I recently got back from my trip to Flock, held in Prague, Czech Republic. This is the first Fedora conference I’ve attended and, while the memories are still somewhat fresh in my mind, I thought I’d jot down some of my thoughts & reflections about the event.
I arrived the night before the conference and was pleasantly surprised to find that getting to the conference venue was pretty easy. Prague’s public transit system is extremely convenient – the metro, bus, and tram system are all integrated and tickets are very affordable. Buses from the airport run frequently, so catching a bus wasn’t a problem. The conference hotel (Hotel Diplomat) was literally steps away from the bus stop. The conference venue was a short walk from the hotel and the weather was perfect while we were there. You really can’t ask for too much more from a conference venue!
My Flock talk (on user experience, aka UX) was scheduled in the afternoon on the first day and I ended up spending much of the time prior to my session prepping my slides and rehearsing my talk. I was a bit nervous giving this talk. While I can certainly talk hours on end about UX, I still consider myself a newbie to the FOSS community and was unsure if my talk would be relevant and/or interesting to others. In my very short time as a FOSS contributor so far, I sometimes felt that folks may rush through UX stuff in order to get to the development part of the project. I also sometimes got the feeling that folks may think of UX very narrowly. (I should note that I’ve observed these issues outside of FOSS too!) Based on those two observations, I thought it might be interesting to focus my talk on breadth – to give folks a sense of how broad the UX process can be and that there are actually lots of design methods & usability tests that can be done. Of course, how relevant each of the methods are and which tests one should use will depend on the specific project. But hopefully the talk gave folks a general idea that the UX toolbox is in fact very large and to use a particular UX tool, you don’t have to be a rocket scientist. Many of the methods are actually quite approachable and easy to conduct, especially given with the right guidance/example to follow.
Overall, I think the talk went well. The room was much more crowded than I expected. At the time, I found that a bit nerve-wracking (are all these people really interested in my talk??), but in thinking back, I think it’s a good sign – it shows that there are FOSS folks who appreciate UX, are curious about it, and/or want to learn more about it. Any combination of the above is a win from my point of view. I think, if I had a chance to do another UX talk, I’d considering use a case-study approach. For example, what is project N doing in terms of UX and what is (or isn’t) working for them? Or perhaps doing a critique of a project’s UX – not just the user-facing UX aspects, but also a critique of the project’s overall UX process (i.e., how they handle UX issues/concerns).
I got a lot of good questions in the Q&A of my talk as well. Lots of folks had questions about what users can do to help with the usability process. I think it’s great that project contributors are thinking about this issue. One good suggestion from the audience was to create templates for bug reports for UX-related issues. I definitely think this would be a great start to standardizing how UX issues are reported and standardization can be particularly useful when projects are trying to learn from each other about how to solve usability problems. I have a few ideas for what this template might look like and it would be interesting to try it out on a small project first to see how effective it might be.
For those that are interested in watching the talk, you can catch the video on Flock’s YouTube channel. In fact, all of the conference’s talk are posted so browse and listen to your heart’s content! I’d like to give a quick shout-out to Mo, who I heard did a fantastic job of transcribing my talk (live!) on irc. I unfortunately can’t find the log for the irc channel, but I definitely appreciate the effort, especially since I know I tend to talk fast in my presentations!
Other sessions that I attended included:
- Marie’s talk on Fedora Badges: I’m a big fan of her illustrations and all the different badges she’s contributed. I also think her style guide is a huge win for the community. As a relative newcomer to the FOSS community, I’m always thinking about how to make things more approachable for first-time contributors and having a style guide makes it much more understandable for folks who are new to the badge design process. I’m hoping to try my hand at creating a badge or two soon!
- The keynote talk on open hardware: It was interesting to hear the genesis story of how Kosagi started out and to see how far they’ve come along. I’m excited to see how the Novena open computing platform shapes up. Yes, the hardware looks a bit pricey, but hopefully the quality (both in terms of openness and performance) will make it worth it. I heard folks were trying to install Fedora on the Novena soon after the conference – I’m wondering how that turned out?
- Aurelien’s Hyperkitty workshop: Having worked on Hyperkitty, I was looking forward to this workshop. It was a smaller group than I anticipated, but we were able to walk through the install process with a couple of users and, in doing so, uncovered some interesting issues. I was also able to use the time to work with a fellow designer and run a mini-heuristic evaluation session with him. I got lots of really useful feedback from him that I hope to write up soon. I’m hoping that at least some of the usability issues he uncovered can be fixed either in the next version.
I attended several other sessions (including a few on Fedora.next, one on security, and another on boot loaders). To be honest, I often found a lot of the details in these sessions going over my head, but it’s nice to get exposed to new topics, even if it does take me a bit longer to digest the material.
As with all conferences, I think the best parts happen outside the sessions and especially with meeting other attendees. Flock introduced me to a lot of new folks in the Fedora community. I feel very fortunate to have been given an opportunity to talk at the conference. As a newcomer, giving a talk was a great way to break the ice with others and find others with similar interests. For example, I was able to meet previous OPW alum (like Marie) and I also met a bunch of FOSS designers (like Sirko, Sarup, Garrett, and many others!). And of course, conferences are also great for serendipitous meetings too. One evening I had dinner with some very seasoned Red Hat folks and felt lucky to be in their company. It’s clear there’s a great sense of community in Fedora and I absolutely love how approachable and down-to-earth everyone is. The conference organizers (Ruth, Tom, Josh, Miro) did a wonderful job putting together some wonderful social events too. I especially liked the boat party. The views from the river were fantastic and it was a great venue to mingle & chat with others.
Attending Flock has refueled my enthusiasm about Fedora. I’m excited to be able to count myself as a part to this community and am looking forward to making many more contributions soon!