[OSGeo-Conf] Analysing the downfall of FOSS4G 2011

Eric Wolf ebwolf at gmail.com
Tue Aug 14 12:46:21 PDT 2012

I'm a big fan of failure. We learn more from failure than success. However,
I agree that there should be room for small failures to occur but for
FOSS4G to continue to get sponsor dollars, the failure cannot be
catastrophic again.

I can't even begin to understand how to provide both an egalitarian
approach to hosting while ensuring a high level of professionalism. I love
doing little WhereCamp events where the idea is to throw off the shackles
of "professionalism". But at the level FOSS4G has attained, there has to be
some kind baseline of professionalism.

I was, personally, one of the biggest causes of uncertainty for the Denver
event. But what most people don't know is that I was ready to quit my PhD
(or put it on hold) if Peter (or someone comparable) didn't step forward to
take over. Fortunately, Peter stepped forward and did an amazing job
keeping everyone working together.

Denver also had the best possible PCO in GITA. They knew how to put on big
international geospatial conferences in Denver (and elsewhere).

To top it off, Denver's choice of location and the way conference hotels,
like the Sheraton, work in the US, the event would have been successful by
most measures even if very few people turned out. Again, we were fortunate
in that the problem was just the opposite: we started to approach
attendance levels that would have required changing how some of the events

I suspect Nottingham will be equally successful because the LOC has had
lots of experience with there own events. The only uncertainty for them
will be managing the size of the event. And that's a really challenging
part of the equation. The last thing I did as Denver LOC Chair was to try
to make estimates on attendance. I went county-by-country and tried to
estimate a low, mid and high attendance for each. In the end, I was
consistently wrong. Fortunately, even though I was wrong, for every time I
guessed too high, there were more instances where I guessed too low.

Peter and I were talking the other night about who might bid for FOSS4G
2014. We both thought it might be interesting to put forward another Denver
bid. Many of the biggest conferences stay in the same location because it
eliminates uncertainty. We have a template in place for FOSS4G in Denver.

But that's hardly egalitarian.


Eric B. Wolf                           720-334-7734

On Tue, Aug 14, 2012 at 12:57 PM, Paul Ramsey <pramsey at opengeo.org> wrote:

> On Tue, Aug 14, 2012 at 11:46 AM, Frank Warmerdam <warmerdam at pobox.com>
> wrote:
> > I agree with Jachym that it is still desirable to give the local
> > organizers quite a bit of freedom and that we should accept that
> > occasional failure is not a disaster.
> On the contrary, I'd say that random failures are a disaster and will
> actually contribute to more failures. As Cameron noted in his
> document, the success of a conference is tied to the perceived
> expectations. Throwing a conference is like throwing a party. Do you
> want to go to a lame party? No, you want to go to a rocking party. If
> PartyPete throws awesome parties every Thursday, you'll clear your
> schedule as next Thursday rolls around. If LameLou throws passable
> parties sometimes, and sometimes cancels them, you'll start going to
> PartyPete's instead. Consistency is very important.
> The same thing will go double for sponsors: are you going to commit to
> early sponsorship and send a cheque to an event that was cancelled
> last year? Or will you hold on to your cheque until the last minute
> just in case? The uncertainty effect is going to make the financial
> situation of future conferences more precarious as sponsors and
> registrants hedge their bets until later in the calendar. This will
> only get worse if we embrace failure as an occasionally acceptable
> mode.
> P.
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