Lessons from UbuCon: Canonical needs its own live events

UbuCon's growth, and Canonical's increased involvement, is a sign that the company needs to return to organizing its own live events

mark shuttleworth
Credit: Swapnil Bhartiya

Canonical is one of the big three of the Linux world (the other two being Red Hat and SUSE), but the company no longer organizes events that bring people together in person. The company used to have Ubuntu Developer Summit (UDS), but they changed it from an in-person event to an online event called Ubuntu Online Summit (UOS), which is organized over Google Hangouts.

UDS was not, of course, the only Ubuntu event; the Ubuntu community organizes many events on its own. UbuCon, which used to be a small, regional event is one of them.

With the end of UDS, UbuCon's popularity grew immensely.  It grew so big that the community started co-hosting it with other major Linux events like Southern California Linux Expo (SCALE). And Canonical's involvement in UbuCon increased as well.

"Initially, [Canonical] had very little involvement [with UbuCon]," Michael Hall, Community Manager at Canonical Ltd. told me in an interview. "It was just something that was community run and we will send some conference packs they requested. But in the past year or so we have been giving them more financial support, and pushing more Canonical employees to go and give presentations out there.”

Most of the financial support comes in the form of sponsorships for events like SCALE so that attendees can justify getting a room for UbuCon. Then Canonical also provides travel/lodging support to developers and pays for t-shirts and swag given out at the events.

In 2016, Canonical will be sending over 30 developers to UbuCon. And, for the first time, Canonical’s founder Mark Shuttleworth will be attending UbuCon to deliver a keynote and participate in a panel discussion.

Canonical’s growing interest in UbuCon shows that the company is recognizing the value of in-person events. But that doesn't mean that UDS should become an in-person event again. “I don’t think we are going to do in-person event for developer planning because we do it too frequently now,' said Hall. "Ubuntu Online Summit is going to stay for the actual development planning and might change to happen more frequently than just once every cycle."

But he also added that the universal feedback from both the community and Canonical was that they miss in-person events and hope to get it with UbuCon Summit.

And that’s where the line is drawn. UbuCon can’t replace UDS because the two events have a totally different focus. The big difference between the two events is in the discussions that are going to happen, Hall told me. UbuCon is going to be more presentation oriented, showing off things and talking about how to do things and less about planning work items with the development cycle. “We will have round table discussions, but they are not going to be about what packages will go in Ubuntu or which will be the default app selection for Ubuntu," Hall said. "It will be a little bit more focused on end users and independent developers."

I am of the opinion that Canonical should support UbuCon from outside as a community event and start organizing their own events along the lines of SUSECon, LinuxCon, DockerCon, and so on. Events play a very important role in bringing different players together. For example, because UbuCon is a community event, Canonical can’t bring in their corporate partners. That leaves a very important piece out.

Canonical is active in so many different domains: They have desktop Linux, mobile OS, an IoT offering, and are very strong in the enterprise space. By organizing commercial events, Canonical could bring hardware and software partners together, along with developers, sysadmins, DevOps and others. Community can always be part of it, just like at any event.

What do you think, should Canonical increase involvement with UbuCon or start organizing its own live events?

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