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Re: "Breaking Cliques at Events"

At the IETF (another technical conference, quite different from debconf
but with some similarities), there are "newcomer meet-and-greet" events
at the start of the conference.  Those social gatherings are one of the
few places where there is also free beer.

unfortuantely, they become very loud and they draw the "hey, free beer"
crowd, rather than remaining intentionally for newcomers, longstanding
participants, and friendly greeters.  There are often groups of old
friends catching up, which is exactly the dynamic the event is trying to
dispel :/ So i'm not a big fan of event model that posits "here's where
you meet new people".  I'd rather that happen throughout the conference,
which is a really nice thing about Lamby's proposal.

And i like Lamby's suggestion generally, but it seems tough to me, as
someone who is socially awkward!

I think it's useful to provide a visual indication of topic areas you're
interested in, for both newcomers and old-timers alike.

sometimes these are stickers or badge labels, with the text (as lamby's
article does):

    ask me about ____________

but i think it's better to frame them as:

    talk with me about _______

This framing doesn't need to be asserting expertise or ownership of the
subject area, just interest.  At the IETF meet-and-greet, they have two
different kinds of stickers -- one that's "ask me about" and one that's
"i'm interested in", but i think that fosters needless division between
the "strata" of conference-goers.

Having these available gives (a) the newcomers an excuse to engage with
the old-timers, if they feel bold enough, and (b) the old-timers a
handle they can use if they're trying to fulfil the suggestion that they
meet new people.

I have a hard time knowing how to just strike up a conversation with new
people, but if i see someone wearing a sticker that says "talk with me
about _blargle_" which i know little about, i can say "hey, i know very
little about blargle -- what can you tell me about it?" or "why is it
interesting to you?"  and if they have a sticker that says "talk with me
about _fnurf_" which i have some level of expertise in, i can say "oh
yeah, fnurf is a really hard and interesting problem -- i've been
struggling with X, Y, and Z; what are you working on that uses fnurf?".
Once that initial contact has been made, the rest of the conversation
often just flows from there.

Furthermore, if old-timers are actively striking up discussions with
anyone about these conversation-starters, it provides cover for the
newcomers who are bold enough to do the same thing.

fwiw, i think it makes the most sense logistically to have a space on
the conference badge that is specifically for this purpose, and to have
sharpies available at check-in.  encourage people right then to write in
their topic.

This means there's no extra hurdle to having the indicator on your
person -- you don't have to decide "do i want this thing?" in addition
to "what do i write here?", and it normalizes the fact that everyone has
it, it's not something only for one category of attendees, even a
self-selected category.

A really ambitious organizer could pre-print a sheet of stickers with
proposed topics that fit in the space on the badge, so that people have
some examples to work from.

for debconf, some of those topics could be things like:

 * debhelper
 * games
 * a specific programming language (python, ruby, C, Haskell, etc…)
 * reproducible builds
 * security
 * lintian
 * policy
 * licensing
 * internationalization/localization
 * release management
 * a specific revision control system (git, mercurial, myrepos, etc…)
 * fonts
 * X11
 * wayland
 * accessibility
 * crypto
 * the BTS
 * a specific package
 * a specific network protocol
 * a specific filesystem
 * artwork
 * debian-installer
 * a specific debian pure blend
 * a specific debian derivative
 * a specific desktop environment
 * a specific architecture or hardware
 * a specific system manager (systemd, sysvinit, etc…)
 * DSA
 * NM/front desk/DAM
 * debconf organizing

and of course leave a bunch of stickers blank so that people can use
them to write a new topic for a new day if they feel like changing their
invitation topic.

if we do this, we're not only more welcoming, but we can achieve better
cross-pollination.  one of the things i've liked about past debconfs is
being exposed to stuff i didn't know about at all that is also going on
in the project.  that's the essence of breaking domain-specific cliques,
too, at least for those cliques that *want* to break.


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