This year was the second time GNOME has organized the Libre Application Summit, and this year I participated again as a volunteer.
The conference was held in Denver, Colorado, at the Parkside Mansion. The venue is typically a wedding venue, but it was cozy and had the right amount of space for a small conference. It gave attendees a chance to participate in the talks and then break out into smaller sessions and BoFs on the last day since it had many small rooms to pop into.
Since I was part of the organizing group this year, I’ll be using this post to talk about some highlights from the conference as well as lessons that we learned as organizers.
Lots of great talks
There were a lot of great talks. They were high quality and really interesting. As a non-developer, some of the talks that I got the most out of were the ones centered around design, science, and outreach. I’d like to highlight a few of those. Unfortunately, there were technical malfunctions so videos might not be posted for each speaker, but I’ve posted links to the Live Tweet of each of these for those interested:
Research Science and Libre Computing: A Scientist’s Perspective
By Britt Yazel
Britt gave a talk about the opportunities around introducing free software to scientists. He is a great speaker, so the talk was full of the usual Britt humor, and it was really interesting to get a peek into the life of a scientist. Britt himself uses free software as much as he can and has started to make others at his school use it as well.
How Can You Make Your Open Source Project Attractive to Students? Preparing Student to Join FOSS Communities
By Heidi Ellis and Gregory Hislop
Two professors gave a really interesting talk about how we might get more students involved in free software. Key: you appeal to the professors. They gave some really interesting insights into how professors create their curriculum, and what kind of incentives they have.
Developers, Developers, Developers—How About Creatives? Solutions to Bring More Yin to the Yang of the FOSS community
By Ryan Gorley
While free software tools for graphic design exist, it’s not exactly an easy transition from Adobe products to apps like GIMP and Inkscape for someone who has been using Adobe their whole professional life. In his two talks, Ryan talked about some of the challenges that designers face with the current free software tools available, and he talked about how his business (FreeHive) is a model for how you can use open source tools for design. He also had a really inspirational message, where he said that free software shouldn’t try to achieve product parity with proprietary software, but that it should instead innovate and provide something that the proprietary software doesn’t.
Several students from a nearby college attended LAS GNOME this year. We originally did not have enough space for lightning talks, but we ended up making some time for them and it was great to see the students use the opportunity to speak. There were some really interesting lightning talks, such as one about keyboards! At least one of the students has decided to keep contributing to GNOME on the Engagement team (Mac Grove), and he is interested in getting involved in other ways within GNOME in the future. It would be great to get more students to attend LAS in the future!
Private Internet Access kindly sponsored a Women’s Dinner at LAS this year. We went to a rooftop restaurant in Denver and socialized over drinks and some great shareable plates. It was a really fun time, and it’s always great to connect with other women in free software. As an added bonus, we went to an ice cream shop next to the restaurant that had a line around the corner most of the night. I had the best ice cream I’ve had in a really long time — I think it was called the space jam or something. It was delicious.
Our keynote speaker, Audrey Eschright, gave a great workshop around inclusive writing and interactions. We learned things to look out for in our writing that can make people feel uncomfortable, or are discriminatory, and I found ways that I’d like to improve my general communication. For example, I’d like to get better about asking people about their pronouns, and asking questions that leave out gender as much as possible.
Getting to know more System 76ers
One of the benefits of hosting this year’s conference in Denver is that we were able to hang out with the great folk of System 76. They graciously helped with the conference organization, organized a trivia night, and hosted a social event on the last day of the conference where they included a tour of the new System 76 warehouse!
Strengthening KDE <> GNOME communication
Four members from the KDE community attended LAS this year, including a board member, Aleix Pol. It was really nice to meet more members from KDE, and they participated not only by giving talks, but also by being on the papers committee. I hope to see more KDE folk at GNOME events in the future, and vice versa. Aleix expressed a strong interest in helping to organize the next LAS and has already been extremely proactive in helping to make that happen — so that’s definitely a great start!
Interest in more cross desktop events
Several attendees mentioned that they really enjoyed some of the cross desktop conversations that happened naturally as part of the conference, and that they would like more of it in the future. While the notion of having a free desktop summit might not happen right away, we started to discuss how we might try to maintain this part of LAS next year. We also talked about how freedesktop.org might help us do more cross-desktop communication more regularly, since it’s pretty much dead right now.
GNOME Engagement BoF
We organized an Engagement BoF at LAS this year and talked mainly about how to create an updated marketing design asset repository and marketing assets for the upcoming year. As a result we created a new project on GitLab to house marketing design assets, and also for people to request new ones. If anyone is interested in getting involved, Caroline is a great person to contact about this.
Social events in Denver
As always, we organized a few social events for attendees to enjoy during the conference. These included a night where we went to grab some pizza to celebrate the latest GNOME release (and had a great birthday cake), and then went to an arcade. It was a lot of fun trying out my basketball and skeeball skills, as well as shooting aliens with Alex Larsson (who is a great shot btw). Unfortunately, the arcade was for 21+ only because they served alcohol, so the students weren’t able to join us for that portion of the night.
In a last-minute effort to see some of Denver, a student and I helped plan a tour of the greater Denver area because a lot of us were interested in seeing the beautiful fall colors of Colorado. We went to Mt. Evans, which is a beautiful area! Some people had to leave early, so only a few of us were able to try some delicious pizza at a place called BeauJo’s in Indian Springs, and then go to a hot spring. All in all, it was a fantastic day packed with great sights of the Colorado wilderness, and some quality time with new and old friends alike. Special shout-out to the students who helped plan the activity and show us around!
Lessons and Takeaways
This is by no means an extensive list, but rather just a few things I’d like to highlight.
One thing that we tried this time, thanks to Adam Jones’ suggestion, is Live Tweeting the talks. Since it was a spur-of-the-moment decision, there were some things to learn from for next time we do it. For example, we should get a stand for the phone so that the person tweeting doesn’t get tired during the 45 min-1 hr talk, and we should also have a battery pack handy for obvious reasons. A really good internet connection should also help make the videos less blurry. Unfortunately, the internet connection wasn’t great at the venue so the Live stream came out with rather poor quality (which makes it hard to read slides, for example).
GitLab for conferences worked well
This was the second conference I’ve been involved in organizing that used GitLab (the first was this year’s GUADEC), and it worked quite well! One of the things that I like best about it is that you can easily involve new people in the conference organization because all of the tasks are kept in once central location. In the past, GNOME conference organizers have used things like spreadsheets to keep track of tasks, and it is much less easy to coordinate tasks with a group and get new people involved.
More inclusive events
Based on my experience at GUADEC this year, one of the first things that I checked out once at the venue is that there were gender-neutral bathrooms. Unfortunately, these were located upstairs, in an area where people with accessibility needs would be unable to use. It’s important that conference organizers try to work with the venue beforehand to see which bathrooms are gender neutral (or which ones can be converted during the event), so that this can be announced at the beginning of each conference.
Another thing that is important is for conference organizers to keep in mind that there will most likely be people attending who have some sort of food allergy. This means that organizers should make sure to have vegan and gluten free options at a minimum, but preferably they should work with the caterers (if applicable) to know if there are other common allergens in the food (like nuts, shellfish, etc). For conferences where food is not provided, organizers should put together a list of restaurants where you might find gluten-free and vegan options.
Muddled target audience
Since LAS is a pretty new conference (this was its second iteration), and it’s one that aims to include communities outside of GNOME, it is still defining its identity and honing its target audience. Partly due to organization timeline issues, there was a limited amount of speakers this year and the topics tended to be for platform developers, rather than application developers. Also, while Flatpak was a big focus, it was not the exclusive app distribution technology showcased. In the really early stages of the conference, back in 2015/16, we had planned on having the focus be on Flatpak and getting people to start using it. In future iterations of the conference, we need to better define LAS’ identity, and figure out how to include others in this space so that we can collaborate more instead of compete. If The Year of The Linux Desktop is ever going to exist, we need more collaboration and less competition among ourselves in strategic areas where we can all benefit.
I want to give a huge shout out to Britt and Caroline! They joined the Engagement team this year and have done an amazing job of helping with events and conferences in a variety of manners. Britt has become the ever-enthusiastic doer of all tasks, while Caroline is a very talented graphic designer, and has helped create material for many GNOME activities since she joined. For LAS, she created the brand identity and all of our banners and materials. Both are simply awesome. Thank you so much for everything you’ve done so far, Caroline and Britt!