Personalities behind the Fest – Jono Bacon

To most of you who read my BLOG today’s Personalities behind the Fest (events) interviewee needs no introduction. He is affectionately know as a “Rock Star” in the Ubuntu and FOSS Communities – Jono Bacon.

Amber Graner: Jono thanks so much for taking the time to talk about the Community Leadership Summit (CLS) today. I had the opportunity to attend CLS and returned with a renewed energy and excitement for all things Community. I saw many opportunities for growth within the greater FOSS community as people shared their ideas and enthusiasm. However; this is not about my experience at CLS, so let me tell you all a little about Jono Bacon. He wears many hats; here are a few of them: works for Canonical, as Ubuntu Community Manager, an author of several books his latest – The Art of Community, a musician – Severed Fifth.

AG: What was “that” moment where you said to yourself “We need a Community Leadership Summit?”?

Jono Bacon: There was no specific moment, but a long sense of build up that there were few opportunities to really talk about community in an independent environment. It started when I started touring around the world visiting the Open Source conference circuit and meeting and greeting people involved in our wonderful community. Each conference that I would hit would often have a similar set of names, and each would get up and talk about their own specific work in their specific community. This was often underlined by an expected level of rivalry and competition that occurs in any industry. This sense of partisanship irked me a little. I have always believed that everyone should have the right and opportunity to build an awesome community, but there was little transfer of best practice between community leaders in competing organizations.

Interestingly, many such community leaders were close friends. Speaking personally, I am friends with many of the community leaders in Fedora, OpenSuSE, and Microsoft, and I consider many of these folks good friends. I started developing a feeling that we needed to share our expertise and knowledge more about topics that touch us all, but I was unsure of how to structure this.

Around November 2008 I got an opportunity to write a book on community and I grasped it with both hands. I wanted to write a book on the subject, and this seemed the perfect opportunity to share this best practice, and O’Reilly was happy for me to release a printed book that you could buy but to also release it under a free Creative Commons license. I started writing and as I descended deeper and deeper into the book I realized we needed an event to encapsulate the topic, and that is when I had the idea of the Community Leadership Summit.

AG: What was the biggest challenge to organizing CLS?

JB: The biggest challenge was coordinating how it would be paid for. Organizing events in the USA is in way, way more complex than my typical English homeland. I had organized events like LugRadio Live and various other gatherings, but it wasn’t until we put together LugRadio Live USA 2008 that I learned of many of these complexities. The hardest part was the union rules. The union rules really bottleneck small events such as the CLS being put together and they hamper the ability to take a grass roots approach to putting it together – such as borrowing projectors, audio equipment and other elements or just doing it yourself. Also, the San Jose Convention Center also wanted to charge nearly all of the money that has ever been produced for coffee.

AG: Can you tell me about who helped in planning and executing CLS and what lessons you learned during the organizing stages?

JB: I put much of the event together myself: organized the venue, put together the website and organized the printing, badges and other bits. I did though have some remarkable people help with other elements. Grant Bowman from the Ubuntu California LoCo team, Amber and Pete Graner from Ubuntu, Karsten Wade and Mel Chua from Fedora, and my wife Erica all came and helped on the weekend, putting together the venue, helping our attendees and just generally building an incredible atmosphere at CLS. Also, Allison Randal from O’Reilly helped provide the venue space, Johnny Good (really) helped provide the A/V equipment and SourceForce, Alfresco, Canonical, Ragga-Wear and Monty Program all helped provide resources for the event.

AG: If someone wanted to plan a CLS type of event what advice would you give them? What was your budget? Where did your funding come from?

JB: My budget was more expensive because it took place at a convention center, and that was because I wanted it to piggy-back OSCON, with it being the first year. I would recommend that event planners avoid convention centers. They are big, often have difficult staff who only ever deal with massive shows so they don’t tend to care about yours (although it has to be said, the San Jose Convention Center was awesome), they often enforce specific outrageously expensive catering providers, often have rigid union rules and have other limitations.

The whole idea of the CLS was to keep it simple, even within these complexities, and I saw my role as to hide this complexity from our attendees. I would recommend that event organizers start simple and work their way up too.

AG: What goals did you have for this event? Did CLS meet, exceed or fall short of those goals?

JB: The goal was simple: bring those passionate about community together in an environment that is vendor neutral. I wanted to attract community managers, leaders and enthusiasts from all walks of life, inside and outside of technology. We really seemed to get this and there was an incredible diversity of attendance, and a lot of people: around 250. The entire event far exceeded my expectations.

AG: What was the most surprising thing you learned while attending CLS?

JB: I was utterly gob-smacked when that many people showed up. I always worry before events, and I was worried that no one would show to the CLS. Fortunately, we had not only lots of people, but lots of really interesting people. 🙂

AG: Can we expect a CLS in conjunction with OSCON from now on or do you envision CLS becoming a stand alone event held only once a year? Would you like to see CLSs happening around the globe? What are your long term goals for this event?

JB: Nothing is confirmed yet, but it is likely that CLS2010 will be before OSCON in Portland. Discussions are on-going. While there is a regional CLS-West being organized by Van Riper, I am not aware of any other events. Personally, I like the idea of having a main event each year, and if there are some smaller regional events, that is awesome.

Thank you again for taking time out of your schedule to tell us a little bit about the thought process behind the Community Leadership Summit and giving us a glimpse into the mind of Jono Bacon. I personally can’t wait to attend CLS2010 and hope everyone else who can will make it as well. Click here to read more about Jono Bacon


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