FOSS United Community Catchups

FOSS United is now almost a 10,000 member + community, with hundreds and thousands of people active on our communication channels, events and other spaces.

We’ve always went up to active members of our community when we find them at events and ask for their feedback, on the event, on the community in general and suggestions they have. By active, I mean people who have been involved with the community since a long time, frequently attend or speak at our events, and have a basic sense of what we do. What we’ve found is, the feedback that comes in from this particular group of people is always very interesting to hear, because they at times question the things that we (volunteers, internal team etc.) just take for granted.

These are folks who have a very top-level/birdeye view of the community, but may not be that involved to know the reasoning (if there is any) behind every decision we take.

For example, someone at DelhiFOSS asked us why we had seperate t-shirts for volunteers and participants, and that’s not democratic. To us, this has always seemed like a reasonable thing to do, so we can easily identify volunteers at an event. But questions like this do make us think and eventually lead to long conversations within the team as well.

We’ve decided to start doing this more actively, and not just at events. The team will now actively schedule in person meetings with such members of the community, and have discussions about FOSS United over coffee. You can find our notes from these community catchups in this thread.

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This is a great point. We should have same t-shirts for everyone.

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FOSS United Community Catchup #1 , Bangalore

Attendees : Vishal, Ansh, Anoop MD, Balu B., Shree, Shobhankita, Mangesh
Location: Blue Tokai, HSR Layout, Bengaluru

While most of the time went away talking about entrepreneurship,funding, venture capital around open source and how Vishal has absolutely no idea of what Bangalore really is, we were able to find some time to talk about the community.

Here are our notes and raw feedback we got from the first FOSS United Community Catchup.

Feedback on the community: Thoughts on FOSS Meetups, the problem with scaling

  • FOSS United ( the Bangalore chapter in specific) started as a community which did meetups that were known for conversations. Talks used to be a secondary reason to attend FOSS meetups.
  • Now, there is a huge lack of real conversation at these meetups. People come just for the talks and leave afterwards, and sometimes even walk off during the talks (which is something that had never happened before).
  • Theme based meetups are not inclusive, people who used to be active participants in every meetup are now no longer attending.
  • There used to be a good balance of talks and domains at earlier meetups. And even if you didn’t understand one particular domain, there was good reason to come, just to catch up and talk with friends. Now, there is no space for multiple ideas.
  • Meetups have become too formal and restrictive.
  • Talks these days are focused on branding and promotions of a product over what FOSS meetups earlier stood for. Most of the speakers haven’t worked with the projects and stacks they talk about. A lot of them are here to sell stuff.
  • For instance, there used to be a lot of homelab talks in older meetups, and there hasn’t been any since a long time now. Since the tinkerer audience has stopped coming to these meetups.
  • FOSS United has scaled a lot in the past few months, and there are clear problems with that, that need to be addressed.
  • The audience now is 90% new attendees at each meetup.
  • There is very little focus on hardware anymore. FOSS (with emphasis on the Free and Open Source) United might as well brand itself as a pure software community since that is what we’re primarily becoming.

Feedback - IndiaFOSS 3.0

  • A lot of people are particularly disappointed with IndiaFOSS 3.0 in terms of content.
  • The conference seemed like a marketing fest, with speakers just selling their products.
  • Only one core hardware talk at the conference.
  • TVs for projects are probably not required.
  • It was very hard to keep track of the schedule on phone, and NIMHANS’s terrible network coverage didn’t help. A lot of people were not aware that workshops were even happening.
  • Lack of water stations (and glasses)

Suggestions - IndiaFOSS 2024

  • The sentiment behind being eco friendly is understandable, but we should be practical about it and make proper alternative arrangements if we cut down on something.
  • Give away a pamphlet mentioning the entire schedule (or show it on screens somewhere)
  • More water stations.
  • More focus on hardware.
  • Now that the dates are confirmed, send an email to previous year attendees informing them about it. A lot of people plan their travel around major conferences.

Suggestions - Community

  • The confirmation emails sent before the meetups to confirm participation are not in the correct tone. Some people think that only after they get that email they are allowed to attend a meetup. These emails are however reminders for the meetup, and should be toned that way.
  • Maybe send a calendar invite that people can get when they sign up.
  • Do not depend on the CFPs we get, but also reach out to potential speakers, preferably hackers,tinkerers.
  • Regular updates should be sent on email, most people don’t use telegram as often.
  • We should have more hands on activities.
  • We should appropriately label the talks as beginner and advanced.
  • More focus on hardware, probably a whole event on that every once a while.
  • There is no need for a seperate CFP review team for Bangalore meetups. The central CFP team that reviews talks for other cities should also decide on these talks.
  • Arrange casual, agenda-less, spontaneous and maybe smaller gatherings more often.
  • Our focus should be on helping people embrace the hacker and tinkerer mindset.
  • Interact with speakers before their presentations to understand the content, and eliminate promotional content.
  • Cut out on “influencers” speaking at events.

What is FOSS United to you currently, and ideally?

Balu

  • The group of friends I’ve made through this community
  • An organisation that values community and conversation over talks.
  • Attending meetups based on whether friends are attending.
  • Like other communities, is becoming very corporaty in nature. Things like recording,streaming ,having better venues are being done at the expense of other crucial stuff.

Ideally:

  • Events with diversity in topics and content.
  • A community appealing for long term attendees
  • More lightning talks

Anoop

  • A community without any exterior agenda, just existing for the pure love of FOSS.
  • An ideal and potential gateway to educate people to embrace hacker cutlure
  • Something that has potential to truly disrupt education in software.

Vishal
An organisation with very strong foundational values, backed by amazing people and companies, that make it easy for us to say no to anybody who makes an effort to exploit us, financially or otherwise.

(Others had left by then, this came in via telegram later)

Shree

FOSS United is an umbrella to meet like minded folks, exchange ideas and build collaborations. Ideally, it just keeps getting better!

Shobhankita

  • Foss United to me is a safe space to discuss technology. I have found many times that I can tell people I don’t know something and they are open to explaining things to me.
  • I might have heard contrasting opinions from other people, and here we are able to have a productive discussion, while being nice and warm to each other - that means a lot personally.
  • I also like the community spirit - I feel welcomed, I like that the humane element is never missed out. And it’s this that keeps bringing me back whenever I am able to.
  • Rahul and I met during a Takshashila course and he brought me into Foss. I have never had a champion at work, but Rahul pushed and encouraged me to submit a talk proposal at one of the meetups he was organizing. And I didn’t even know what I had researched at work was something worth speaking about etc, but I am so happy he encouraged me and gave me that opportunity. It’s this warmth that draws me to the community.
  • I don’t know about ideally what I would like Foss to be - all this, and more perhaps. More consistent. More conversations. More warmth. More friendships. More tech talk.
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Interesting. More people seem to find value in community and networking. There is hardly anything about tech, craft, learning, sharing.

Gives me motivation for a talk at the next IndiaFOSS - “Talk is cheap, show me the code” :smile:

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Please go ahead

#2

Attendees: Ansh, Hari Prasanth, Sai Rahul

I did not make any notes, but we had an interesting general discussion on the community after ChennaiFOSS that we’d continue someday later. Sharing some interesting feedback and suggestions that Rahul had on the community.

  • The (FOSS United) chapters (and volunteers) have become very divided and identify themselves as part of their respective city chapter (and not FOSS United)
  • Each city chapter having their own public telegram group just for announcing events once a month further divides the community.
  • Experimenting newer formats for events/meetups. - Build sessions, mini hackathons, 1 hour long talks etc.
  • The need to focus on having diverse speakers.
  • Focusing on filtering good talks, changes we should make to the review and talk selection process at IndiaFOSS.
  • On pausing project grants - We shouldn’t not invest on projects because it’s easy for them to get VC funding, but invest on them so they don’t have to get VC funding.
  • General discussion on the current state of FOSS United, how to focus on further building the ecosystem, acting as a bridge between developers and projects and building something beyond an organisation that does just events.
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+1, I agree with this. I have at times even noticed some small competitions between volunteers from different cities (wouldn’t mention their names or chapter names as well).

Golden Point :grin:

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I’ve not attended any Bangalore meetups (that I remember) although I’ve attended all of the conferences. The specific reason is that I find the talk-QA speaker-audience format very unappealing. In the conference I just walk in and out of talks all the time, finding more time to talk to others. But there’s no space to do that in meetups (I imagine).

I (used to) consider this as my personal preference alone.

Just thinking from first principles, here are some stuff that could be considered:

  • select talks that are oral version of an existing blog post by the speaker. (If it is not fit for a blog post, then it is probably full of fluff)
  • select talks that form part of a larger course in mon.school. (Kind of like a live lecture that’s part of a distance proximate education course)
  • use meetup for workshops/BoFs. Make it about contributing to one project. There can be a presentation by one contributor, followed by a sprint.
  • have different kinds of meetups and cycle between them:
    • workshop kind (where focus is on contribution/learning)
    • party kind (where you do things like supertuxkart or GPG signing or linux distro checkouts)
    • talks kind (where you have talks)

PS: Just after writing that I went to another thread where I found that in February Bangalore did do workshop! (And in April too it is planned)

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