FrOSCon: the Free and Open Source Conference in Sankt Augustin, Germany

[froscon logo goes here]

At HAR2009 a couple of people put me in contact with Dries Buytaert, the creator and project lead of Drupal, the famous Open Source content management platform based on php. Dries is leading a very interesting effort aimed at integrating the semantic web stack in Drupal. So I was really happy when he responded to the introduction. He suggested we meet at FrOSCon the Free and Open Source conference located in Sankt Augustin, near Bonn, Germany. I really wanted to stay a bit longer in Amsterdam, but this was just too important an occasion to miss. So I packed up my bag Friday, and after meeting up with Dan Brickley, the co-author of the Foaf ontology who needs no introduction, I caught the last train towards Germany. This turned into a 5 hour trip with 5 changes on slow local trains as those were the only ones I could bring my bicycle onto without first packing it into a box.

[note: this blog uses html5 video tag to view ogg video files, and is best viewed with Firefox 3.5]

Going to FrOSCon turned out to be a very good idea. First of all I met Dries and introduced him quickly to foaf+ssl. It took less than 15 minutes to explain how it worked, for Dries to get himself a foaf certificate on foaf.me and to try it out. If this were made easy to use on Drupal sites, it would be a great way to get some very creative people to help build some cool apps making the most out of distributed social networks...

On Sunday Dries gave a very good keynote "The secrets of building and participating in Open Source communities". Building Open Source communities is not easy, he starts off with, yet it is fundamental to any successful project. He then goes on to elaborate on 6 six themes which from his experience allow a community to thrive and grow:

  • Time: it takes time to grow a community. Open source communities are always a bit broken, like the internet: there is always something not functioning, but the whole works very well.
  • Software architecture:
    • make the code modular,
    • centralise the source code, so that people who contribute modules, and others can find the code
  • Ecosystem: allow volunteers and commercial organizations to work together. Each has something to bring to the party. Everybody has to be equal. And don't have roadmaps, as they disencourage experimentation and rigidify processes. "Trust, not money is the currency of Open Source"
  • Tools, Community Design patterns:
    • Adoption: easy registration. RSS feeds, documentation
    • Identity: profiles, avatars, buddy lists, contacts
    • Group support: issue queues, trackers, activity streams, reputation
    • Conversations: messaging, comments, forums, blogs, interest groups, planet/aggregator
    • Development: CVS/SVN/git/bzr issue queues. release management
  • Mission: Have a mission that goes beyond the project. In the case of Drupal it is democratizing online publishing. And the core values are
    • Be open to Change
    • Collaboration
    • 100% transparency
    • Agile
  • Leadership: "leadership is not management". Replace planning with coordination (see Clay Shirky's talk "Institution vs collaboration")
Coming from someone with real experience in a very successful project these words are very much worth listening to:

Just before the start of Dries' keynote you may have noticed an announcement about a change in the program. The talk on Subversion was canceled due to the inability of the speakers to attend, and it was replaced by a talk on distributed social networks. Yep! During the party the evening before I was told there could be a slot for me to give a talk on foaf+ssl the next day. So on the suggestion of Naxx, an open source grey hat security specialist I had met in Vienna, and who I was surprised to see here again, I spent the whole evening rewriting my slides for Apple Keynote. Naxx spends 3/4 of the year traveling giving talks on security and he had a few hints for me on how to improve my presentation skills. I tried to remember a few of them, and to make sure I did not wave my hands as much as I did at HAR. Here is the result "The Social Web: How to free yourself of your social networks and create a global community:


(The slides for this talk are available online here)

Please do send me some feedback on how I can improve both my talk and my presentation of it. I may have gone a bit too deeply here into technical details for example, and I should probably have added a section on the business model of distributed social networks. As the last talk of the conference there were only 40 or so attendees, but I was really thankful for the last minute opportunity given to me to present on this topic.

Naxx who helped me work on my presentation skills, gave a very interesting and worrying talk "Malware for Soho Routers: The war has begun", where he showed just how easy it is to hack into everyday home routers and turn them into zombie machines ready to launch an attack on the web. I had always thought that financial incentives would lead large telecoms to make sure that such routers were secure. Not at all it seems. Short term profit motives have led many of them to buy the cheapest machines with the worst possible software (web pages built with shell scripts!) with laughable security. Security may be on the news everyday since September 11 2001, but clearly it was always just a sham. Listen to his talk, and be very worried:

Time either to help out on a open source project for secure routers, or to invest money in a cisco one!

Finally I do have to say that the prize for best presentation (I saw) clearly has to go to Simon Wardley from Canonical, for his funny, entertaining and educational keynote "Cloud Computing". If you have been wondering what this beast is, this will really help:

Well that's it from the FrOSCon, which in german is pronounced FroshCon, "Frosch" being the german for Frog, hence the logo. It was great attending, and I have the feeling of having made a huge leap forward here on my tour.

Comments:

Watched your presentation this morning following your tweets. A bit hesitant early on with too much use of the word "so" but the later parts were, I thought, not bad for the relatively detailed material. Sham about the demo though.

You could have been a bit clearer about what foaf.me does: having seem your presentation and had a quick look at the site I'm still not sure if it just generates a foaf file or if it's intended as a foaf file hosting service as well or instead.

Regarding this blog page: I think the alternate text saying "get Firefox 3.5" is a bit much. Imagine the grumbling if it said "get IE 8.0" :-). Using the video tag is fine but you could at least include a link to the video in the alternate text for those, like me, who choose to wget the ogg and watch in my own time to save us having to do a view source to get the URL.

Posted by Ed Davies on August 24, 2009 at 03:24 PM CEST #

Thanks for the comments Ed.

The problem with foaf.me is one I come across a lot in the tutorials I do. This will disappear as soon as we have more sites implementing foaf+ssl. It will then be possible to create certs on sites like http://foaf.me and then use it to login to other sites to do something interesting there. This will remove the confusion.

Thanks for the tip on Firefox 3.5. I added a link to the video in the text that appears when a non HTML5 compliant browser renders the page.

The reason I am using HTML5 here is that it is the easiest way to view ogv files. I could translate them to some other format, but I did not have the time to do that, and I am not sure I would have the space to host them either at present. As these are open source hacker talks, I think that the audience will mostly have access to ff3.5. But in any case the link to the video is a good idea.

Thanks again,

Henry

Posted by Henry Story on August 24, 2009 at 06:27 PM CEST #

Oh, the demo did in fact work. Right after the end of the presentation I found out where the certificate pop up selection window was. I had a two screen setup, and it appeared on the laptop screen, not as expected on the screen where Opera was running. A bug in Opera for sure.

Posted by Henry Story on August 29, 2009 at 01:59 PM CEST #

[Trackback] It's almost two weeks now since FrOSCon and the OpenSQL Camp subconference have taken place in Sankt Augustin, Germany — about time for a summary and update from my side! First off, I would like to thank all of the participants and supporters,...

Posted by Lenz Grimmer's blog on September 04, 2009 at 04:03 PM CEST #

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