(I’m not ready for International Talk Like a Pirate day to be over, apparently, given the subject line.)
Spot, in response to your insightful post, your experience at Atlanta Linux Fest seems a bit different from the many distribution-agnostic events that happen every year, like SELF, UTOSC, LinuxTag, and Ontario Linux Fest. I don’t think anything billing itself as a “Linux” event should favor distros, whether they’re Fedora, Debian, Ubuntu, openSUSE, or what have you — especially when the majority of what’s covered (how to write better Django apps, tweaking Apache, kernel driver hacking, etc.) is completely independent of your chosen brand of Linux.
When Fedora gives money to Linux events, it’s generally because we believe the event is a cost-effective way for us to deliver a benefit to the whole Linux community. Of course we try to put Fedora Ambassadors and a booth at such an event, and welcome other distribution projects to do the same. It’s a supportive gesture, not an exclusive one! All of us are there ultimately to show people how easy, reliable, and socially responsible free software is for everyone.
At the same time, Fedora is continuing to move away from putting our FUDCon events next to major Linux events, for a couple reasons. One is to avoid the distraction of trying to essentially participate in two events at once. That’s hard not just on attendees, who want to be able to participate in both events, but also on organizers who themselves are eager not just to educate and contribute at FUDCon, but also to promote Fedora, Linux, and FOSS at the neutral event itself. Another reason is to avoid the appearance of “swarming” a distribution neutral event, because there are people for whom that reduces the incentive to attend, for whatever reason. Yet another reason is so we can seek out cost-effective venues at locations and times where people are looking for a FOSS event, so that we don’t end up repeatedly preaching to the choir.
In response to your point about upstream policy, the way Canonical has opened up pieces of the Ubuntu production system have been a direct result of the community’s continuing conversation with them, so I hope that conversation continues and spreads into areas such as upstream policies. I think that distros can benefit from a model of eschewing distribution-specific patches wherever possible, in favor of working directly with upstream to improve the consistency of Linux globally.
And on the subject of creepiness, Fedora has always shied away from “star worship,” where that equates to promoting one person (and/or that person’s “brand”) over the rest of the community. While there are people who lead various teams, what we’ve consistently found about their leadership is that it promotes everyone else around them as opposed to themselves. That also means our community efforts are scalable, and don’t hinge on name recognition as much as mission recognition. In Fedora, anyone is capable of being a rockstar, and we’d rather promote all of them than just one or two.
Star worship has other negative side effects as well. Since taking the job of FPL and, as a result, having the opportunity to travel around the world to different FOSS events, I’ve witnessed some really scurrilous or just plain rude hijinks from “stars” who seem blind to the damage they are ultimately causing their communities by reflecting negatively on them, or the way those actions can turn off potential free software contributors.
Individual egos, no matter how well-intentioned the owner, are just too susceptible when they don’t answer to a peer group. Any time you represent a larger community, you have a responsibility to govern your actions accordingly, because it reflects on everyone. The more representatives there are, and the more peers you have, the easier it is to be consistent between principle and action, because that’s what peer groups can reinforce between their members.
I think it greatly reduces the creepiness factor when you can be in the same room with the attendees and give them the opportunity to ask questions freely, much as Red Hat CEO Jim Whitehurst did at the last FUDCon in Boston. Personally, I have done video chats over projector to audiences, but they’re always live, so community members (or potential members) have their chance to be part of a conversation, as opposed to just listeners. So much of what makes FOSS work requires conversation, not dictation! The honesty and spontaneity of that conversation makes it a human connection and hopefully much lower on the Creepy-O-Meter.
But fortunately, negative incidents really are in the minority against the many wonderful experiences I’ve had of meeting and talking to FOSS users and contributors. There are so many people out there eager to get involved with Linux and FOSS that we have a great opportunity to influence in a positive way, teaching them through our deeds (not just words) to honor upstream projects; to avoid old, outmoded hoarding behaviors; and to become leaders and rockstars in their own right through what Spot referred to as a combination of transparency and courage. These lessons are ones that we continually need to keep in mind going forward, and continue honestly reassessing where we’re succeeding or failing at making good on them, and act accordingly.