Monday 16 February 2009
This weekend's Foo Camp was another big success. I always feel awkward trying to socialize in large groups, but I did manage to talk to a lot of interesting people and go to many interesting sessions. It was great to see Ben Goodger there and co-lead with him a session on "browser stuff".
I also led a session on "working from NZ on global projects" which was very well attended. it ended up mostly focusing on generic issues around remote work and distributed teams, more so than I had intended, but I didn't feel I had the mandate, or the need, to aggressively steer the discussion. It was interesting anyway. There seemed to be genuine differences between distributed teams working on open source projects and distributed teams working on normal business projects. For example, people talked about how in normal businesses, they'd have difficulty working with people they hadn't interacted with face to face, so early physical meet-ups were essential. By necessity, on open source projects we mostly regard physical meetings as a useful bonus, but not essential at the outset. There's a question about whether open source projects are simply filtering out people who can't work that way, or whether they're actually different. Anyway, if I get another chance, I'd like to focus in on the question of how to better exploit the opportunities to work on global projects from NZ for the sake of this country.
Another interesting session was on spreading free software and getting more people involved in it. Many of the participants approached from the traditional viewpoint of free software as the unknown underdog, so I pointed out that in some areas (like Firefox in certain countries) free software is being widely used, even dominant, which raises new questions about how to exploit that power --- how can we impart our values to the millions of people who just use the browser, and won't ever be contributing code? One idea raised was to talk about people, e.g., by sometimes highlighting a volunteer contributor (perhaps a relevant localizer) on the Firefox start page. Just have to watch out for stalkers.
As the event has grown, the predominance of Web developers has diluted, which is a good thing, although I still really appreciate the opportunity to talk to Web developers about their problems and desires. This time I played devil's advocate and asked whether their ideal world would have only one browser engine, tweaked versions of which were used by all browsers, similar to the way Linux distributions compete. I was a little bit surprised to see very little support for that.
Thanks to Nat, Jenine and the crew for another great event.