May 31, 2012, 11:41 AM — Due to limited space, the popular O'Reilly Open Source Convention (OSCON) has changed the way it is filling the coveted Nonprofit Pavilion for the upcoming 2012 show, which could leave some popular open source projects without show space.
The new procedure was not particularly a secret; OSCON organizers outlined the new method earlier this spring, which required that interested parties send in applications for booth space within the Pavilion.
"Organizations will be selected by an internal OSCON committee and notified via email on or before May 17," the OSCON page states.
A final list of who will be filling the 15 available spaces has not been made available, but according to sources within the community, both the Fedora Project and Ubuntu were not selected in the initial round and are currently on the waiting list in case one of the selected organizations chooses not to take OSCON up on the space.
The situation was initially brought up by a recently opened Twitter account, @BoycottOSCON, which claimed "Apparently OSCON has decided NOT to give a table at this time to Ubuntu or Fedora. I thought Open Source kinda meant OPEN."
(Coincidentally, this particular Twitter account was a milestone follower for my own Twitter account and thus got probably more attention from me than it might have otherwise gotten.)
[Update: The following paragraph corrects the description of Partimus, with I had inaccurately states was a Linux distribution.]
A little digging discovered a bit more to the story. The @BoycottOSCON account appears to be the brainchild of Mark Terranova, an active figure in the Fedora community and Community Manager for the Partimus project, a nonprofit organization that provides repurposed computers running free software to students and schools that need them. An IRC log confirms Terranova's intent to create the Twitter account.
To date Terranova has taken just mild jabs at the conference while making it clear that he holds O'Reilly in the highest regard, especially after conference organizers pointed out to him that despite the limited space in the Pavilion, open source communities could still obtain free Expo passes (a coveted OSCON perk).
And any inference I made that Ubuntu and Fedora were actively denied tables may have been too strong to begin with, since there may not have been any real decision-making done in this case.
"I think that to say 'denied' is a pretty heavy term," Fedora Project Leader Robyn Bergeron said in reply to my inquiry on the issue. "My understanding is that there were a limited number of booths… they essentially did a drawing among those who applied, and those of us that didn't receive a booth have the opportunity to hang out on the waitlist. Or buy booth space at a hefty cost.
"It is my understanding that Ubuntu is on the waitlist at this time," Bergeron added.
[Update: Terranova and I have had a chance to speak since this article was posted, and I will relate our discussion once I have some more information from the OSCON organizers.]
Community pavilions are a touchy spot for conference organizers within the FLOSS community. OSCON, LinuxCon, and the former LinuxWorld Conference and Expo all have had to balance the needs of renting valuable floor space to paying vendors versus the need to serve the communities within the FLOSS ecosystem. In the past, any efforts to change or reduce the size of the non-profit tables have often been met with strong resistance.
This year may bring more of the same reaction, though thus far the reaction has been rather muted on OSCON's limiting of the Nonprofit Pavilion space. Terranova's small protest notwithstanding, it makes me wonder if the FLOSS community has come to be more accepting of the realities of commercial shows like this, or even if the days of bully pulpits have passed by at last.
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