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Nonprofit Software Development Summit

by Ross Patterson last modified Nov 21, 2008 06:35 AM
3 brilliant days with cracked out LAMP folks

I got back from the 2008 Nonprofit Software Development Summit in Oakland, CA last night. I had a total blast. It was simultaneously intense and relaxed which is an impressive achievement. It was also very surprising for someone who doesn't expect a tech conference to be intense. I generally pride myself on endless energy. The last day of the conference I didn't even have the energy for the final round of libations. I drove straight home and collapsed. :)

I don't want to offend other conferences or formats, but I hadn't realized how much I don't enjoy the traditional conference format. Now that I've experienced such an event where I was genuinely and organically engaged for 80-90% of the time, I recognize that I have always been very bored at other conferences. Nate tells me that bar camps or other events with a tendency to use the term "camp" have a similar format. Needless to say, I'll be keeping an eye out for such events.

This event didn't allow laptops at any of the sessions or main gatherings, and I didn't even miss it. I'd be dead of boredom at a traditional conference if my laptop were forbidden. I certainly didn't miss PowerPoint, which was also forbidden. This was also the first conference I presented at. It occurs to me how miserable it would have been to present to a room of downward facing eyes and tippity-tappity keyboards. When I thought about it further, I realized it's similarly miserable to sit in a session dealing with the conflict between boredom and the genuine desire to be engaged for both the presenter's sake and mine. The way this event handled this conflict was to limit presenters to 5-10 minutes of intro time after which it was all group discussion. It was very enjoyable and engaging both as an attendee and as a presenter. I assume all this is obvious to those who already enjoy this format. :)

I gave two presentation. The first was a contemplative session on Risks and Opportunities of Cloud Computing. I wanted to see how much traction my thoughts would get when it comes to adopting CC or PAAS while also building in structure to protect code, data, and vulnerable clients such as non-profit organizations. I found that most are still thinking about the question in terms of either "get over it and get on board" or "you'll get my app into the cloud when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands" or "you'll never find my app or data stuffed in my mattress". I want both protection from the risks and I want to take advantage of the opportunities. My hope is that open source frameworks that provide abstractions of core cloud services along with additional libraries offering solutions to common needs may be able to realize cloud apps that can be feasibly ported to other providers. These frameworks could then be a fulcrum for leverage to keep providers honest. This idea gained next to no traction with my attendees who wanted to go in other directions. This, in and of itself, is informative. If I'm wrong about using frameworks, or if I'm right and few are ready to move in that direction, either way there's a lot of work ahead.

For my second presentation I thought I'd play to my strengths: Best Practices for Plone Performance. Of course, I proposed this talk having never attended this conference before. The attendees of this conference were, I'd guess, 90% LAMP people which means the CMS world was dominated by Drupal. Joomla was a distant runner up. There were also a fair number of Ruby, and Rails, people there. The only people I met using Python, Zope, or Plone were Nate Aune and the good people from The Open Planning Project. As such, this talk wasn't overly attended. :) Just the same, a potential new Plone adopter was there and it was interesting to compare scaling wisdom between camps. From what I could glean, Plone has a much better scaling story in many senses. It's also worthy of note that nearly every time I mentioned Plone, the person I was talking to would mention ONE/Northwest. They have impressive recognition in the community.

Speed Geeking is a great for demonstrating technology and evangelizing or advocating all at once. This format allows a presenter to convey their enthusiasm for a project where the audience is consumers while eliminating much of the boredom that typically occurs when an audience is compelled to listen to one person talk. I found myself wishing that I could cover the very rich Plone feature set in such a limited 3-4 minute format. If I've noted one thing about what impresses people about Plone, it's how much they get OOTB. If you can get someone to pay attention long enough to cover the feature set, they're almost always surprised. I can't count the times I've heard, "I had no idea Plone could do so much." Unfortunately, you can't demo all these features in 3-4 minutes. I was thinking it would be good to have a slide show amongst the Plone marketing materials that could cover "What Plone can do" in 3-4 minutes. Anyone interested in working on that with me?

The LAMP people at the conference were all very open and there was a very pleasant absence of evangelism. I even noted that as the conference went on, everyone seemed to make a point of adding Plone to their list of token CMSes when speaking as they became more aware of our presence. All told, I think it was very productive for all sides and so much of that is due to the community of the event. Everyone there had gobs of energy, was genuinely open and friendly, and everyone seemed to be passionately committed to exciting and productive projects. I started as an attendee, came to see myself as a guest, and left feeling as a member. Quite an achievement indeed.

I'll blog more later about the sessions I attended.

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