October 26, 2010

Day 2 - Discover the Narrative (Live from UDS)


Gerry Carr is head of platform marketing at Canonical and is reporting directly from Ubuntu Developer Summit this week. We're hosting those exclusive reports here as a series of guest blogs. Here's the "narrative" on day 2...

I ran into Ryan Paul of Ars Technica briefly in the lobby and took his advice on what to write: he told me it's all about discovering the narrative. Good advice but no easy task. I've only managed to attend 5 percent of the sessions today. Not because of slackness, for once, but through not having discovered the secret of multilocation.

So how do you choose where to go in an (un) conference with a dozen tracks? Well, my method is simple. Top criteria are this: Can I contribute?
This is rare enough although not unheard of. My role is 'useful idiot,' trying to determine a discussion down a course I can understand. The default tendency of participants is 'problem solver.' No sooner have you outlined an issue than someone is immediately defining a specification. "What if?" becomes <whatif> in the blink of an eye and often the role of useful idiot is to remind people that we are still in the realm of speculation here. Let's not start coding.

A word on discussions. UDS-N uses the fishbowl set-up. I have to admit, I don't like it. Simply choosing a seat seems to me to predetermine someone's propensity to contribute. If you are intent on active participation, sit near the front is the theory. To me it seems to discourage contribution from further back in the room. An active conversation with the reverse of someone's head is tricky.
It's hierarchical, with which actually I have no problem. Some people are domain experts: this is their project and they should be heard. However, I think it makes it too easy for people to duck contributing. If I am a bit unsure of my topic, or the relevance of my point, there is no better way to make sure I don't chip in than to have a sea of backs in front of me. Some valuable views may be lost. That said I know UDS has tried various formats and this is the second version using the Fishbowl, so it must be working for someone.

My second criteria is equally simple: Can I understand it?
The most amazing thing about working in Canonical and with the community (and yes, I do get paid as well but not to say this) is the amount of interesting stuff going on. There's just tons of it. However I am interested only at a certain level.
What I can contribute to 'Bash Tab Completion and command-not-found enhancements' is limited. Very limited. So 50 percent of the sessions in any time slot are usefully removed due to my ignorance.

The final criteria: Is it interesting?
To me, I mean. I've learned over the last four years in Ubuntu that even the most arcane-seeming topic is of keen interest to many people and very often bubbles up to me as a feature with which I can make some coin. So I am never dismissive.
But we pick and choose. I am looking at how we might extend the 10.cloud.ubuntu.com initiative to desktop and other images, and it is being widely discussed. It's great to sit in a room with a bunch of disciplines. Say what you would like to see and watch the idea become a real project with more things than you had ever thought being considered. It keeps you young.
Collaboration Ryan, that's the narrative.