How companies leave the community out of the conversation

November 4th, 2009 in open source

This morning I tried to attend a webinar, The Open Source Community vs. Patent Trolls – Preserving Developer Freedom. I knew the webinar was hosting on software that wouldn't work on Linux, GoToMeeting. (Actually, who knows if it will work on Linux. The web page checks your operating system and if you are on Linux, it won't even try.) I thought I'd just dialin. No such luck, you have to dialin to the webinar (on a Windows or Mac) in order to get the code for the phone.

That means they were not targeting this webinar towards the free software community nor the developers whose freedom they are talking about. They aren't even allowing them to participate.

What are they trying to accomplish with the webinar?

I have to assume they are targeting companies whose business they want. The title of trolls and protecting developers is catchy and spreads a bit of fear which hopefully they'll address (and dispel) in the webinar. The speakers actually probably have a genuine interest in reaching out to as many people as possible.

The primary purpose of the webinar must be to educate non free software users about an existing issue.

I had (erroneously) hoped that it would be a session to start a conversation about how we could all work to preserve developer freedom and fight patent trolls. But without the community, that conversation wouldn't be complete. And the community, the developers whose freedom they are interested in preserving, are overwhelming using free operating systems like Linux, not Windows or Mac, so they were not only not invited, they were not allowed to participate. (I gave them my name and email address when I signed up, so they have my contact info, but they still required that I dial in via the web page to get the phone number.)

As a Linux user and community member, I guess I was not the target market for this webinar. And that disappoints me as I think creating connections between companies concerned about patent trolls and community members working on projects that may be affected by patent trolls would be a good start to creating a community of companies and individuals interested in solving the problem of patent trolls.

This isn't an isolated incident

While I'm using a webinar hosted on GoToMeeting as an example here, this is not the only time this has happened to me.

If companies want to work with communities, they have to try to work with the community. Most free and open source software developers don't have Windows or Mac systems. Some developers don't have one for philosophical reasons. Many don't have them because they don't need them (they are using a free software desktop!) and they don't want to spend the time and money associated with maintaining one. It is much, much easier for a company to use a more Linux friendly webinar tool (or just hand out the phone code) than it is for a free software developer to go out and buy a copy of Windows or a Mac to attend a meeting.

If you work at a large company that uses WebEx or GoToMeeting and you are holding a meeting with free software developers, why not consider using a different tool just for that meeting? You can use a simple phone conference, share slides ahead of time, you can take simultaneous notes with Gobby (a free tool that works on Windows, Linux and Mac!) … But don't send the slides out ahead of time and still hold the meeting on WebEx or GoToMeeting – that makes some of the people feel like they are left out.

The focus (with developer conversations at least) should be on the conversation not on the slides or the lead generation.

3 Responses to “How companies leave the community out of the conversation”

  1. oneguynick says:

    At my company we use WebEX version 8 which does work with Linux if you have the right java libraries installed. Agreed though, something like dimdim is much better for OSS users than the commercial alternatives.

  2. I think you might want to make a distinction between Open Source users and Free Software users. While it may have been the case that 7 years ago most Open Source developers used Linux on the desktop, if you go to ApacheCon or EclipseCon you’ll see rather few Linux laptops compared to the number of Macs (and a smaller number of PCs, but still more than Linux). Are the people not Open Source developers who have concerns about patent issues? What about the system administrator who manages Linux boxes but has a Mac for his desktop? Open Source has become a very big tent. Many Open Source developers and users are rather pragmatists — using the tool that works the best, rather than being beholden to Free software only, which is inferior in many cases.
    Many companies may not chose to use more Linux friendly tools because they see that many (dare I say most) Open Source developers aren’t on Linux, either that or they just don’t care. WebEx and GoToMeeting work good enough and take very little effort on the part of meeting hosts and participants and there just isn’t enough payoff to take time for someone who could just reboot their machine to Windows or use another machine. As for Gobby, it’s neat, but you’re asking someone to download a tool, get the IP address for other clients, make sure their firewall will allow the outgoing packets, etc. The web just works.
    I’m not saying this is the right solution, but this is the reality that we’re faced with in Open Source and software development.
    [There's also some irony that I had to switch away from one Open Source browser, Chromium, to another, Firefox, to post this. JavaScript errors prevented Chromium from posting]

  3. Phil Odence says:

    Stormy,
    Having conceived of the webinar, I can assure you that we were not trying to exclude anyone. After hearing Keith speak about patents and the OIN at LinuxCon and I immediately asked if he’d like some help getting his important message out. Frankly, there is little tie between patent issues and our products/services, so we looked at the event purely as a public service to the open source community.
    We use GoTo because it works and is cost effective. We had really poor experiences with a number of the alternatives (including commercial ones) that are mentioned above. I remember talking to Mike Woster at the Linux Foundation about this 9 months ago and he was dying for a good webinar platform.
    That said, the fact the GoTo does not yet support Linux is a problem for us and we are actively seeking alternatives. The current workaround is to wait a day and download the .mov version of the replay. In this era of TiVo, that’s not a bad alternative for folks. (I was out of the country for this one and went that route myself.) With a replay, you don’t get to submit questions, but I can assure you that we will promptly respond to any questions anyone sends our way.
    If you (or any of your readers) come across an reliable, effective (and cost effective) alternative to GoTO, PLEASE let us know.
    Thanks