The UnConference Conference


Attended my very first unconference today in San Jose. An Unconference is very different than most conferences i’ve been too, in that there are no set agendas in advance, and no primary expert or panel. Instead, imagine a room of chairs in a circle, with a topic of discussion presented beforehand, and everyone just sits and discusses it for an hour. This was also the first community leadership conference that was held, and sponsored by a handful of open source companies. Given it was the first one ever held, it was a work in progress and feedback was necessary. So here’s my observations.

  1. It felt like ~150 attendees
  2. Folks were asked to write a topic on a sheet of paper if they want to lead the session, and give a quick summary before posting it on a big sheet of butcher paper next to a timeslot and room number
  3. Each session was an hour, and people would just pop in anywhere they wanted
  4. 2 of my 4 sessions i went to, the session leader was late. However, it didnt matter much in this setting, because a session leader really wasn’t necessary so someone would just start talking and others would hop in
  5. The list of topics were all themed around open source participation, leadership, governance, and evangelism
  6. Some sessions were an hour, some were 45 mins, some were 30 mins. There was no time breaks in between, so i was a little awkward when some sessions ended earlier than others, and people would be walking in and out, hallway noises, distractions.
  7. It was a free event, so anyone and everyone could attend
  8. The day ended with everyone introducing themselves in a room. Given 150 folks taking turns with a mic, the whole intro thing only took 8 minutes! Impressive.

More specifically on the topics.   Here’s a summary of the ones i attended.

Tools Session: (notes) Folks here shared about the different type of community tools they use to promote, encourage community participation.  Many ranged from social networking tools like twitter and facebook, different newsgroup and forums, yahoo piping, bugzilla, meetbot,, and other tools.   Then talked about future tools and what would we like to have.  Gerv brought up how mozilla is going toward a Community CRM, where all anyone that has ever contributed to the mozilla community, can include their profile information to this db, that everyone in the world can search.  It’s perfect for what a global community should look for.

Trademarks vs. Community: (notes)  This discussion was an interesting learning experience on how the open source companies deal with trademarks.  It was interesting to me how each country deals with trademarks differently, and how there can be severe repercussions if there are violations.  One big example that spawned most of the time was over Mozilla’s trademark ownership of “Firefox”, which Debian took and rebranded to “Iceweasel” over a series of controversial actions.   Not just firefox product, but debians own version of thunderbird and sunbird.   Read more about the history here.   Although there were about 30 in the room, most of the discussion revolved around 4-5 people, many of them working for their foundation or lawyers.   I dont recall walking out of there really learning anything new.
Letting go of Leadership: (no notes)    This was the last session of my day, and i recall it was mainly on discussion on whats the best way to step back from dictating a project when trying to embrace new community members that step up.  People discussed ways to let go of projects, and entrusting people that have proven they could take over an assignment.  Some examples of folks leading came at the expense of a dying project, and was put in a position to step up or no one else would.   There was talk of different types of reward systems, and how we come to appreciate and pay recognition to those that achieved success.   A lot of leading by example, and put your money where your mouth is, to show the community you ware working with them and not just pointing fingers or holding back.

In summary, i think i like the idea of unconferencing, and listening more to what people think in this case. Yes, there’s a lot of opinions and people can easily sidetrack, but its hearing from those that aren’t necessary topic experts where i sometimes find myself learning more. It was a nice experience and i hope to attend more of these in the future.   May even try to incorporate this “free style” of leading groups and discussions at our Mozilla monthly meetups.