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!

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