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How to choose – a community difference moment

I’ve a little story I want to share with you. I’m telling it because it’s about the larger discussion of who you are and why you are drawn to one Linux distro over another.  Or one music style over another.  And so on.  It’s also about the differences between Fedora and Ubuntu, both in terms of the distro and the projects overall.

Early on a Saturday morning this July, Mel and I arrived at the Community Leadership Summit to help with setup. We found folks such as Amber Graner, Grant Bowman, and Jono Bacon working on the last morning touches for the day’s events.

When we walked up, the crew was rolling out two side-by-side, 30in by 8ft (72cm by 2.44m) sheets of white butcher paper.  Pen and ruler in hand and at Jono’s direction, they were making hash marks along the top edge.

“What’s this for?” I asked.

“We’re going to hang this on the wall for the BarCamp sessions,” someone explained to me.  “We’re marking a grid on this paper, then people write their session titles on these papers and hang them up using sticky-wall-putty stuff.”  The ‘papers’ were little 5in by 7in (13cm by 18cm) with a small Community Leadership Summit logo across the long edge.  There was still plenty of room to write, but it gave the pages a nice consistency and crispness:

Community Leadership Summit logo

I was able to quickly get the vision in my head of what Jono had in mind.  It would be a bit of polish that, for some of the audience and especially anyone new to the BarCamp format, gives a feeling of professionalism and attention-to-quality.  When people walk up and see the session grid all laid out, it is an attraction.  In the end, it looked about as I figured:


The irony is, a few weeks before I was on #cls on, where I told Jono a bit about how Fedora does BarCamp days.  For the session grid, I said, “We mark columns on a blank wall with blue masking tape, because blue is better.  Then we write our session title on 8.5 by 11 (A4) paper, taping it to the wall with another small piece of tape.  This makes it easy to move sessions around, combine them, etc.”  It’s also inexpensive, quick and easy, and gets the job done so we can move on to other things more quickly … such as having the sessions.  Here’s an example from a FUDCon:

FUDCon Boston 2008 BarCamp schedule

There are a few more good pictures to look at, including people rearranging talks (that’s me in the middle, left forefinger on an item), a tight view of the finished schedule, arranging sessions in action, another view of the schedule showing all the masking tape glory, and someone pitching a talk in front of the in-progress schedule.

As it happened, I ended up finishing the grid, using one of the 5×7 papers as a guide.  I made a few suggestions along the way, but primarily, Jono had the vision, and I could see the value to be gained in following him through the process.  For example, while drawing row lines with a long ruler, I had a chance to reflect on this situation I was in the middle of.  In essence, I began writing this article at that very moment.  For another, I wanted folks there to know I could go along with the flow and help them enact their vision rather than spend effort advocating for my own.

For folks like me, the Fedora process has appeal.  First of all, it doesn’t require me to be there at 6:30 am to execute it.  It’s low resource usage, low technology, and a low barrier to entry.  Everyone could see how the sticking of signs was done, for example, and people could move things around, add and combine, without having to ask permission or how-to.  Sessions weren’t even combined on to a new sheet; the two or three were stacked together in one time slot.  The process invites contribution.

For another large group of people, the extra polish that Jono was doing provides the something special that makes them feel they are where they belong.  The central leadership, single vision accessible to all present, and sense of being ready-to-roll is important to those people.  It invites participation.

All of these ways of being and doing are natural, expected, and desired.  Diversity breeds innovation, quality, and a wider pool to fail … and learn from it.

This led in to a week at OSCON where I did a bit of thinking and talking about how people could be choosing their Linux distro.  Not through the idea of finding the “team” where they can be a “fan”.  More an idea of putting forward our best faces, in authentic stories written, told, and captured.  Maybe that’s the sort of service DistroCental can provide – a way that shows people new to Linux what the day-to-day of being in one community and another is actually like.

California love, y’all.  Peace out.