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Re: DebConf 2 post-mortem

On Jul 09, Simon Law wrote:
> It was difficult to get to know each other, because although we knew who
> everybody was; we had difficulty putting names to faces.  Getting big
> rolls of those adhesive "Hello, my name is" stickers and some thick
> black marker would have helped most people locate other people.
> (Actually, I was thinking of dropping by Business Depot to pick some up,
> but I forgot.  *sigh*)

Seconded.  Every conference I've ever been to had such things.  It
might have been worthwhile to go the extra mile and have pre-printed
nametags for the people who were registered.

> 	I think that having Debconf be fee-less was actually very good;
> and it allowed us to be open and transparent.  For people who asked you
> about Debconf at the last minute, you could have copy-pasted a form
> "Please read all the details on this webpage" and pointed them to a
> webpage with a schedule, locations, and breaking news.
> 	A moderator for the talks would have been very nice.  Most
> people are not professional public speakers, and have difficult keeping
> their talks focused.  I would have given speakers 15 minute grace
> periods after their scheduled talk was over, before cutting them off.
> If you factor in a 30-45 minute break between each talk for
> leg-stretching, people-meeting, and hacking; this can work quite well.
> As well, it would help if a moderator was there to suppress questions
> until the end of the presentations.  I found that a lot of questions
> would ask about things that were covered later in the presentation; and
> would have been answered if the inquisitor had been more patient.

Seconded.  Time management was definitely an art that needed some
attention during the conference.

> 	Internet access was great when I finally hooked myself up on
> Sunday.  I was typing summaries of the talks over IRC to some people who
> wanted to attend, but couldn't make it.  It would have been very nice to
> have received presenter's slides ahead of time, and put them online so
> that people outside the conference could look at them.  Streaming audio
> (not video yet, alas) would have been most beneficial and we could
> archive the talks for other people to follow.  I know there was someone
> video taping the whole affair, when can we get these videos up on a
> website somewher?  I think it would have been EXTREMELY cool to have an
> IRC client projected on the wall during question periods so that remote
> conference goers can participate.  Because Debian is such a global
> thing, and travelling is difficult for many people; I think we really
> ought to consider making these proceedings readily accessible.

Cool idea.  This may have also benefitted some people at the
conference itself; I know at least attendee was deaf.  It would be
nice to have someone as the "IRC liaison" or some such.
> 	Signs pointing to the conference and maps of York University
> would have been ultra useful.  We went around looking for parking for a
> while, and then went around looking for the Computer Science building
> until we bumped into a helpful student.  We then stumbled around until
> we saw a lonely sign pasted to a door that told us to go to Lecture Room
> C.  I know that big signs on easels with friendly arrows are a good way
> to go.

Again, seconded; I had a (correct) map of the campus and I couldn't
figure out even the basics; it took me 20 minutes of driving around
campus just to figure out where to park.  Of course, this problem was
compounded by horrible signage by the university itself; I wandered
around Bethune College for 15 minutes before figuring out how to get
to Hospitality York's front desk, etc.  It didn't help that HY was
giving out maps that omitted the CSB.  It also didn't help that the
maps had stuff like "CCB" and "CSB" on them, without any expansion of
these acronyms.

Other comments:

- We needed official, sanctioned Internet access in the conference
facilities.  Patching together a WLAN with PCMCIA cards in ad-hoc mode
and hoping it works is not an acceptable procedure, particularly since
apparently the WLAN couldn't even cover the entire auditorium (by
contrast, a $120 WAP should have covered the building).

- Corrollary: we needed official, sanctioned Internet access in the
housing area.  Less that the organizers could do about this, but still...

- Housing in general was less than satisfactory.  I realize this is a
dorm, and the price was right (particularly after multiplying by 2/3),
but I found the conditions to be bordering on squalid.

- Better organization in general would have been nice: the lecture
hall should have been open an hour before each day's proceedings, so
people could get things set up without interrupting the speakers;
there should have been a clear indication of who was in charge of
things; the schedule should have been available and continually
updated; the keysigning(s) shouldn't have taken place during a lunch
break when people had to choose between starvation and expanding the
web of trust, etc.

- Some sort of organized lunch would have been nice on Sat and Sun,
even if it was only "ordering 20-25 pizzas from Domino's,"
particularly since the only feasible alternatives were on-campus
ripoff dining facilities.

- The schedule could have better accomodated "non-conference
activities" such as sightseeing.  (Corrollary: if we're going to hold
conferences in cities with tourist potential, we probably should pick
locations that are convenient for "tourist stuff," not university
campuses in outer suburbia.)

A few positives to note:

- The facility itself had good, modern equipment; this was
particularly handy for the keysigning.

- Things seemed to get more organized later on in the conference;
although I did have to take off early to get back to Buffalo for my
evening flight, things seemed to be getting a bit better (although
time remained a problem - mostly due to a late start).

- Michael Robertson's keynote was (surprisingly) good and a nice
non-technical change of pace.

- Overall (despite these comments) I think Joe and the YUCC did a
pretty good job of making things come off.

A few things to consider:

- Would it be more practical to hitch DebConf to other developer
events?  For example, should we organize a "Debian track" at OLS
(since the "main conference" seems to be moving to a "kernel track"
type of situation)?

OTOH, having a separate conference seems like a nice thing,
particularly if we can continue to have university and corporate
sponsors who keep the participant cost low.  Also, hitching to one or
two conferences may leave out people in other parts of the world, or
leave us in a bind if a conference folds (for example, suppose we had
decided to attach to Atlanta Linux Showcase, which now seems to be
permanently dead after becoming Just A Trade Show and getting caught
in the dot-bomb).

- Should we hold more than one DebConf per year?  In Internet (and
Debian) time, maybe semiannual conferences in summer and summer (one
each hemisphere) may be better and more timely.  OTOH, summer may be a
bad time for conferences, due to weather; perhaps autumn and spring
would be better?

- Where should we hold conferences?  It seems like North American and
European developers were predominant at DebConf, with a few
participants from South America, Asia and Australia.  Maybe we should
have a formal rotation, like:

DC 3 - Australia, Jan 2003
DC 4 - Europe, Jul 2003
DC 5 - South America, Jan 2004
DC 6 - North America, Jul 2004

- Should we establish a DebConf committee/mailing list that is
responsible for figuring this stuff out?  At the moment, DebConf seems
to be organized in a rather ad-hoc manner.  debian-events-* doesn't
seem like the right forum (particularly since DebConf isn't the same
as "let's set up a booth at Bob's Linux Fair").

Chris Lawrence <cnlawren@olemiss.edu> - http://www.lordsutch.com/chris/

Instructor and Ph.D. Candidate, Political Science, Univ. of Mississippi
208 Deupree Hall - 662-915-5765

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