National coalition for Libre software
Nah, I didnt have a free weekend nor did I go out as planned, the crick in my neck and painful shoulder not withstanding. Rather, I spent this weekend attending two Libre software events. I use the term "Libre" to denote "free software" simply because the latter confuses many people into the "i-dont-need-to-pay-money" mode which is very misleading and erroneous description. Hmm... who does not like free stuff but the English word, "Free" != "phukat/muft" and the term "libre" is more close to the Indian translation of philosophical "liberation".
It was a meet i was gonna miss but things got sorted and I walked in at 6:30 pm to find the meet was still going on. Err.. imagine listening to Manish for 2+ hours....poor attendees :P ! A coffee break later (which I'm sure the listeners craved by now) Ritesh spoke about DM and we wound up at 9 pm. Yeah, its inconvenient for a lot of folks. Completely agree with kingsly that we need a bouncer to pull speakers off the stage. Any volunteers :-D? I saw a number of new faces, so we are definitely growing. Yippieeeee !
National Coalition for Free software
Initiated by IT for change, CIS-India hosted a meetup in Bangalore on Sunday where the objective was to get feedback from different groups working and volunteering in Freesoftware communities. Leaving my friends at MG Road with a promise to return in an hour, I walked out at 7pm :). When I walked in there was a pre-meeting going on and later the room filled to around 35-40 people. Currently many individuals and organizations are acting in isolation and that dilutes the effort so this meet was to find out how we can collaborate and help each other out. COOL !!
Met Kenneth, Radha dropped by, as did Sriram and Kingsly, besides many other folks I had met at different time spans including Prashant from AltLaw forum and 2 more lawyers. Vinay who was taking minutes of the meeting has a complete picture captured in words. I am waiting for Vinays synopsis of Sunday's confabulations to hit the list:).
Introductions started and Abhas was perhaps the only company there with the rest of the motley crowd comprising of volunteers and NGO representatives. Each of us spoke about our contributions to Libre software, discussed the challenges we faced and the common recurring theme was lack of support on the ground level. Kenneth spoke about the work NRC-Foss was doing in smaller 2/3- tier cities and how they promote learning and sharing via wiki's, which received a sum total of 3 lines worth of content contribution in the last 2 years of its existence, if i remember his words correctly. Kingsly suggested we should have smaller events all around the year to increase the participation and reach. I had spoken about the lack of women contributors/volunteers in libre software, where I do draw a distinction between people paid to work in Free software and those that do it in their spare time. Both are important but there is a significantly less amount of spare time the non-paid female volunteer gets and that is where the "be nice, be polite" LC philosophy helps in making the transition easy. While there are many female Linux users, the contributors are definitely a smaller subset of this set.
While encouraging more people to adopt Linux is important, Sebastian and Yann echoed others with "Increase contributors, not just consumers of Linux". They summed this up towards the end but I highlight this here because the first thing a volunteer/contributor encounters is the community which is largely via the mailing lists/IRC and forums. If she encounters a hostile atmosphere where aggressive flaming and posturing is indulged in by a handful of vocal flamers, it is bound to turn this person to be a passive observer, lurk quietly and most people (including men) usually leave quietly, all of which are a loss. Yeah, feel free to disagree that you are immune to nastiness and that assholes should be ignored. Umm...naa, I dont have to tolerate assholes to use Linux/Libre software, much less while contributing my time for free. No one should have to tolerate assholes. Period !! For a change, stand-up to bullies around you and say "Stop being an Asshole". It works.
License issues arose but by and large the most common and recurrent theme in the discussion was the lack of support, with almost everyone agreeing that Linux support sucks, commercial and community alike. They are right, there is no local framework where people can communicate face-to-face. IMHO, a local lug is perfect space to plug this gap. I touched upon why its important to have more local meets and more sessions, install fests aimed at newbies where they can have face-to-face community interactions and participation and this was in the "what do we plan to do" section. There are probably lakhs of people who dont know how to use a mailing list and/or IRC. Hey, I certainly dont expect my family members to log onto IRC to ask for help and would rather help them out. Nah, I dont think they should not have to RTFM, google or any other bull-shit that one gets to hear from nerdy geeks. Well these are the folks that would solve a Linux problem for their own kith and kin so why not others? What of those folks who would still be open to trying out Linux but dont have kids to help them out. Suparna was explaining how hard it was for her to make this switch to Linux and she ploughs on because she has nice people around her willing to help her out.
Libre software in Education was discussed and related an incident of ICSE schools treating computer education as a money-spinner. Heck, education has become a "get-rich-quick" scheme instead of the original goal, that of imparting knowledge. Somewhere in the rat race we seem to have allowed education to be overtaken with money and greed. *sigh* !! There were many good ideas and a number of people signed up to various tasks. Another suggestion I had was regarding the the government encouraging small and medium scale entrepreneurs in Libre software (not just the large software export houses). If the manufacturing industry can gets tons of sops for women entrepreneurs why not replicate the same model for women in Libre/Free software which is a great start-up enabler. Besides Tax-incentives, this would also solve the problem of women leaving the work pool after marriage/kids. It will also allow the creation of more jobs and increase the employment rate since Libre software needs a learning attitude more than fancy expensive degrees. The benefits are many but this needs a detailed analysis, so I'll pen those in a separate blog entry.
When it came to a coalition, most opined that it would be better to have and independent NGO for this purpose and many organisations would not be comfortable to go under any existing banner. For example, FSF-India has a limited agenda and would not be interested in local meet-ups and such like. When the question of signatories was thrown up, I mentioned that since LC and UW are not registered entities, I am not an elected representative holding any office of power so I cannot represent the project legally or aim to speak on its behalf unless authorized to do so. I was just a volunteer donating my valuable time. This was true for many individual contributors who are now welcome into the coalition. It was also suggested that atleast one such meeting be held in Chennai (which KG agreed to do), Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkatta. Sunil was the most gracious host with pastries, samosas, patties, and coffee being served to each guest and we wound up by 7pm, with the post-meeting discussions being very interesting too.
But right now I need to go pen a rant on why I hate this city's one-way roads. No really they suck big time... starting with a nice kick for that idiot auto driver for giving me directions to Frazer town from Cunningham road, instead of MG Road. Neither do I have that bad an accent and nor does MG road sound like Frazer town. Sheesh, can someone start a "NO Oneway roads" campaign please !!