On Moving To An Online Ubuntu Developer Summit

Some of you may have seen the news about us transitioning to an online Ubuntu Developer Summit and running the event every three months. If you didn’t see the news, you can read it here. I just wanted to share my personal perspective on this change.

For a long time now I have been attending Ubuntu Developer Summits as part of my work, but for the last event in Copenhagen my wife was about to give birth and so I attended the event remotely. As someone who has been heavily involved in the planning and execution of UDS for the last 10 or so events, I was intimately aware of the remote participation features of the event, but I had never actually utilized them myself. I was excited to dive into the sessions remotely and participate.

For the sessions I dialed into I found the remote participation worked well, but not as well as it could. Sometimes it was a little difficult to hear people (despite us alway encouraging speakers to sit near the middle of the fishbowl), and for the sessions I wasn’t able to actively participate in (due to the timezone differences), only some of those sessions had videos available that I could review after the session had ended. As such, this made it something of a challenge at times to get an overall view of the event; it depended on attendees taking good notes (which generally happens), but I missed the specifics of the discussions.

Remote participation has always been a critical part of UDS and I think it worked efficiently as it could, but these issues were primarily due to the challenge of delivering an in-person event to an online audience and the practicalities therein.

Of course, the real challenge is getting you people to eat these things.

The move to an online event effectively solves the majority of these issues: every single session will be recorded and available for viewing after the fact (which is awesome for not only attendees, but also for the press, partners and others), and with everyone in the hangout facing a webcam and a microphone, the quality of the content should be better too.

For those people who can’t join the session hangout video stream, IRC participation is available, and those IRC discussions will be logged too and provided in addition to the video of the session and the Etherpad notes. This provides a great overview of all the content and discussion in the session.

An online event is also going to open up the event to more potential participants. There are many folks who either can’t physically travel or justify the travel expenses or time away from their work and family commitments who can now participate in the event by simply opening their web browser. With the wide focus in Ubuntu across the desktop, devices and the cloud, we need more specialists rather than fewer to guide us on our mission, and the online event will make it easier for those folks to attend. I think that this will result in wider and more diverse discussion, ultimately helping us to do a better job planning UDS.

Some folks have expressed a concern about not having as much face-to-face time as in a physical event. Of course, video-conferencing will never ultimately replace being in the same room as someone, but I think much of that personal connection is still shared via hangouts. As an example, my team at Canonical used to have team meetings on Skype or a Conference Call and ever since we switched to Google+ Hangouts the sense of personal connection and team spirit has skyrocketed. Sure, it doesn’t replace being in the same room, but when we balance out the benefits of an online event for the reasons I mentioned earlier, it seems like a reasonable trade-off to me.

Iterative Improvements

One thing that many folks don’t see from behind the scenes of planning the physical UDSs is that we have always taken an really rigorous approach to improving and refining the event. This not only includes the structure of the event, but we have iterated after every detail to improve room layouts, A/V needs, timing, remote participation requirements, scheduling patterns, and more. Every detail of UDS has been scrutinized after every event, and the survey we send out is reviewed with a fine tooth comb, all with the goal of squeezing out as much efficiency as possible so the time everyone commits to UDS is as worthwhile as possible.

We are still exploring the alleged productivity-enhancing benefits of light ping-pong.

With UDS previously happening every six months this has helped us to build a pretty bullet proof formula for the physical event, and many attendees comment at each UDS about just how efficient it is and how much gets done. This is largely due to this iterative refinement process.

The first online UDS takes place next week and I think we have a pretty good plan for it, but we are going to go through exactly the same process for reviewing how each event goes and buffing off the rough edges so that works better and more efficiently each time. With us now doing a UDS every three months it should not take too long to get us into a winning formula, and our community are an essential part of helping us to refine these different pieces. As I mentioned in the announcement blog, after the second event we are also going to take a general look to see if an online UDS is serving the needs of the project well in terms of how we plan Ubuntu development.

Got Questions?

I am sure many of you will still have questions about the new format of UDS. Tomorrow (Wednesday) at 7pm UTC. I will be doing my usual weekly Q+A videocast on Ubuntu On Air and will dedicate part of the session to covering how the online event will work and answering your questions. Feel free to bring your UDS and any other questions to the session!

  • http://www.iheartubuntu.com iheartubuntu.com

    I have enjoyed the Ubuntu Classroom sessions immensely and Lernid has been very enjoyable to use. It would be incredible if Lernid could handle it all… IRC, video, screencast, etc.

    With Lernid handling IRC and screencasts already, it would be great if it could handle the video feed too. So, QUESTION: Any plans for UDS in Lernid?


  • Anonymous

    Everyone will simply run in your web browser so you don’t even need to install anything. :-)

  • Bruno Girin

    That’s an interesting proposition and I think that the shorter duration (2 days instead of 4) and doing it online could bring a lot more non-Canonical people into the process, which is great.

    Having said this, one thing that worked very well with the face-to-face sessions was that you always had a few people running the session and keeping it on track so it will be important to keep that. On the other hand, the face-to-face version meant that it was sometimes too easy to get involved in a discussion and forget that there was an IRC channel running behind so it could be good to have at least one moderator keep an eye on IRC, in the same way as you do it for Ubuntu on Air.

    One thing that could be fun too would be to have some UDS meetups organised by loco teams where people can meet up locally to participate in UDS. I don’t know how well that would work but it could be worth trying out.

  • Martin Owens

    It’d be nice to have a localised physical event during the week. Maybe a single get together for employees, volunteers and community overlap. Here in Boston it shouldn’t be too hard to find a place to meet and have a beer, the problem is convincing the MI6 like combatants in Lexington to get social outside of work.

  • Anonymous

    Wow Jono, some of your same complains I had been experiencing them for some time now. Glad you were able to catch on a lot of the shortcomings of attending remotely.

    I also believe this will also greatly benefit the new improved release processes that the developers are getting in place. As you may have noticed the UDS schedules themselves were tied to the 6 month cycle, thus you had to wait longer to discuss changes, submit new ideas, get feedback, QA, etc.

    Also there have been many talks about implementing a more fluid development and even a Half-Rolling “chakra style” type experience for apps (both commercial and oss), kernels/hardware, release features not rushed but when ready, etc.. and this will become easier now that UDS wont be something that could now get in the way of that.

    But I hope you guys can gather once in a while or for special events/occasions! Good luck!

  • Brett

    Hi Jono,

    Got attributions for those lovely photos?


  • http://jeremy.bicha.net/ Jeremy Bicha

    Your last line makes almost no sense but then again I don’t really know those people…

  • http://benjaminkerensa.com/ Benjamin Kerensa

    So four questions: 1. Won’t forcing people to use a Google service limit reach? 2. Do you think this will impact people feeling like they have a good connection with their teams? 3. UDS was not only a lot of work but also somewhat of a reward to contributors who did great work… What will be the replacement to recognize and reward contributors now? 4. Why was this idea not discussed at last UDS? Why was not even the Community Council given notice?

  • https://launchpad.net/~andrewsomething andrewsomething

    I can understand a lot of the reasons behind this decision (many seemingly unspoken). UDS is a massive undertaking and especially with Canonical’s moves into new markets it can potentially become unwieldy. As someone who as only been able to attend two, I do look forward to a better experience for remote participation.

    The one thing that I really just can’t wrap my head around though is the announcement that the first one will be in one week. It seems unlikely that I’ll be able to participate in real time, and on that short notice in the middle of a cycle I don’t see how community members can pull together effective specs. I just don’t see how it can productive except as a trial run for future online UDS’s. Can you speak to that decision at all?

  • https://launchpad.net/~andrewsomething andrewsomething

    I almost forgot the most glaring issue! No hugs from dholbach!

  • http://metin2wiki.ru CSRedRat

    Online is cool!

  • Martin Owens

    Hangouts work without a G+ video plugin?

  • Anonymous
    1. Not sure it will limit it more than requiring people to travel extensively to join a face to face event.

    2. There is definitely a downside to less face to face communication, but online communities often have great relations without regular face to face interaction.

    3. Agreed, but for many contributors not getting sponsorship was demotivating – this now balances all that out. I think people get their rewards in lots of different ways, and I am not sure people require a face to face event to feel part of a community.

    4. It wasn’t discussed at the last UDS because it wasn’t even thought of back then. The Community Council wasn’t given notice because UDS is an event organized and run by Canonical.