Community Conferences Win Hands Down
In a year that's been pretty rough on commercial conferences, community run events like FOSDEM, SCALE, SouthEast LinuxFest, LinuxFest Northwest and this past weekend's Ontario GNU Linux Fest are thriving. Why is that? Community conferences win out for a number of reasons.
Attending conferences is a big part of my job, and over the years I've started to take note of what events are worth attending and which events aren't. By and large, it's the smaller community events that are worth your time and money.
Another reason community confs come out on top is that the people doing the organizing are much more in tune with the material. When it comes to Linux and open source events, the community run events are put together by people who love the subject matter and want to give something back to the larger audience. They're putting together the show they would want to attend. That makes a huge difference when compared to shows that are organized around maximizing profit and pleasing sponsors.
Not that community shows are bad for the sponsors. Costs for exhibiting at some of the commercial shows can run tens of thousand of dollars, easily. That's just for sponsorships, booth space, shipping, and so on. It doesn't include the costs of the booth itself, and sending booth staff and speakers to the show.
On the flip side, you can support a grassroots event like Ohio LinuxFest, SCALE, or Linuxfest Northwest, and get in front of hundreds of community members for a fraction of that cost. If you're trying to get sales leads, the other shows might be a better deal, but you'll pay quite a bit for each and every lead.
The community shows also tend to be really fantastic for speakers. In my experience, most community shows take very good care of their speakers -- making sure that they have everything needed to provide a good session. They definitely offer a personal touch you don't usually find with commercial shows.
There are exceptions, of course. OSCON, for instance, is a pretty good show year after year. It has a pretty strong community feel in many ways, though it's obviously a commercial venture and it's not cheap to attend. But it's the exception, not the rule.
It's not easy to put on a conference. It's pretty impressive that so many volunteer groups have consistently delivered high-quality events on small budgets and working in their "spare" time to pull events together. It requires a lot of coordination with facilities, speakers, sponsors, and so on.
If you care about FOSS, and haven't been to one of the fine community shows being put on these days, mark one on your calendar for 2010.
Joe 'Zonker' Brockmeier is a longtime FOSS advocate, and currently works for Novell as the community manager for openSUSE. Prior to joining Novell, Brockmeier worked as a technology journalist covering the open source beat for a number of publications, including Linux Magazine, Linux Weekly News, Linux.com, UnixReview.com, IBM developerWorks, and many others.