[This is the long-form version of my #fudconin
While responding to the CfP for FUDCon.in 2015 I took a bit of time to think whether it would be a nice thing to talk about. All things considered, The Fedora Project has been a place for some great and continuing friendships and gently peeling apart the existing ways is not the best thing to do at a party.
Here's what the publicly available abstract for "Community Architecture - a different perspective" read as:
"The Fedora Community in India has evolved through a number of iterations of community building. The constant theme has been to demand a strong focus on "making". Continuing with the hacker principles which are typical to any Free and Open Source Software Community, the diverse opportunities within The Fedora Project offers an unique set of entry-points to all participants. This session proposal intends to investigate the existing approaches and generate some discussion around new methods to build a community of excellence."
See more at: http://fudconin15.shdlr.com/grid#sthash.YBHvSz04.dpuf
There's a somewhat pragmatic reason to this approach. I've started to notice patterns across various communities I have dipped a toe into. And I believe that these patterns are not conducive to creating excellent and vibrant communities. To begin to understand and deconstruct these patterns it is useful to look back within the community I've seen from close - the Fedora Community in India. The community has evolved through "cycles of objectives". The application of the design principle of 'form follows function' can be understood by investigation of the cycles.
During the period of the first FUDCon (coinciding with the LinuxAsia conference), the goal was to create an awareness. Those who have been around would remember that the usage/awareness of the 'Fedora' distribution was not specifically high. And the methods selected for outreach were standard, well-tested and known to produce adequate results - installation fests and workshops; sprints across specific well understood areas (viz. translation and packaging etc); working in small numbers with specific interest groups and so forth. The good parts of these efforts are seen today as contributors who have stayed on and grown into established personalities within the larger project. However, there are also a couple of mistakes which we ended up doing. Two of which can be called out - (a) we limited our focus to 'Fedora as an operating system' (or, download/obtain and install Fedora and then use it); (b) we depended too much on free distribution of media (or, distribution of binary bits via Freemedia and similar). The compounded effect of these is that we continue to see a high number of requests for Freemedia Project out of India and, we put more stress on the hubs to feed content to the spokes. The altruism demanded by the Freemedia project has in fact prevented us from actively pursuing other means of making bits available. There was a point in time when we tried to build local mirrors (which fell apart fairly quickly). But aside from these, we seem to receive some comfort that a method from the earliest days of FOSS would continue to serve our purpose even if we scaled up.
This brings us to the second FUDCon in 2011. By this point the focus had moved to on-boarding participants across a wider spectrum of projects viz. i18n, QA/Testing, more SIGs, Security, Design, Spins etc. The gradual availability of the askbot based infrastructure provided an interesting alternative to mailing lists as the only means of communication and collaboration. The Fedora Ambassador teams had put together a reasonably simple method to on-board new Ambassadors and all these "low-floor; wide-shelf" approach did create a mix of new contributors across the breadth of The Fedora Project. The mistakes which deserve to be highlighted are (a) that there were far too many things to focus upon and (b) we did not have enough mentors and coaches who were strong presence in those projects to drive an increase in adoption and contribution. I also feel that we didn't do enough with the askbot content to make it a valuable resource for the first time user. Letting the community sprawl around a few prolific posters was a mistake in itself.
Taking the FUDCons as the mile-markers is merely a convenient construct. The events provided a defined inflection point to rework plans and tweak improvements. And with this third FUDCon in 2015, I believe that the time is right to think about the old ways. I am not advocating an immediate trashing of the old ways but we do need to think about where we want to go. Also, if you remember "mobilis in mobili" (Captain Nemo's crest in Verne's novel), we would need to respond to the change that we see. The world around us is changing in terms of technology and social impact. The mainstream media has a consensus around "Linux is mainstream". Add to this the inevitable aspect of (L)UGs (ie. the user groups) becoming a thing of the past. In fact, barring the LUGs at Pune and Chennai, I cannot quickly recall any user group (a) meeting regularly; and (b) publishing reports of their activities.
The need to move away from "meeting to talk" to "meeting to solve problems" has its roots in the need to create the communities of makers. Such communities would be expected to be polymaths and be naturally present across groups like CentOS, RDO and even functional tooling groups like Ansible, Puppet, Splunk and so forth. This decision would break down the large and somewhat amorphous "Fedora Community in India" into a real set of hyper-local hubs. Along with this granularity there needs to be a semblance of self-organization. The real issue with a large heterogeneous community is the creation of a vision that is sticky for everyone. Adopting the vision of the but enabling the small groups to self-govern and organize would allow a method of quick reach out without administrative overhead. In recent times I've been increasingly concerned with the inability of the "Fedora Community in India" to evolve into a much better self-organized and self-governed group. I agree that a part of the reason for that is in the few individuals leading this are 'spread too thin'. My proposed solution thus is to break down the hubs into smaller hubs. And I do have a precedent. If you could look at how the maker communities of Arduino, Raspberry Pi etc work, they seem to have it figured out. Smaller local communities should also facilitate an increased level of participation across diverse projects. For example, working with academics who are porting curriculum content to work with Open Source and then helping create a work-lab for their student batches. This provides the method to identify a problem and create a solution that includes various parts of The Fedora Project. And thus we move away from the cycle of install fests and introductory workshops.
In short, what I am suggesting as an experiment is very small and (hyper)local meetings which are announced. These come with an objective and have a reasonably clear idea about the paths to travel in order to meet those goals. Meetings and similar process should be pared down to a level of simplicity that detaches them from the need to have logistics issues of funding, grant and approvals. This would seem like going back in time. And it is exactly what it is. To homestead new frontiers one needs to start off with lightweight experiments and make progress.
The somewhat immediate question is - what is then the nature of the larger events and constructs like FUDCon? I think it is too early to sign a death warrant for such events. FUDCon was created and designed to address a need; as was Flock and so forth. But then the success of such constructs works against them as communities tend to rationalize the idea that events are the measure of progress and health. Numbers, metrics and dashboard are important - but they indicate the health of the community or, identify symptoms of stasis. By themselves they do not provide much by way of improving the life of the community. I believe that the community in India is well placed to run a few of these ideas as a pilot and report back to The Fedora Project on the success/failure of it. It is needed to engage more continuously with the project governance and leadership and not be bogged down into the India -> APAC -> NA linear chain.
(Note: Not all of the above were part of my talk. And some of the concepts would require more specific objectives to be devised and assigned. The thrust of this piece is to create a momentum using this FUDCon as the inflection point and think about where the community in India would like to go and how can we reach there.)