July 18, 2005

Creating a community Linux event

Author: Matthew Revell

In the U.K., we have a vibrant and growing LUG movement, active both in bringing new people to open source through advocacy and in providing the ad-hoc support that all Linux users need. Until recently, though, there was no community-focused event for the U.K. open source community.

My fellow LugRadio presenters and I decided that we'd try to fill the gap for a U.K. community-oriented Linux event. Last month, roughly 250 open source fans attended LugRadio Live, a mix of talks, exhibition, LAN gaming, paintball, beer, and curry. Central to our event was the idea that everyone is a member of the same community and so everyone should be able to come. We kept the entrance fee to a minimum, made no charge to exhibitors, and put largely unknown speakers alongside big names. The resultant spirit of camaraderie and shared ideas was invigorating.

Organising the event was relatively hassle-free, although we learned a great deal for the next time. But if we were able to organise LugRadio Live with no previous experience while working our day jobs, then others could organize similar local events. Here are a few things to bear in mind:

  • Location: Choose a convenient venue. Don't hold the event in a city 50 miles away if your home town has a suitable venue. We deliberately put LugRadio Live in Wolverhampton, rather than London, because too much happens in London already and we didn't want to add to our own travel.
  • Tickets: Don't be afraid to charge an entrance fee. It gives your event a perceived worth and means you're not stuck with a big bill. Pre-selling tickets also helps you know how many people are likely to come.
  • Sponsorship: Feel free to seek sponsorship, but remember the community focus of your event. However, the more money you take from businesses, the more exposure you can give to community projects for free.
  • Structure: We made sure attendees always had two or three things to do at any one time. If you have talks, consider providing an alternative activity, such as LAN gaming or a key-signing.
  • Promotion: Use your existing community contacts to tell other people about your event. Always remember why you're holding the event and convey that enthusiasm to others.

Free and open source software give us a great deal. It's more than an approach to software development, it's a chance to forge longstanding friendships and to be part of something bigger than everyday life. It can only survive, though, if we all give back. Not all of us can make direct contributions to individual projects. However, you may be just the person to organise an event that brings together users, hackers, and CEOs as equals. If you do, you'll be helping to safeguard the future of our community and of the software we love.

Matthew Revell is co-presenter of the open source radio show LugRadio.

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