking about using data to save the earth from collision with space objects. And most recently, Sandra Matz talking about what your social media profile says about you.

But there have also been a lot of clunkers, and a lot of product pitches, and a lot of Hey Look At Me talks. I can do without those.

Oh, and if you have any suggestions for great keynotes, please let me know. 🙂

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