January 28, 2005

Hawaii now has its own open source conference

Author: Robin 'Roblimo' Miller

HONOLULU, HAWAII -- The first-ever Trans-Pacific Open Source Software Conference (TPOSSCON) was held at the Hawaii Convention Center January 17 - 21, 2005. In many ways, it was a "pilot project" meant to gain credibility for what organizer Scott Belford of the Hawaii Open Source Education Foundation (HOSEF) hopes will become a yearly event that attracts people not only from Pacific Islands but also from "mainland" countries on both sides of the world's largest ocean.

Belford financed this event from his own pocket as much as from any other source, an act of generosity he sees as "giving back to the community." And he says that while putting this conference together may have cost him $3,000 or so, "I really didn't spend any more on this than I would have spent buying proprietary software the last couple of years."

The entire conference was put together in a few months, not so much because it was expected to draw a huge audience -- which it didn't -- but as a "proof of concept" leading up to a full-scale TPOSSCON in 2006 that's organized and promoted far enough in advance to draw attendees from beyond Hawaii.

Despite the short leadup time, Belford managed to assemble an impressive array of speakers. The conference opened with words from Bruce Perens and closed with an address by Jon "maddog" Hall.

The total crowd was only about 100, which is not a large number, but since a state senator and a number of state and local government IT decision-makers attended and promised support for more open source use in schools and other government areas, "quality is more important than quantity" was the operative phrase when it came to this audience. And that group of 100 or so

Conference organizer Scott Belford with speaker Jon "maddog" Hall.

came out of the woodwork despite little or no promotion besides a few brief mentions on local email lists and a bit of out-of-state advertising that came too late for most potential non-local attendees to arrange travel and accommodations, so the turnout was as good as a rational person could expect.

Other HOSEF members were skeptical when Belford first decided to run a conference with only a few month's worth of planning. There was no money in hand and no sponsors clamoring to support such a venture. But Belford talked Novell, HP, and several other companies into providing at least a little support, and OSTG (NewsForge's owner) provided free banner advertising.

The Hawaii Convention Center kicked in with a super-discount facilities use deal that gave TPOSSCON so much space that 100 people didn't fill even a fifth of it. Belford agreed, toward the end of the conference, that fewer rooms -- perhaps two instead of five -- would have not only made the event look and feel "busier" but would have encouraged more informal meetings and networking among attendees.

Why people love Hawaii in the winter. (Click for glorious larger version.)

Another lesson for next year -- and for other local or regional conference organizers -- is that while LinuxWorld may have eight simultaneous conference tracks, a smaller conference doesn't need to have more than one session going at a time. True, not everyone is going to be interested in every session, but that's okay. When people aren't in the "presentation room" they can be in the "social" room checking their email, looking at sponsors' exhibits, and networking with one another.

Belford said he was starting to plan the 2006 TPOSSCON immediately. With an early start and a bit of clever promotion he should have little trouble bringing plenty of sponsors, speakers, and attendees from out of state in years to come -- especially if TPOSSCON continues to be held during the winter, when many residents of northern climes are happy to find a business reason to spend a week in Hawaii.

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