The Scoop on LibrePlanet: Interview with Deborah Nicholson of the FSF

by Ostatic Staff - Mar. 05, 2010

The Free Software Foundation is gearing up for a big event March 19th through 21st to be held in Cambridge, Mass. at Harvard's University Science Center. LibrePlanet 2010 is a three day event with workshops on using free software for everything from Web development to video editing and graphics. This year's LibrePlanet is going to feature a new "Women's Caucus," a day-long track on Sunday to boost participation by women in free software projects.

There's no shortage of events focused on free and open source software. You can't swing a penguin without hitting a conference these days, so we interviewed FSF membership coordinator Deborah Nicholson to find out what makes LibrePlanet different from some of the other events going on this Spring.

OStatic: What's the history of LibrePlanet? How did the event come together, and how long has it been going?

LibrePlanet grew out of the FSF annual associate members meeting that we've been holding since 2003. This is the second year we've made it open to non-members. We realized we wanted to use our annual gathering to inspire more free software activism and allow more interactive time for teaching, sharing and hacking.

OStatic: What's the goal of LibrePlanet, overall?

We want to bring free software activists, users and developers together to talk about the free software movement on a strategic level. Communication and an understanding of how all the parts work together make us all better contributors -- whether we're fighting against DRM, writing user manuals or hacking on a free software alternatives to proprietary software like Flash. The message of LibrePlanet is that the whole community works together, in solidarity, to secure computer user freedom for everyone.

OStatic: Let's talk mechanics for a moment. This is an event that will draw about 250 people. What kind of planning goes into this sort of event, and what kind of lessons can you share for others who'd like to run a similar event?

It's important to get a mix of speakers that people have heard of and some new voices. Different projects and initiatives are cropping up all the time. It's really inspiring for new people when you can showcase people who are making significant contributions after just a year or two's involvement.

This year we also set up a Women's Travel fund. We recognize that women often don't have access to the same levels of funding that men do, so we decided to ask people if they'd like to help us even that out. We're hoping that other conferences will consider setting up something similar.

The FSF receives the bulk of its funding for its mission and events like LibrePlanet from individual donors and members but we are happy to receive donations from corporations that want to help us fund our work. We have a corporate patron program but we don't accept money for advertising at FSF events like LibrePlanet.

OStatic: Does the FSF provide support for other, like events?

The FSF subsidizes LibrePlanet by offering a low-cost admission, $60 or free for FSF members. While we don't provide financial support for other events, we're certainly happy to publicize other free software events on our website. Unfortunately, we can't list every event people ask us to because often they promote open source or mis-attribute the goal of creating a free operating system to Linux and not GNU. That kind of obfuscation only makes our work harder.

OStatic: This year's LibrePlanet features a full-day "Women's Caucus," is this new? What's the goal for that part of the event?

It is new. The FSF held a mini-summit last fall to sort out what could concretely be done to increase women's participation in free software. The schedule for Sunday's Women's Caucus is the result of that mini-summit and subsequent IRC meetings.

Our goal is to enact short term solutions with activities like Selena Deckelmann's workshop on speaking at technical conferences and lay the groundwork for longer-term solutions with Leslie Hawthorn's talk on free software mentoring. We hope that people will take the ideas presented at this event back to their projects and local communities and continue to build on them. We've been really encouraged by the fact that more women have registered for LibrePlanet this year than ever before.

OStatic: In-person events are great for people who can attend in person, but what about those who can't attend? Will the content be archived or available online in some fashion?

Saturday and Sunday's talks and workshops will be streamed as live audio and then archived for anyone who wants to listen to them in the future.

OStatic: What should an attendee expect to get out of the conference?

It depends on what they're looking for. New users can learn new ways to customize their GNU/Linux set-up, project maintainers can learn how to better recruit women, some folks may find a non-coding role that suits them, law geeks will hear what's new on the legal landscape for free software and still others can spend time hacking on GNU Social or LibreDWG. In short, we aim to present policy, activism and coding as a single, yet varied, toolbox for user freedom.