[Linux-aus] OSDC 2015 Wrap

Tim Serong tim at wirejunkie.com
Wed May 11 13:41:58 AEST 2016

Hi All,

Our last remaining task for OSDC 2015 was to provide a conference report.

If anyone has any questions, or if anything needs to be elaborated,
please let me know.

== In The Beginning ==

There wasn't actually a bid process for OSDC 2015.  IIRC Arjen Lentz,
Ben Dechrai and I had randomly chatted at OSDC 2011, 2012 and 2013 along
the lines of "Hey, we've never done this in Hobart, we should do that
some time".  Then at OSDC 2014 (which I couldn't make it to), Arjen and
Ben wanted to announce where the next one would be, and asked if I'd be
up for running it in Hobart in 2015.  I said "Yes", and we ran from there.

Early on I had a long (1-2 hour) chat on the phone with Arjen to figure
out what needed to happen (website, CFP, keynotes, venue, budget, etc.
etc.)  This was very helpful.  I also got access to previous years' bits
and pieces in the OSDClub DropBox.

We ran OSDC 2015 as a Linux Australia subcommittee, consisting of:

* Site lead: Tim Serong
* Treasurer: Morgan Leigh
* Web Site Guy: Scott Bragg
* Community Representatives:
  - Arjen Lentz
  - Ben Dechrai

Practically, this resulted in Morgan and I working together to do "all
the event stuff" (venues, inviting keynotes, budgets, etc.). Scott got 
the web site up, and Arjen and Ben advised via an occasional call and
various email discussions.

The subcommittee was formalised with LA some time in April or May,
although I'd already been in touch with Wrest Point (the Venue) in
March, thanks to Chris Neugebauer having a contact there.

The papers committee consisted of myself, Arjen Lentz and Lana Brindley.
 Once we had talks accepted, I drafted the schedule then tweaked based
on feedback from Arjen and Morgan.  We had three streams (two regular
talk streams and a tutorial stream).  Talk slots were 40 minutes, plus a
five minute changeover between back-to-back sessions.  I tried to group
talks together, so we had a set of education talks in one room, for
example.  There were a few blank slots in the schedule, so talks that
were obviously going to be popular (e.g.: anything by Paul Fenwick) were
put in the large room, against a blank slot in the other talk stream,
and at the end of a segment, so if the concurrent tutorial finished
early, attendees would be able to catch the (presumably) popular talk.
Also it probably helps when the person doing the scheduling knows half
the speakers personally, and has seen them speak before...

== Venue ==

* Wrest Point was good, but not cheap (like, say, a donated set of University
rooms might have been)

* Having a venue that also does catering for morning and afternoon tea,
and lunch, is a big win.

* Catering staff were notably good, and special dietary requests were
handled well.

* "We" (LA and Ryan Verner) had prior experience with Wrest Point as a
venue for PyCon AU, so we knew roughly what to expect, and knew we could
work with the in-house AV and WiFi.

* "We" (Morgan and I) really wanted to do the dinner somewhere other
than the main conference venue, to show off a bit more of Tasmania, and
also to get everyone out of the venue for an evening. We bussed
everyone to the Apple Shed in the Huon Valley for a buffet BBQ, on the
first night of the conference (get everyone together socially earlier
rather than later).

== Dates ===

* We were aiming for late October or early November.  The original quote
from Wrest Point was for some time in the first two weeks of November,
but we ended up running in the last week of October (27-29).  November
was ultimately not viable, largely due to conflicts with my work

* Someone emailed me to point out that weekdays are difficult for some
attendees because they have to take time out of their work week to
attend and some employers don't like that.  The example of PyCon AU
running on a weekend was cited.  OTOH, some of us actually like our
weekends, and conferences are work for us.  So...  No perfect answer here.

* October 27-29 was the same week the OpenStack Summit was on.  That's
not necessarily a huge *subject* overlap, but I reckon we'd have had at
least 5 more people at OSDC if not for that conflict.

* We also collided with OSCON Europe (which I somehow didn't even know
was on), which probably cost us another 5+ delegates, notably including
a few from Tasmania who got talks accepted at OSCON.

* We couldn't go any earlier or later anyway, for various reasons.  Late
October is good, it's just a shame there was so much other stuff on (in
addition to the above, IIRC some gaming thing in Melbourne, some startup
thing in Sydney, etc. -- I think we've hit "peak conference").

== Accommodation ==

* Wrest Point provided a block of rooms at a discounted rate, but being
a conventional hotel, that's probably still too steep for some
contingent of delegates (there were ~20 rooms taken by delegates)

* The best we managed outside was a link to a wotif search of nearby

* Something (I still don't know what, exactly) apparently ate a lot of
accommodation while the conference was on.

== Sponsorship ==

* Sponsors were tricky to come by.  Some of the usual suspects said no,
but without saying why.  Some others went through a big "yep, we're 
interested; yep, just gotta talk to some stakeholders; please bear
with us; sorry for the delay; oh, yeah, no, actually not this time, but
please get in touch next year" (and of course that process went across
many weeks).

* The sponsorship prospectus (standard packages and pricing) was largely
based on the OSDC 2014 prospectus, which I assume was based on 2013,
and...  You get the idea.  It may have worked out better had we reduced
the pricing for the various packages across the board, and added more
smaller options (taking a leaf out of PyCon AU's book).

== Symposion ==

* We used Symposion for the conference web site, partly because it was
easier to get running than Zookeepr, and partly to kick the tyres
because Chris was looking at using it for LCA 2017.

* It worked well, with a few kinks (not sure if these are universal, or
just the branch we were using):

  * Various items in the admin backend (like, user accounts) show up as
something illegible (a GUID) as opposed to something useful (a name,
title or email address).  This makes some admin tasks slightly irritating.

  * When reviewing talk submissions, when a reviewer submits a
+1/+0/-0/-1, but *doesn't* also provide a comment, it seems to accept
the review, but actually silently records nothing, i.e. a review comment
is always required, but there's no error message if nothing was entered.

  * Scheduling gets kinda fiddly, the UI is just cumbersome and time
consuming to tweak.  It might even be easier to just keep the schedule
in a text file and repeatedly import it as you tweak it, rather than
trying to edit it via Symposion.

  * If a speaker edits a talk after it's accepted, this will *not*
automatically be reflected on the web site.  The admin will get an
email, then has to manually make the changes to the published talk (this
is apparently a feature to avoid the risk of having accepted speakers
troll the conference by putting dodgy shit in their talks after
acceptance - but seriously, who does that?!?)

== CFP ==

* This possibly happened later that might have been optimal, but we
ended overlapping slightly with the linux.conf.au 2016 CFP, which meant
we could do a bit of cross promotion.

* Whoever first said "CFPs can never open too early" was right.

== Promotion ==

* I think we did a very good job on Twitter.

* I posted variously to LinkedIn, which got a least a little notice.

* Facebook got some use (Scott was posting there).

* Google+ was pretty much useless AFAICT.

* CFP, various announcements went to linux-aus, taslug, luv-main
and OSDC lists (because I'm on those lists).

* Others reposted elsewhere (e.g.: OSIA web site).

* The OSDC mailing lists apparently weren't mentioned anywhere on the
2014 web site, and weren't mentioned on the 2015 site until relatively
late after I realised this omission, so we might have missed some people

* I posted to as many meetup.com groups as I could find that seemed
relevant in Tasmania, Victoria and NSW.  This is more or less a complete
PITA (find relevant meetup group, copy & paste message to organiser
asking them to pass on your message to the group, hope you don't hit too
many to reach a spam limit, ...)

* I also emailed the CFP a dozen or so contacts in various states, who
hopefully passed it on to relevant local groups (wordpress and drupal
groups, hackerspaces, LUGs, etc.)

* One person queried "Do I have to be a developer to attend?"  Of course
not!  But it is right there in the name, so, something to watch out for
or clarify in future.

== Ticket Sales ==

* A rollercoaster where you never know what is going to happen until it
happens (although the graph was vaguely the same shape as in 2014 - a
spike at early bird, then nothing, then random ups and downs, then a
minor flurry at the end).

* We kept a *really* close eye on this, and ensured the conference venue
and dinner venue were up to date with projected numbers as the weeks
went by.  This actually worked well - watch it like a hawk, keep
everyone informed, update the budget spreadsheet daily, and there'll be
no surprises.

* We rounded up to the nearest ~10, which meant we weren't short of
food, and were able to accommodate one or two late people gratis (a
volunteer, an attendee's partner), without being stretched.  At the same
time, this didn't detrimentally affect the budget.

* Final numbers were about 80 for the conference proper (including
speakers) and ~85 for the dinner (a few +1s).  Yup, it was a small
conference, but more on that later.  I will note here that about half
the attendees attended gratis due to being speakers or volunteers.  We
did finish in the black, but it would have been a lot blacker if we'd
had even only another 20 paying attendees.

== Videos ==

* We only managed to get enough sponsorship to cover video production at
the last minute (about a month out).

* I'd been in touch with Ryan Verner earlier about the possibility of
doing video, so thankfully he was able to get the time to make it
happen, even on relatively late notice.

* Morgan and I both see video as significantly important; they leave a
legacy for future conferences, and provide value for those who could not
attend (and also a perk for sponsors whose logos appear).

== Fundraising ==

* As other LA conferences have done, we did some fundraising for a worthy
cause, in this case for the Refugee Legal Service (Tas).  Morgan
spruiked this with great passion, and we were able to raise a total of
$2,890.80 thanks to the conference delegates, including two
significantly large donors.

== Media Coverage ==

* Due to some miracle, I was contacted by a journalist from The Advocate
(a paper in NW Tas) who wanted to do a story on the conference.  She
interviewed myself and Richard Tubb (one of our keynotes, also a
Tasmanian) by phone during the conference, Morgan took a photo for her,
and we wound up in the paper:


For the record, I *did* say the "tech mecca" thing, but never mentioned
Silicon Valley.  I have a copy of the paper here, so if anyone wants a
better photo than that tweet, let me know.

== Next Time ==

* The conference would benefit from a dedicated social media person to run
Twitter, Facebook (plus anything else that makes sense), and also to
keep the News page up to date on the web site.

* Two or three more volunteers (room monitor + AV) would have been
ideal.  We were slightly but not fatally stretched.

* I was worried given we had three streams and ~80 attendees that some
poor speaker would wind up speaking to an empty room.  This did not
happen.  The smallest we got was one tutorial with two attendees, but
they turned out to be really keen, and everyone had a good experience.

== Random Comments From Attendees ==

"This is really...  Peaceful...  It's nice!"

"The talks are really high quality"

"Great food!"

== A Smaller Conference Can Be Good ==

We went in hoping for a couple of hundred people.  The original quote
from the venue was for 150, with the ability to move either up or down
as we needed to.  As mentioned earlier we ended up with about 80, but it
was really nice.  Everyone got to meet everyone.  We got to the dinner
venue using two buses.  One of our speakers over from the US was
delighted with the personal nature of a smaller conference after going
to giant multi-thousand attendee conferences in the US.  It might have
been small, but the flavour and spirit were all there, and it worked well.

== Future ==

OSDC has apparently become smaller over the past few years.  We had ~80
attendees (including speaker etc.) in 2015, and ~85 for the
dinner (a few plus ones).  2014 apparently had ~90 delegates.

I reckon if OSDC hadn't been on at the same time as the OpenStack Summit
(which I knew about but couldn't avoid) and OSCON Europe (which I didn't
know about, but still couldn't avoid), we would have hit close to 100,
because apparently a large contingent of Australians were at
OpenStack, and several of them at least would have come to OSDC; and
another handful of Australians had talks accepted as OSCON Europe, who
otherwise also would have come to OSDC.  So timing is definitely a thing.

OSDC has quite some overlap with LCA, both in content and attendees.
Our pitch for 2015 was:

> The focus for OSDC 2015 is Opening Up For A Better World.  Open source
> software, hardware and standards facilitate higher quality technology,
> better security and faster innovation; open data allows us to better
> discover and understand the world we live in; open government aims to
> ensure that citizens can participate in their democracy; open access
> publishing exists to spread knowledge and allow that knowledge to be
> built upon.  Open by design is the best default.

The theme for LCA 2016 was:

> *Life is better with Linux.*
> And that’s exactly what our conference theme is. linux.conf.au 2016
> will focus on how Linux and open source technologies are improving
> lives - through humanitarian projects, wearables that give us greater
> control and choice over our health and habits, and which enrich our
> lives through protecting our privacy and our ‘digital health’.

...and the theme for LCA 2017 is:

> The Future of Open Source. LCA has a long history as a place where
> people come to learn from people who actually build the world of Free
> and Open Source Software. We want to encourage presenters to share
> with us where we think their projects are heading over the coming
> years. These thoughts could be deeply technical: presenting emerging
> Open Source technology, or features of existing projects that are
> about to become part of every sysadmin’s toolbox.

This is all sounding pretty similar.

LCA used to be a Linux conference.  OSDC was/is for open foo, regardless
of platform.  LCA is now arguably an open foo conference that happens to
have Linux in its name.  What does that mean for OSDC?  Lots of stuff
that is on-topic for OSDC is equally on-topic for LCA, and LCA is larger
and (presumably) more widely-known than OSDC.

OTOH, OSDC has a noticeably different flavour than LCA.  I've never
quite been able to put my finger on this (I attended 2011, 2012, 2013,
missed 2014 and ran 2015).  It's...  always been smaller.  More
accessible?  More friendly?  And I really like it.  It's not that LCA
*isn't* accessible or friendly, but it's large enough now that you don't
get to meet everyone.  It's potentially more intimidating for newcomers.
 And I suspect there's still some sort of "hardcore Linux hacker" mythos
thing going on.

But given most of what's on topic for OSDC is equally on topic for LCA,
does it make sense to have two separate conferences?

I don't know.

I don't want to lose that nice OSDC flavour.  It's broadly the same
community as LCA, but it's like we're in a different restaurant, having
a slightly different meal.

Or maybe LCA is a Friday or Saturday night out on the town with a few
friends and a random pile of strangers, but OSDC is a nice Sunday brunch.

And who doesn't like a nice Sunday brunch?


Tim Serong
Lead Organiser
OSDC 2015, 27-29 October, Wrest Point, Hobart

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