Front End Developer
Social Activist and Front End Developer
The power of a small gathering
Adhering to the Unconference model
Communities coming together; Drupal, WordPress, Joomla concrete5, Grav and Backdrop
Unconference and cross-programming at Drupal Camps
IVAN STEGIC: Hey Everyone! You’re listening to the TEN7 Podcast, where we get together every fortnight, and sometimes more often, to talk about technology, business and the humans in it. I'm your host Ivan Stegic. In this episode of the Podcast, we’re following up on the Twin Cities Open Source CMS Unconference, that happened on Saturday, October 13. And, I’m happy to welcome back the organizers, Tim Erickson and Wilbur Ince. Hello!
TIM ERICKSON: Hello. Glad to be back.
WILBUR INCE: Hey, it’s good to be back Ivan. Thanks for having us back for another round.
IVAN: You bet! I wanted to start out by saying thank you to you both. Thank you for organizing the event. Thank you for giving of yourselves freely, to the greater community. Thank you for putting the time and work, into creating an event, that brings us slightly larger cross-section of open source in the Twin Cities, together.
TIM: Glad to do it. Scratching our own itch. Something we really wanted to do.
WILBUR: Yea, I would reiterate that too. It’s a labor of love to do something like this, because we have a great time. It was really nice to get together with a bunch of people.
IVAN: Yea, it kind of looked like you guys were having a great time. Even though I was unable to attend the latter part of the day, it looked like, you were having fun, it looked like the participants were having fun. It also looked like everyone was well caffeinated.
TIM: That’s important. We had plenty of caffeine and just had a good time. People were highly engaged and we were having great discussions.
IVAN: That was good to see. Go ahead Wilbur.
WILBUR: Yea, if you’ve ever tried to organize these things, there’s kind of the initial ramp up, where you’re getting everything together and working on it, and then I’m sure Tim will accept this too, sort of the panic, where’s it’s like, “oh, is everything ready?” We have to do this and that and put everything together, and then really at some point right before the conference you realize, “oh, what is going to happen here? Is anybody going to show up? Is this going to be interesting or not?” And, as soon as the thing got started, it was obvious that it was a good thing, it was really a lot of fun to be there, and participate every minute.
IVAN: So, you had planned to start at around 9:00 a.m., and Wilbur you just described some of the jitters I’m sure you had, the night before. Tim, could you tell us how you decided you had a quorum, and what was the first thing you did as a group?
TIM: We decided before we go in, we would wait, give people at least 15 minutes. We had a relatively small group this time, we had about 15 people over the course of the day, and we had had more people register, but we wanted to give people time to show up. First thing we did was, just sort of welcomed everybody and began to describe a little bit about what our plans were for the day, and what this Unconference was, because we had a number of people who showed up. We really weren’t quite sure what this event was going to be, and so we wanted to sort of quickly answer their questions, and then we did some introductions.
WILBUR: Yea, you know the start of the day, Tim and I kind of had to scramble a little, because we thought we’d have a few more people there, and it got to be a smaller group. And literally at the last minute, we decided, “hey, let’s just do some short introductions. Let’s kind of break the ice.” It was a small enough group that, I think, people really wanted to have those introductions. We were going to hold off on those, if it was a bigger group, because it just takes a lot of time, and you’d rather have that sort of process happen organically with a larger group. But, with the smaller group, we kind of back pedaled a little bit and changed our agenda a little bit. And then after our introduction, we started with a question, just kind of to try and get people in the right frame of mind, to start thinking about what they wanted to do for the day. So, that was an exercise where we split into two parts, and we had two people that posed questions, and I was one of them. I asked about open source software, and how we incorporated it in what we do. And then the two groups spend about 10 or 15 minutes on each side. We flip back and forth and talk about that. And, after the first group is done, you kind of brief the other group about what they talked about and keep going from there. So, it was a nice ice breaker.
TIM: I think broadly, you guys talked about how to get more people involved in open source communities, and the other question was, “is CMS always the right answer?” Right off the bat, we had two very interesting topics, and people just dove right into having very robust discussions.
IVAN: And then, did you guys, kind of adjourn together as a main group again, and separate into new tracks after that? Or, kind of, what was the next thing?
TIM: Yea, in fact, we did come back together, because we had yet to make our schedule. Part of the Unconference model, right, is that anybody can nominate a session for the day, and, we decided to do this first round of discussions, to get people warmed up, get them engaged, and give them a chance to think a little bit about what the right topics would be for that day. So, after we finished that first round of slightly structured discussions, we came back together, talked a little bit about, very quickly, about what had happened. And, then, asked people to nominate the things that they wanted to talk about that day. And, we tried to fill up our schedule, at least the first half of the day. I think we had the first three rounds scheduled, and then we broke into our official Unconference.
IVAN: It felt like a really cozy number of people when I was there. And, I know you didn’t get all of the people that said they’d be attending, compared to the number of registrations that you had, it still felt like a good number, maybe even the right number. You had two separate tracks if you will. Do you feel like you would like to see the next Unconference be bigger, or about the same? How do you feel about the size that you ended up having?
WILBUR: You know, when we first got started, we thought, “wow, this is kind of a small group.” But, it actually wasn’t. I mean, the two tracks gave us enough people in each group, to have really a nice discussion, and, when you go back and look at the rules of an Unconference, the first one is, the people who are here are the right people. Boy, that was really true of this group. There was never really a dead minute in these discussions. It was like, “let’s go to the next thing.” Hey, what about this thing? What about this?” It really was a lively discussion. So, if anything, I would say that we don’t have to be afraid of having a conference with a small number of people like this. Even 15, it was really worthwhile for me, and we got a lot of feedback from other people, that it was really a nice session for everybody. So, I think, more would be better, maybe the top would be about 50 or 60 people, but, 15 certainly seemed like a great number to have.
TIM: Sure. At least one participant vocally said he thought it was just the perfect amount, maybe a little bit more. Another participant said something along those lines, that they liked the small intimacy of it, and they wouldn’t want to see it much bigger. So, I think, yea, having a little bit more would be nice, but 15 was plenty to have some really good discussions. One participant said that he had more robust engagement on Saturday, than he’s had at the last three conferences he attended.
IVAN: Well, that’s kudos to the Unconference organizers, to you guys, for making it so interactive and getting people to engage. Congratulations! I think it was a successful day, when I think back to it.
WILBUR: I think with that small a number, it’s hard to be anonymous and hide at a conference like that. Sometimes when you go to a conference, you can sit in the back, and work on a project, and only half listen to the discussion. But, with this one, it was, like I say, hard to hide. Everybody was right there, and when people talked about something, they looked around the circle, and if you were distracted on your phone, it was obvious.
IVAN: Yea, that’s a nice side effect, I think. I want to reflect a little bit about or on the make-up of the conference attendees. Both of you did a very good and admirable job of reaching across the aisle, so to speak, in trying to get people, who are not just Drupal involved in the event. I know that there was a risk that it might seem like a Drupal heavy Unconference, so to speak. How did that play out? Tim, maybe you have some thoughts on that?
TIM: Sure. Wilbur and I talked about it. I think, in terms of planning the event, the one thing we would do differently, is to engage some folks, get some people heavily invested in helping us with the outreach in other communities. That’s going to work better than having us try to reach out to people in the communities that we’re not so familiar with. We did have a surge of WordPress folks register at the last minute, and then not show up. I think, part of getting them was that we sort of at a late moment, got somebody prominent in the WordPress community that was sort of excited about the event and advocated. Then for personal reasons he couldn’t come. And, I think the fact that a lot of them had just heard about it very late, meant that despite their interests, they weren’t able to be there. But, if we had had those people involved earlier in doing the outreach in their own communities, I think that would’ve helped a lot. Yea, we had a good mix of people. We had a prominent Drupal contributor there, we had a couple of active WordPress people there, we had a gentleman who primarily uses concrete5. So, we were able to have really good discussions across platforms but having a little more diversity would be good. The other diversity we lacked, was, we were all men, which was unfortunate. It was 100% male, and that was not something I like to see, and, we certainly tried to reach out. I was personally inviting a lot of people, and I tried to invite, personally, a diverse group of people, but it didn’t work out.
IVAN: And it would be wonderful if it wasn’t 100% men in attendance. I think there is a lot we can all do in all aspects of our communities to make things more inclusive and more inviting. I saw on the board at the Unconference that I don’t think we talked about in the last Podcast, and that I had seen for the first time was 'Butterfly vs. Bumblebee'. Can you tell me what that is? Is it the description of how you behave in the Unconference? What was that?
TIM: Sure. We have the rules of an Unconference, the Law of Two Feet, and then there are two special sort of rolls that are sometimes talked about, and they’re the Butterfly and the Bumblebee. The Bumblebee is the idea is that’s somebody who sort of moves from session to session, doesn’t necessarily sit in one place and brings ideas from one group to another. I think it’s hard to be a Bumblebee, in that small of a group. If we had had four or five sessions going on simultaneously, having some people that sort of rock between them and to bring ideas with, is a great role. The Butterfly is the person who just kind of hangs out at the meadow, by the coffee machine and has conversations with whoever else they encounter. I found a saying that said, “if two Butterflies meet at the coffee cooler, they might have the best discussion of the day.” The idea of throwing those things out there is to remind people that there are different roles you can play and to be interactive.
IVAN: Do you have a favorite session that you attended, Wilbur?
WILBUR: Yea, I can tell you, later in the day, we got into a session, and we talked about dev tools and environments. Miscellaneous technology was the name of that session. It was just kind of a round robin session, where we just sort of went from thing to thing, and people would ask, “what do you use for this?” What do you do with that? How do you sync files?” We just went from actual apps you’re using on your phone or your computer, to operating systems, to development tools, to debugging tools. Of course, we had a real open source flavor to this thing, but it was just really cool to pick everyone’s brains and to be picked. And, for me, that was the best session, to kind of find out what’s really out there in the real world and what’s getting used.
TIM: I heard you guys even talking about furniture. Stand up desks. Ergonomics.
WILBUR: Ergonomics, stand-up desks. I mean, what do you need to be productive? That’s what we talked about.
TIM: So, my favorite session was, FLOSS Governance. I’m all about the governance and community building and stuff. Somebody came in from the WordPress community, that was very frustrated with how decisions are being made. I think one of the things, for a lot of us in the Drupal community, we got a good chance to hear about some of the controversy going around in the WordPress community, around the launch of Gutenberg. And there’s some stress about that, and how the decision was made. And this person was looking to hear about how other open source communities are making decisions, and how the WordPress community might be able to improve that process. We had a really robust conversation about that. I got to hear more about how decisions are made in Joomla, Backdrop, Drupal, and I think WordPress were the main ones we talked about. I’m very familiar with Drupal and Backdrop, but I had really no idea about WordPress and Joomla.
IVAN: What’s the high-level understanding, quick description of the Gutenberg issue that you eluded to?
TIM: Do you want to do it Wilbur?
WILBUR: Yea, I’ll take a go at it, and you can correct me Tim.
TIM: (laughing) Maybe not.
WILBUR: So, I think the controversy is that, Gutenberg editor's coming in, and the implementation of that feels like it’s a little forced, and it’s being kind of pushed through as the next feature, And there’s some questions about accessibility with that, and the community is upset about that. Well, half of the community is upset about that. That they’re not getting adequate access to the process, and that this is going to be a big mess when this thing comes down. So, I think that’s kind of the real controversy about this, and how this is going to get implemented, and sort of how it plays out, nuts and bolts about accessibility.
TIM: That was a good job, Wilbur. I don’t understand it well, but, the main thing seems to be that it’s being very much forced on the community, and quicker than some people would like. There’s a lot of people that are excited, and really happy with it, but, we were hearing from some folks that were frustrated with the process.
IVAN: And the processes are different in all these other communities. It sounds like the person who brought that issue up was able to learn from maybe what we do in Drupal and what happens in other communities, as well.
TIM: Yea. One of the things that surprised me, we had a gentleman from the Joomla community, who really described their process, which I think is the most different. They have no benevolent 'dictator for life', as we do in both Drupal and WordPress. It’s a very community-driven process. We talked a little bit about the Backdrop process, that has a project management committee, about the Apache mode. So, we talked about a couple of different ways that it’s done.
IVAN: It’s surprising to me that there are so many different ways to do these things. I guess, maybe not surprising. We’re all different communities, which you would think that there’d be a best practice that eventually evolved over the course of 20 years. I mean, that’s sometimes how things work out, and maybe that’s what we should strive for.
TIM: I think more events like this could help that. I remember talking to Angie Byron once, and said, “how often do we, as a community, get out and talk to other communities about things like governance” and my recollection was that she admitted, not often enough, that we have a lot of internal discussions, but don’t talk enough to each other across communities. I think that’s where the value of an Unconference, like this, comes in. We get a chance to talk to each other.
IVAN: And there seems to be a lot of, at least I kind of felt, that it was a very safe space, where people were free to speak their mind, they were free to talk about what their experiences were and listen to others. So, I generally got the idea that there was a great acceptance from the participants on the success of the Unconference. Tim, can you speak to kind of what’s next? Are we going to see another Unconference soon? Are there any similar kinds of events that you might be organizing with Wilbur? Or that you feel like the community wants? What’s your thoughts on that?
TIM: Sure. So, the first thing that was next, was just going out for a beer, and playing a board game, and chilling out. But, we had some discussions in the final session, about what people thought we should do in the future. There was definite, absolute, strong interest in other events like this, cross-community sort of unconferency type events. People definitely liked the format and want to see more of this kind of format. And, they like that cross-disciplinary type thing. We haven’t made a firm decision on what comes next. I personally feel pretty strongly committed to doing something, another Unconference like this. One idea that came up was something called Indy Camp, I think. The idea was that we do sort of an Unconference like this, but focus the outreach on people who are just building websites. So, either individuals, small businesses, non-profits that are looking to build a website and have questions about how to do that. And that there would be web designers and developers there as well, but that we would be talking about the problems and the challenges that users face in managing and building websites, and then addressing it from that perspective. I think that could be a really cool idea. I definitely would want to see the cross-spectrum of platforms all represented and maybe some others. Wilbur and I also talked about, maybe doing an evening meet up, where we actually do some structured demos on the various different, open source CMSs. So, we’d love feedback on this. The initial idea is maybe we do a couple of evening presentations, where we get three people representing three different CMSs. They each get up and give 20-minute demo, then do a Q&A after that. And maybe do that once a month until we get through all the open source CMSs.
IVAN: I would love to see that. In fact, I had an idea as you were talking that sprung to mind. The last session was, not the wrap-up session, but the CMS throw-down session that happened at the end of the Unconference, made me think of kind of a mini demo, and your idea of having a demo night for CMSs, I think that’s very interesting. I almost feel like 20 minutes with a prepared presentation is too long. I almost feel like you would consider doing a mini demo style night where someone picks their favorite CMS, but they’re not allowed to use slides. They’re not allowed to have a prepared presentation, and they only get five minutes to demo how the CMS works and all of the best features. And, that way, you might be able to get through 10 of them, or 15 of them in one night.
WILBUR: That sounds like a good idea, but you got to try and find these people that are kind of representative at these different platforms. It was kind of interesting talking with everybody during that throwdown session, that people kind of had their preferred tools that they had used, or CMSs they had used. And because of the nature of these things, it takes a lot of commitment to know these kind of tools. So, nobody knew more than really, two or three of them in any detail. So, I would’ve, after being in that session, I would almost be interested in having a structured session, where you would really get a real concrete demonstration by somebody that would be like here’s this tool, and here’s where it’s strong, and here’s where it’s weak. And, that you could even have the presenters share their slides, so that a person could go to an event like that and really get really accurate consideration of these tools, back to back, and then be able to ask some questions. So, maybe four or five of those in a night, 20 minutes or a half hour, with Q&A after, for me that would be interesting. I’m not trying to poohoo your idea of kind of a speed dating throwdown, but I’d love to go deep on something like that. And, that’s kind of what we miss, because people would talk about things, and somebody would ask a question, and they said, “I’m not sure. I don’t know that CMS that well.”
TIM: I think both formats could work well. I’m intrigued by both, so I’d definitely love to see the value of digging deeper, but I also liked Ivan’s idea.
IVAN: Yea. I would love to see a throwdown again, quite honestly. Maybe that’s why I thought of the five minutes for each, but I see the value of going deep into something, as well. At that point, maybe 20 minutes isn’t enough.
TIM: The throwdown was fun, and that kind of came up spontaneously. We had a little bit of time at the end of the day, and one of the participants said, “hey, we haven’t had that yet.” And, to be clear, for those who weren’t there, the throwdown sounds a little more aggressive and confrontational than it was. Basically, we just, sort of, went around the room and let people talk about their favorite CMS, and what sort of makes it stand out from the others. And we covered, I think pretty well, Drupal, Backdrop. I think, actually WordPress got underrepresented at that time of the day, but Joomla and concrete5 were the ones I think we covered. Oh, and Grav. That was a file-based CMS.
IVAN: Yea, I’ve never heard of Grav before. I’m glad I was there. I did some research afterwards and was happy to find that it’s easy to use and might even use it for some personal projects in the future. It kind of looks interesting. What do you think you guys would do differently, the next time you do this kind of an event?
WILBUR: Tim and I were excited to do this project, and we thought, “hey, let’s just get this done and let’s make it happen.” I think in our haste, we picked up the ball and we ran with it, but we made a classic error about including other communities, and that was the whole point of this, was trying to reach out to other communities. Our organizational technique was wrong from the start. It shouldn’t have been two Drupal-centric devs going at, organizing an open source conference. We should have a key person as a WordPress developer, or organizer. We should’ve had somebody from Joomla, and we should’ve had Michael Moore involved, and really to get buy in from those other communities, really to let them do their magic, and go out and reach their community and bring people in. So, it’s just a classic, sort of, inclusion error that we make, right? We look too much alike, and we need to find other people, and that’s going to influence our process. And, change maybe, we know how we do Drupal events, but how do Joomla events happen, and how would that have affected the process? So, for the next, our work right now is to start organizing the next conference, which is going to be about organizing other groups, and having their say in how this thing works the next time around.
TIM: One other thing, that I’m not sure if we would do differently, but I want to talk more about is, whether or not a weekend is the time to do this, or whether or not there would be a different audience for this on a weekday. I don’t know. It’s just something to think about, because there’s a whole group of people who aren’t going to give up a Saturday for this but would love to participate.
IVAN: Yea, that’s the classic conundrum, isn’t it? You have some companies and some agencies, where the Friday of the week works really well, because you could take that day off, and you could use your professional development time. And then some organizations, and some people, can’t make it during the week at all, because they don’t have access to that kind of thing. So, weekends work better for them. And, then, there’s yet another group where weekends are sacred to family time, and so, you don’t want to spend any time on the weekend doing “your job”. So it’s a tough thing to balance, I think. And, I guess you can experiment and iterate.
WILBUR: Yea, you know what would be fair too? There’s another aspect of the conference that I really thought was nice, and that was that we had people of different levels and abilities there. We had some new devs that were like asking questions about, “how do you do this?” “How do you bill clients?” “How do you estimate business?” We had hardcore backend developers. We had front-end developers there. So, in that small group, we had a pretty good mix, you know...
TIM: Project managers.
WILBUR: Project managers. That was really good microcosm of the development world, at our little camp there, and that was really fun, to hear other people talk about their side of these things.
IVAN: Now that you’ve done this Unconference, how do you think your attitude towards TC Drupal Camp, the next camp that we have coming up in the Drupal community, here in the Twin Cities, how do you think your view has been influenced or hasn’t been influenced, as to whether or not the camp itself might consider changing formatting, changing programming?
TIM: That’s a loaded question. (laughing)
IVAN: I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to ask a loaded question. (laughing)
TIM: It's ok. I like loaded questions. I have been a strong advocate for experimentation and trying new things for a while. There’s been some growing interest, I think, in trying to build maybe an Unconferency portion into our camp, in some way. But, the camp has got a lot of momentum and a large group of people that are involved in. And, I think large, formatting changes in our camp are hard. So, one of the things that came out of last years camp, was, let’s experiment in some other ways. And, I think part of the reason we did this event was to experiment with it, and it’s not just up to us, but other people on the committee that were there on Saturday. It would be interesting to see how their mind has changed. But, I definitely like to see experimentation and ways of incorporating this, but, we got to convince more people.
WILBUR: You know, the whole idea of this camp came from a session that I attended with Michael Babker, who’s the Joomla guy, that was there at our Unconference. I think after going through this, I think it would be a lot easier for Tim and I, and people that were at the conference to identify things, that would be of value to other developers. And, we certainly provide those sessions, that’s part of our camp. And I think now that we kind of see this, we can make a value argument to people and say, “hey, right, this is a Drupal camp, come, it’s a software camp, and you’ll find out about local development, you’ll find out about other sessions that can potentially be part of that program.” And that would be interesting. We have a 4-day camp for $35 or $50. It’s a great value, and I think we could really sell that, and so we might want to think about that.
TIM: I just want to add that, in addition to sort of the idea of like incorporating more Unconference into the camp, I think the other different idea that we did was, the cross-platform. I think there has been growing interest over the last couple of years, about figuring out some ways that our camp can collaborate with the Twin Cities WordPress Camp, in particular. With this session, we might have broadened that out a little bit more, and I think that’s definitely an idea. And forget about the Unconference for a minute, but just the idea about how the TC Drupal Camp could cross-promote, cross-program, or even work WordPress into our camp is something that a lot of people are interested in.
IVAN: I like that idea of cross-pollination, and getting communities that are so similar together, and maybe there’s a WordPress track in the TC Drupal Camp. Maybe another possibility is, having one day of camp, and one day of Unconference. You can, kind of, I guess, almost have the amount of work you need to do to organize…maybe it’s not half…but it’s certainly less organization where you have to have one day of programming as opposed to two, and you have an Unconference on one of the two days. But, that’s just me spit balling. I certainly would defer to other opinions as well.
TIM: I think they’re good ideas.
WILBUR: Ivan, with that, it sounds like you might be a great person to be one of the organizers for camp this year. (laughing)
TIM: Good call, Wilbur.
IVAN: (laughing) That’s a very good call. Yes, I will certainly evaluate that, and we’ll see what we can do. All in all, good Unconference, lot’s of positive feedback. What are next steps you’re doing with the attendees? Is there going to be a survey of some sort? I thought I saw you mention that? Well, here you mentioned that at the wrap session.
TIM: We talked about two things, one of which was, actually surveying those who sort of signed up and didn’t come, to get a better sense of why they didn’t come, because they obviously had an interest but weren’t able to make it, and a better sense from them, about whether location, day of the week, or what was an issue. We got some pretty good feedback from the people who were there. One of the exciting things to see is that, the people that came in the morning, most of them were still there at the end of the day. A few people had to leave early. So, we had pretty good feedback in that sense. The other thing we wanted to do is, we have some notes, and I’ve asked some other people to go back and fill in those notes, about what happened that day, and I’d like to get those out to all the participants, and, just give them a chance to sort of review them, and maybe share those with the people who weren’t able to attend as well.
IVAN: When do you expect to be sending that info out?
TIM: In the next couple of days.
IVAN: Ok. That’s wonderful. Tim and Wilbur. Thank you so much for spending your time with me, again.
TIM: Thanks for having us.
WILBUR: Yea, thanks for getting the word out, and thanks for coming and participating. It was a great session.
IVAN: It was wonderful seeing you. Tim Erickson, you are @stpaultim on Twitter. Wilbur Ince, you’re @wylbur on Twitter. And the Unconference has its own handle as well, and that’s @tcoscms on Twitter. Gentlemen, thank you for your time. You’ve been listening to the TEN7 Podcast. Find us online at ten7.com/podcast. And if you have a second, do send us a message. We love hearing from you. Our email address is [email protected]. Until next time, this is Ivan Stegic. Thank you for listening.