17 May, 2012

Re:Publica

re:publica #rp12

About two weeks ago I went to Re:Publica, a hipster event (can I say that?) in Berlin. It was an interesting event - related to the stuff I usually visit, yet different. I'll go over the differences, then present what I see as the challenge for Free Software events: get those creative, digital and always-online people closer to us!

Audience

The main audience of the event could probably be best described as people interested in the 'digital lifestyle'. People who use smartphones, are always on-line. They find their places-to-go on foursquare, talk to their friends on facebook, share their opinions on twitter, Whatsapp with their love - but they don't hang out on IRC or visit forums very often and they probably have a Macbook Air and a high-end android phone. Yes, not that different from us.

Subjects

The event featured talks on things like the web, new cloud services like on-line music and creativity like music and video tools, open video etcetera. But that was only about 10-20%. Another 20-30% was about the future - social media, social innovation and more. To my surprise, the remaining 50% of the talks was about Freedom - and I use the capital for a reason. The Occupy movement, Digital Restrictions Management, Net Neutrality, Open Data, Digital influence on revolutions, eco-journalism, (internet) governance. Very close to what we, the Free Software community, hold dear (and find interesting!) Yes, not so different from us.

re:publica #rp12

Marketing and artwork

You can imagine - an event organized by hipsters creative people looks good. It does! Team t-shirts were sponsored by spreadshirt and had the title 'actionist'. There was a big wall with the program, using pictures of the speakers, QR codes and more weird stuff. A twitter stream on a screen is old, people. Here, if you tweet a hash-tag you get your face as part of a logo shape or you get a gift if you check in with foursquare. That's more like it. Oh, and they had a 'carry your own chair' program - not unlike we did at the last openSUSE conference at the end of each day, except that it was 'cool', not 'please help us out with moving chairs'!

There were other things, too. Interesting or just plain weird stickers - with just a QR code or a shortened link, or only a slogan. There was stuff like a live steaming camera so you could interact with people on-line (easy to do: a laptop with a webcam connected to a google hangout?!?) and plenty of other good ideas. Surely different from what we usually do!

Challenge for us?

I lately have been feeling that Free Software is loosing the battle for the hearts. Privacy and security are not important, internet is just a tool. We've been trying to educate people about Freedom but they don't care.

I was wrong. Collaboration and Freedom DO matter and people know it. We just don't reach the most of those who care about these things. This is where our challenge lies!

After talking with others and thinking about this, I conclude that there are two things we have to do better:
    Positivism. We have a tendency to 'lecture' about the dangers of DRM, closed standards, government control and other things. Wake up! Look around you! Online Collaboration has given us Wikipedia. Online Communication has supported revolutions in the Middle East. Social Media gave us the Occupy Movement. And everyone's using Android phones. Yes, there are challenges, but let's celebrate our successes too! Relevance. We often are perfectionists. Build alternatives instead of interfacing with what's out there. But most people don't care that much for a slightly more secure system if it makes getting the latest stuff harder. People don't care about a perfectly free Cloud solution if it's more difficult or doesn't work with what they have. We must realize that a Can do attitude gets us far further than a Can't do way of thinking. And we have to make sure that what people care about is what we care about. Talking to others, sharing data, working with what's out there and checking if what we do has real-world value!

re:publica #rp12

Concrete

At least at the conference's I'm involved in I'll be trying to broaden the audience a bit and attract people outside of our usual circle. By changes to the program (workshops on Krita, Gimp, Blender, Kdenlive and Inkscape? ownCloud? web stuff? Talks about Wikimedia, the EFF, net neutrality, copyright?) and by advertising/spreading the word in less usual places (maybe an Apple fan magazine or a design paper). Let's see if we can get more people to see what we do, get involved, care!

Awesome images by Renehamburg on flickr