Tag Archives: Life

Attacking from all sides

I like to talk a bit of what I am doing locally in my hometown. One thing is that I have worked the last two years in helping to organize a Linux even called “Kieler Linuxtage“. In 2007 we had over 500 visitors and all attendends thought it was a big success, given that we were only a small team. In relation to the population in our region we attracted much more people per inhabitant than other large events in Germany.

But also some problems appeared on the surface. One thing was that one multi day event a year doesnt satisfy all needs that users have, then many people missed some more introductional talks about Linux and we faced the fact that we who organized the event also had to do all stuff like watching the rooms, making photos, everythingĀ  – only 2 or 3 people helped in addition. From my perspective this was the result of a much to closed group. We, the KiLux (Kiel Linux Initiative) consisted of round about 10 people. We had requests of people who liked to join the core group but these were dismissed by the majority of us. The argument was that a small group is better for deciding things. That might be true – but what still was missing was some possibility that allowed citizens to help us organize Linux events – or get involved better. As after the Kieler Linuxtage 2007 the result was not really as previously announced an opening of the organisational structure I found that something else needed toi be done to allow people who were willing to get involved.

So I initiated a regular monthly meeting of our KiLux Community called “KiLux /usr Meeting”. We meet in the rooms of a computer/internet club called Toppoint e.V. every last friday of a month. So we dont have the need to consume drinks or food and also have the ability to use some existing infrastructure. KiLux is a mixed virtual organisation consisting of smaller and bigger companies and computer clubs and individuals. KiLux community is the community branch which is meant to be more free and easy to get together. Its is there for people to exchange their knowledge in a free flow – nobody should hold back his wisdom in order to make a profit. We had 5 meetings since November 2007 and each was very interesting with new people coming in. For the Toppoint Club it sure is interesting that a lot more people get to know about them and also we all learn how we can do things while we are doing them. I think part of the problem we were facing in Kiel that lead to degration of the Linux culture was that new people often were turned away by the talks and did not get the feeling that they learned something or maybe even thought they were not welcome. So people came and then left. Since years two groups announced their existence in the internet while they did not make any meetings – so many people did not find an active group and might finally have been given up.

So these meetings are very vital. Everybody can come along with his special problems and meet people who can hopefully help. Or at least he can ask questions and everybody who attends learns that those open questions do exist. So we learn about what users like to know. Direct contact. Direct learning. This is not always easy. It can be nice to just hang around with the folks you know or work on the things you find most interesting. But this often leads to groups that tend to be too self focused and closed rather than open. I try to live some of the philosophies I am talking in this blog and elsewhere and one of these is that I try to maintain a positive culture within our local Linux and open source community. I think too many people or lets say geek think that this is irrelevant. They think what matters is the latest kernel or some other stuff – and this can indeed be freaking cool. But what is all this with some nice folks you can talk with? Our current problem is still that there is a huge gap between some experts and some folks that join Linux just now and not much in between. So its hard work to close this knowledge gap. We cant help everybody – the way to go is to organize events, bring some people together and then let them exchange knowledge. ne can help by giving talks or asking questions, moderate a bit, but I think lesser is better. I think people who attend an event should know best what they know and what they need to know (“known unkowns” & “uknown unknowns” šŸ˜‰ ) – so when you structure a meeting too much people wont be able to ask the questions they have in mind or others wont be able to tell all they know. Some strcutureis important and ok, especially one should make clear that people shouldnt do stuff that is offtopic. Joining a meetings should be 100% not 50%. And also people should listen to each other. Something I think many have lost theĀ  ability to.

Ok, thats about the community part. The community can take part in the next Kieler Linuxtage andĀ  I would expect that more of them would come or the event will get richer with new ideas if we are allowed.

The other idea I was following was the “KiLux Business” initiative. The idea is that Linux professionals but also potential or existing Linux customers get together to cooperate or talk about what is important or how to do Linux marketing. Right now there is not much cooperation. The computer market is structured by the bug guns in the computer business while the small companies all try to do their thing while heavily competing with each other to the still few Linux and open source customers. So in affect they mostly steal each others customers. Thats understandable but also stupid. Too few are willing to cooperate and to really attack the Microsoft dominated world. I have no doubts that with a bit more organisation we could locally be able to get a much bigger piece of cake, because we could convince more potential customers to trust on Linux and similar stuff. But as people only follow their own interest they might gain more in the short run for ONLY themselves – but in the long run we all loose – especially when we start talkng bad about our competitors. I think we should instead try to help all of usĀ  to be more successful in selling Linux and open source. So for instance I am helping people to get the best local contact for OpenOffice.org, so the customer that is interested in switching to OO.org gets the best results. One more customer for open source – one common goal! I know this might sound stupid because I dont get any money out of this deal – but I think in our KiLux Business network it is also cool to take a provision in some cicrcumstances especially once things are going better in our direction. But right now I think its more important to aquire more users that all of us could work on than if I or we would think that everybody should try his best – or we wish him/her well but do not help – and he/she looses a contract. Sure the help should have its limits – everybody can decide in where this limit is. More importantly in discussing open questions and issues we generate new common wisdom that will help us at the next occasion on which software we choose or what we suggest our customers. Like what distribution weĀ  choose as a basis od our installations. I could also figure to be interesting when the dialog between customers and professionals will happen. If “we” professionals listen to a customer and together try to find good answers. This is a whole different dialog then some may prefer when talking to “their” clients. As you can expect there is alsways somebody who can point out some false statements. So KiLux Business has to try to be some neutral instance, a melting pot of ideas and interests.

One other thing is the polical agenda. Strategically free standards like OpenDocument are of vital interest for the future of FLOSS! Why is that? Because here we have some very strong arguments – and also if the governmental organisations choose to prefer free standards andĀ  use software like OpenOffice.org this gets us a foot for all kind of applications. A typical workplace that consist of only a desktop and an office can easily choose to use Linux and OpenOffice.org – most if not all use cases can be handled with that combination. If we get to the point where free standards like ODF are the defacto standard we are at the point where we can roll up every other product. So lets say there is a basis of Linux desktop workplaces but still some Windows machines for specific applications. most likely we can either replace them with either other FLOSS applications or surround the Windows applications in a virtual environment which could be much easier to maintain. We already have some political parties in our upcoming local elections that have on their agenda to migrate to free standards. I hope that this idea will gain some dynamic and already have done some activities so that in my city and my province this might get on the political agenda and will be decided for the first time at some point this year. We still need to be prepared better on what Microsofts agents are doing, to who they talk and how they make sure that political decisions are made to serve their companies agenda.

Here you can see where the different spots are related to each other. Because if we say we want open standards… who can deliver? You cant migrate a whole province with just one person – and most likey also not with 5-10 people. So we need to get organized. This can even mean that we suggest some company we dont like because they prefer Windows. If they have the trust of an organization and are willing to help their customer migrate rather help them doing the migration than to spread some FUD. If you really can compete with them do it, but dont play with the potential customers, rather try to convince this company to pull on our side of the rope! So thats another side – if we want that people switch we have to not only convince potential customers but also our potential competitors. Companies like SUN, IBM and Novell backing Linux has helped us a great deal. I agree that these companies are often not friendly and small companies are often nicer and better to their customers and competitors – but if you try to exclude them the whole migration will take a lot longer. And still your chance to get a contract is larger when the customers use Linux as of they are locked-in some proprietary application. Our weapons are openness and a network of mutual trust. Those things will need years to grow, but we can already harvest some fruits.

Its importantĀ  not to stop where we are right now but to constantly push things forward and move on, because companies like Microsoft learn, too – we must be quicker and smarter and work on all frontiers to gain ground. We sure have all different views and different agendas. But we should be able to agree on some terms and be able to work together in our all interest.

Regards from Germany

Thilo

KiLux

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New Sony Home vs. Second Life

I think that Sony Home is a extremely silly initiative if they think they should copy Second Life. even if they are better in graphics or on other parts. Linden Lab has been quite open to enable other projects to use Second Life also and I think rather than doing something again like having many Internets (which we saw as a danger in the 90s) Sony should rather cooperate with Linden Labs. The PS3 would even be more attractive. A virtual world that really only works on one console is senseless. We can all be happy that we were able to force the big players to cooperate in the internet rather than taking users into the prison of their own net product. So lets not repeat the errors of the past,

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Community Interaction – Give and Take

Some experience again with some developer inspired me to some further thoughts. To generalise this a bit more: How should developers working on a FLOSS project interact with the public? What can they expect users and other people from the community to do and what should be expected from them? First I think that nobody should expect anything from anybody. The expectations come into play if one wants to move things forward instead of just doing something for our own ego. So generally if you want to develop a or work for a community based FLOSS project you should be willing to interact with the public in this or that way. This said does not mean that this has to be in a special way.

One constant behaviour I am experiencing is that developers tend to think from their own knowledge. So they think what they do know, everybody knows or at least will know and be able to find out the right information like they do. Even the next step is rather common: That developers expect rather simple users to compile out of a version control system or that they are able to enable the features they look for by compiling it themselves. I guess the reason why so many FLOSS developers think like that is because they tend to communicate a lot with fellow developers and come to the conclusion that every user is or could be a developer.

One thing is true: Many FLOSS users are more knowledgeable than a general Mac or Windows user. But to EXPECT users to have that knowledge or the time and willingness to walk those paths a developer does every day is just ignorant to other lifestyles and focuses in live and even to other attitudes to computer work. So it might be ok to ASK a user to test a new feature from the latest source code, but its not ok to EXPECT all that from EVERYBODY.

And here we also come to the basics of human interaction: If somebody comes and asks a question because he or she is interested an a topic or in a software it should be the goal of community members not to turn people away. Every community project depends on a positive interaction of those who are involved and those who are interested. I have seen myself how a good spirit in a community can make a difference at Foresight Linux. Its ok to take a RTFM approach if you don’t want to make a community project and hate to talk to people. But then it might be better not to pretend to do a community FLOSS project. those projects highly depend on communication and interaction. If this does not happen this will in a high volume of redundant work. I have constantly found out about different projects doing the same thing and actually not knowing from each other – and often these projects die out. This is described in “ReinventTheWheel“.

I think IsYourRudenessNecessary describes very good the wisdom that has been developed of more experienced community members. Quote:

“One of my specific problems in real-time fora like InternetRelayChat is with people giving a smug, useless answer that’s a waste of everybody’s time, then getting irate when the questioner inevitably reacts badly. Example: “Anyone know about foo?” “Yes, many people know about foo.” The questioner may well be irritated by this; unsurprising, because it’s a worthless reply which helps nobody. You’re not a robot; there is no need for this anal literalism. Anyone with two brain cells to knock together is aware of common forms that questioning in the English language can take. Our imaginary questioner clearly has a foo-related issue and is looking for people knowledgeable in the ways of foo. Answer the earlier question with: “I don’t, but Fred is our resident foo expert,” or “Yes, I have some foo experience, what’s up?” or some other useful response….”

I have often met users who know much less tabout one topic han I do. And I could easily satisfy myself with a “RTFM” answer. But again this really helps nobody and also if I am in a situation myself where I look for a specific information I am happy if somebody also takes the time to either takes the time and explains the issue or points me to where i can get an answer. This sure is more true if the answer to a single question is “yes” or “no”. I remember having some very lengthy email conversations with an technically experienced usenet user who always answered perfectly minimalistic. But this in the end costed both of us maybe ten times the time that it would have if he would have been able to answer in one good and understandable answer/sentence.

I also have experienced that it is mostly better to invest more friendliness and time, because this results in more knowledgeable users that are then empowered to get the information themselves instead of only having a limited insight. So often the less information you are sharing the more time you will have to take to answer simple questions – keyword: transparency. Transparency comes from good websites. At Foresight we have just put the FAQ in a wiki that everybody can edit and just adding the answers you give in IRC also in this wiki made this FAQ grow quickly. Its not really a good FAQ, but people use it and refer to it so I could see how some questions just seem to have disappeared in IRC and users are getting more experienced and even writing their own HOWTOs as they make their experience with their own hardware or specific software needs.

I often prefer to talk personally to some developers instead of just looking up an information because it gives you much more insight and you also have the chance to tell them you like their software. Humans are social beings and so you often learn quicker and more in social interaction than if you just work on information gathering yourself. It also gives developer insight of who is using their software and also which information can not be found in a FAQ. With this I do not want to suggest that everybody turns to the IRC instead of trying to find the right information themselves! šŸ™‚ I often work months and years to find out how to do things without asking on the right channels. Asking in IRC always means to get more involved in a software or project than just gathering bits and pieces. You give and take. And I always love to see the users I have taught answering questions to the absolute newcomers.

There are some users who are just (sorry) stupid. Who demand everything yesterday are just taking our time. I am one of the first that starts to ignore them or tell them that their style is not ok. But these really are less than one percent of the users. Most do just have some simple questions they like to be answered which should not be too complicated?

What I suggest or asking for is not that knowledgeable users give up their own interests. Instead I argue that its in their own interest that the community as a “being” be more knowledgeable and by that becoming a real help instead of just a bunch of users desperately seeking for bits of information. And also do never underestimate what you can learn from others.

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2006 wrapup

I’d like to make a little more private entry at the end of this year:

Interesting year, started my new company for wiki hosting, got some intersting requests, got more involved in the MoinMoin community. GNOME International was partly interesting experience as things are getting more exciting there, GNOME Germany was more of a disappoitment, because most of the time I was not able to do, what I had planned and in the end I realised that my goals and the goals of the majority of the active members are too far away, so I pulled out of this involvment. I think I am cleaning up many things since November which I never did so much in recent years.

Unfortunately I had some big private disappointments the last weeks, which I am not going to discuss openly – just for the records if some people might think I acted weird some times that might be true, because I had trouble to sort my thoughts. I threw away a lot of material stuff, which I had kept for years or even decades. If you do not use things fĆ¼r 15 years maybe throw it away? This can also be a big relieve and open yourself for some new things – new people – new attitude. I don’t think that new is always better, but often old relations and stuff has nothing more todo with your life and you just keep them and it because of your own little insecurities.

So my plans for next year: Engage in projects that you like, meet people that you feel comfortable with and als buy only those stuff (furniture, clothes,…) you also feel comfortable with. Nobody can protect himself from negative experiences, they are part of life – but to stick to negative objects and relations is a silly thing to do.

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