Every year, Linux enthusiasts in India's capital, New Delhi, hold a
conference to help spread word of free and open source software (FOSS).
This year they called their conference Freed.in, and had more talks and attendees than they've had in the past. While the event was a wonderful opportunity for the FOSS community to interact in person, discuss issues, and brainstorm solutions, attendees were overwhelmed by the number of talks jammed into a two-day schedule.
There were a lot of good things about the get-together. First, it was a free
event -- even refreshments such as tea and coffee were on the house -- and lunch wasn't expensive,
either. The organizers pitched the event to the students at various
colleges in and around New Delhi, so there was a decent turnout on both
days, with a total count of 516 attendees as of noon on the second day.
Speakers from all over the country and abroad conducted
more than 50 talks and workshops. The sessions were divided into six
tracks. To further assist the attendees in deciding which sessions to attend, the talk schedule also categorized the sessions under three levels -- beginner, intermediate, and advanced.
The organizers picked good speakers for the
advocacy and guidance talks. Shawn Kwon, founder and leader of the
Korean Linux Documentation Project, shared his experience of promoting FOSS in Korea and the gradual lack of interest in young developers due
to the language barrier. Our own Robin 'Roblimo' Miller discussed how
it's important for people pushing FOSS in organizations to stress user happiness more than licensing issues. Several other "been there, done that" speakers also shared their experiences using FOSS tools to power budget-strapped startups as well as migrating organizations to FOSS.
But the event wasn't the best planned one that I've attended. The
thing that bugged me most were the six parallel tracks. It would have
been better if there were just two tracks, one for talks and one for
workshops. Also, the conference would have been better as a three- or even
four-day event. Holding more than 25 talks and workshops per day meant
attendees missed more talks than they could attend.
It was wonderful of the well-connected, easily accessible, Jawaharlal Nehru University to host the event. But the rooms and halls alloted to the event were too small, and spread all over the campus. Volunteers
manning the halls had to refuse entry to many attendees, especially in
the introductory, hands-on sessions. A grassroots event like Freed.in
could also have done better with a few more panels and fewer individual speakers.
Despite these minor issues, I have no doubt that Freed.in has established itself as one of the best community events in India.
The organizers did a fantastic job despite operating on a shoestring budget. They were successful in getting speakers representing all facets of FOSS deployments, from government to
schools, from nonprofits to multinational companies. But in
the end, they were a victim of their own success in finding speakers, as they tried to squeeze a week's worth of material into only two days.