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Mini-post-mortem of a failed mini-Debconf

Over one year ago, still at DebConf 6, the Latin American Debian people (and by people I mean just interested people, regardless of whether they were/are official DDs or not) held a BoF session. One of the ideas we discussed there was that, in order to increase Debian presence in our region (which is by no means small - Let alone the geographical aspects, I'm guessing we are about 350 million people, roughly split in half between [officially] Spanish- and Portuguese- speaking countries). Yet, this is an area with very little involvement in Debian in particular, and with Free Software in general.

One of our first issues seems to be language - Just by its scale and economic importance, we cannot even put in the same scale Brazil and the Spanish-speaking countries... So I'll focus on Spanish-speaking Latin America, as (I recall) we did in that session.

So, we agree: We need more local involvement in each of our communities. And, so far, we have seen quite relevant results. The number of people directly involved in Debian in Argentina, Chile, Perú, Colombia, Venezuela, El Salvador and Mexico (excuse me if I forget you in another country!) has notably risen since I brought this topic up, together with Christian Perrier, back in DebConf5, Helsinki. An undeniable fact is that distances in our continent, however, are huge. In the 2006 BoF, we agreed we should promote regional meetings, that would serve both for working focused on Debian topics (i.e. hack sessions, as we do in DebConf) and for spreading our work to the local population, to help them see that it is not needed to be super-skilled or anything like that to contribute to a real, important and large Free Software project such as ours. Of course, taking into account the distances in the continent, we thought it would be sensible to split it in two - and to try and hold regional mini-debconfs - One for the Northern half (i.e. Perú, Ecuador, Colombia, Venezuela, Central America, Cuba and Mexico), and one for the Southern half (Bolivia, Chile, Argentina, Uruguay, Paraguay). And, for logistical reasons mainly, I strongly advocated having our first Northern meeting in Panamá. Why Panamá? Because it is a place cheap and easy to get to. They have a very important international airport, connecting to most if not all countries in the region, and -as they have risen as a business center- have good connectivity. Visa is required for many of the interested countries, but trivial to get (as opposed to what happened here in Mexico :-( ). Of course, other countries also looked interesting (there was some argument pushing Venezuela, but in the end, we all conceded it would be in Panamá.

I have to strongly thank Guillermo García - He is not (yet? :) I hope he still wants to get involved with this bunch of people) in Debian in any way, but after I contacted him, he agreed to start looking for a way to get us the right facilities in Panamá. He coordinated with a team which did most of the organization - A very nice web site is still available so you can look at their work - Quite a good job, I must add.

They contacted Universidad Tecnológica de Panamá, started talking with several potential sponsors, got information regarding hotels for us... But in the end, it flopped. Why? Because, although many of us were originally interested, in the end very few people (only three, none of them officially a Debian Developer, according to their last press release) confirmed their intention to attend.

Which brings me again to the question: Why?

First and foremost, I think it was lack of involvement. For one reason or another, all of the people that in the beginning pushed for this miniDebConf ended up busy doing other stuff, and didn't get at all involved in organization. It would have been a great present from our Panaman friends, yes, but quite unfair. And, of course, with no Debian people involved in organizing it, we got an chicken-and-eggesque situation... Where it didn't grab the attention of other Debian people.

Second, what they offered us was quite different to what we intended in the first place - At least, to what I imagined. On my first messages both to debian-devel-spanish and to Guillermo, I tried to get something close to what we had in mind: Something as informal and as intimate as it could be. My original request to Guillermo was just to get us a room where we could hack and talk, and probably sleep with sleeping bags.

Of course, I can perfectly imagine that when he requested the space to the university, on one hand, they didn't feel at ease having International Guests (with capital I and G - Very important for most Latin American universities!) sleeping on the floor. And, on the other hand, they would love to be able to show us around! Having an international project focus on a university in a non-technologically-well-known little country is quite something to show off!

Anyway... What happened? I was among the instigators, but Real Life called me away (I've been mostly inactive in Debian since September! :-( ). The miniconf was scheduled for November 14-17. I also insisted originally on having the miniconf on a long weekend (say, Friday through Sunday), as -being a miniconf and not the Real Deal- it'd be much easier for most of us to rob one day off work than a full week. In the end, this was the most important point for my decision not to join: I cannot afford more time off my work, not at this time of year. About the other involved people? I do not want to speak for any other people.

In the end, sadly, Guillermo had to inform us they cancelled - No, not postponed, but definitively cancelled. Why? Because -and I have to agree- next year we will have DebConf in Argentina... And many people in the region will focus our time and money on getting there.

Ok, making this whole story short: I'm very, very ashamed and sorry, with you personally, Guillermo, and with your whole team. And I hope we can resurrect this idea - be it in Venezuela (as it was suggested once) or elsewhere.


Gunnar 2007-11-05 08:47:04

Re: Re: Mini-post-mortem of a failed mini-Debconf

Listo, disculpas…

manuel flores villatoro 2007-11-05 08:22:08

Re: Mini-post-mortem of a failed mini-Debconf

Hey gunnar, solo una corrección, en la sección de paises, me parece que querias decir “El Salvador”…