Hybrid events and my first FOSDEM

Events moving towards online has become one of the definitive trends of the decade. Not that people want to stay home, but once we've been forced to, the advantages become evident. Any event can reach out beyond its usual physical time and space to bring more people together. Even if nothing can beat the hallway track of a fully-present context, I don't believe the online facet of large events can just go away now, specially when video-on-demand allows us to go back to any content we'd like to watch. The technology was always there, it just didn't seem so relevant as it has become now.

In a lot of ways, FOSDEM is an unique case among big annual events. As it says on this year's website "every year, thousands of developers of free and open source software from all over the world gather at the event in Brussels. In 2021, they will gather online." And they did, maintaining a long tradition of filling countless tracks with an overwhelming variety of talks. Usually, FOSDEM fills rooms to full capacity as anyone can drop by to check out the event, it is both a free experience and an exercise in freedom. This year, instead of testing the capacity of its venue, FOSDEM tested the limits of its online infrastructure, specially during the first hour of the first day. It was a rocky start but one to be expected: an undetermined large amount of people arrives all at the same time to set up a profile, browse tracks, open streams, live chat... I'm not sure if people realize the unique value of having a huge event you can attend without giving out any personal details before hand.

I've always been curious about the event, so this online edition was a no-brainer. By creating an account a few days before the event, I avoided that bottleneck and only had trouble playing live streams in the Element Matrix client for the first couple of hours. The tracks I chose to keep tabs open on were the main ones plus Mozilla, Javascript, Open Source Design and Real Time Communications.

Screenshot of my online FOSDEM experience

Here are a few talks that I can recommend from watching them live:

And here are a few that I've watched through the VODs (which are an essential feature in the case of FOSDEM):

Looking towards the future, I am definitely more interested now in attending FOSDEM in person. Watching the event online does allow you to keep an eye on several tracks all at the same time and to jump between them depending on which session is more engaging. But I'm sure that the in-person experience can have an unique interpersonal value that is very much a part of free and open source software. This is a kind of software development that is all about people coming together, with or without a physical context. By always thinking about their audience on a larger scope, I hope that indeed many events tap into the potential of having both a physical and a digital venue.

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