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Software Freedom Work During the Pandemic

by Deb Nicholson on April 21, 2020

Most of us have already gotten many, many emails talking about how fast food chains, companies that sell sweatpants and soap makers are "here for you" especially, "in these troubled times." Some of those are heartfelt emails assuring you that their company is making donations to non-profits or that they are really, really, washing everything. Non-profits, while we are also "here for you" especially, "in these troubled times" generally have more to do during a crisis so we've been focusing on our work while going a bit light on our marketing.

Conservancy's communities have responded to the global pandemic in several ways. Firstly, we are all grateful for the global, remote free software community -- particularly as many key events are being cancelled or transforming into online experiences. Many of us are looking at how to better serve the people who count on us, either by improving the tools we offer or our support, or both. Here's a sampling of what our projects are doing during the pandemic.

Working Together

Etherpad recently rolled out video support. It was already in the works, but it couldn't be more timely as many, many more people look for remote collaboration tools that respect their freedom. We've tried it out with as many as six people and you get a collaborative space for document editing (minutes, statement, shared story, etc.) as well as a sidebar with everyone's faces reacting in real time — very nice!

Conservancy also houses three (3!) version control systems. There's never been more demand for efficient tooling to manage remote, asynchronous collaboration. Git, Darcs and Mercurial are ready to help you work together, remotely.

Common Workflow language has been participating in biohackathons, more information on that work can be found here.

Remote Internships

Outreachy provided remote paid internships to work on free and open source software, inviting anyone who faces under-representation, systemic bias, or discrimination in the technology industry of their country to apply. The pandemic has exacerbated societal inequities such that people who have stable tech jobs are able to weather this crisis from the safety of their homes, while less resourced people are forced to choose between having an income and safety from the virus. And of course, it's not a great time to look for intro-level opportunities, let alone remote ones that could lead to a career with working on free software. Outreachy is looking to provide as many internships as possible in the coming May round to help bring more opportunities to marginalized people when they're needed most. Additionally, Outreachy has lowered the hours requirement for interns and mentors, to make the intership more accessible to those who have additional care-giving or just increased emotional overhead during the global pandemic. Outreachy typically has provided a travel stipend to interns. Because travel is no longer safe or recommended, the Outreachy team has decided to officially cancel all travel and pay all outstanding travel stipends, which they hope will help their alumns cope with this difficult time. The Outreachy team could use your help -- making the upcoming round bigger will be tough while some funding sources are contracting. We encourage companies to sponsor Outreachy interns, and anyone whose financial situation is not impacted by the current crisis to make an individual donation.

LibreHealth and Qemu are both mentoring Outreachy interns who will get paid to work on free software, remotely (as always) this summer. Boost, Coreboot, Godot, Inkscape, Qemu, Sugar Labs, Wine and Xapian are all taking part in Google Summer of Code -- another critical remote internship opportunity that brings new people in to the free software community. Disasters tend to exacerbate the impact of existing inequalities, making things hard for newcomers. Mentoring new free software contributors, and paying them while they work and learn, is more important than ever.

Control Over Our Computing

Many folks have been trying to get work or school software functioning on their home computers for the first time this past month and are newly grateful for the important interoperability bridges that Homebrew and Wine maintain. Wine just released updates and bug fixes a week ago, while we've been working with Homebrew to ensure that their paid contractors are well-supported with proper hardware during lockdown.

As we incorporate technology more intimately into our lives, with networked devices being a lifeline to work, school, friends and family, it's never been more important to make sure we control the technology we rely on. Our team is also continuing to work on GPL compliance, making sure that companies who use copylefted software keep up their end of the deal. Having access to source code and being able to modify the software on our devices can help us limit surveillance and other predatory behavior by companies who know that their customers have little choice if they want devices that provide a lifeline in this difficult time.

Finally, it can't always be all about work. As we enter the *second* month of lockdown in many places, video games are providing an important escape for people who are staying at home. Godot helps folks create new games without having to worry about proprietary licenses. With Conservancy's help, the Godot team has been using community driven funding to make Godot better and better.

We hope you're keeping well and staying healthy!

Tags: conservancy, Outreachy, software freedom for everyone

Fundraising Remotely: Increasing your Chances of Success

by Deb Nicholson on April 2, 2020

Controlling the technology we use is especially important during "lockdown" because non-digital work and communication options may no longer be available or safe. Some free software projects are serving exponentially more users during this pandemic than they've ever previously seen. Meanwhile, people are depending more heavily on their remote gigs, so it's essential that we keep paying the developers who maintain and improve the software we're all using. Conservancy wants to make sure that freedom-respecting, community-driven software projects can keep up with demand and continue their important work.

Many of us in tech are lucky that we can work remotely, without too much being very different on the work side. However, many projects will need to adjust their fundraising. This year's season of casual, in-person at-a-conference funding asks just won't be happening. We'll be doing all of our corporate and large donor fundraising via phone, video call or email for at least the next several months.

One of the things about in-person conversations is that you get plenty of instant feedback. How excited is the donor? Are they glad that they've made time to talk to you? Does the person you're talking to feel personally invested in your software project or is this purely a business decision? (Hint: it's often a bit of both.) Without the rapport that's easy to establish in-person, you'll want to take a minute to carefully craft your email communications. It's a good idea to get on the phone or do a video call if you can, but people may be reluctant to commit their time to be asked for money. We've written up some tips to help community-driven free software projects with their remote fundraising.

Be mindful of the circumstances of the person you are contacting. Don't start your fundraising conversation as if everything were normal right now. You can't copy and paste last year's ask and expect it to be successful. Most people's lives have been profoundly affected by the pandemic and people could be dealing with sick relatives or friends, immuno-compromised co-workers who are worried about groceries or vague, but pervasive anticipatory grief. More than ever, you'll need to be courteous with people's time, be gracious about rescheduling and be prepared to hear, "Please, just put it into an email." You'll want to make your fundraising requests efficient and answer the questions your donors have -- before they have to ask them. You'll want to acknowledge that we're all going through a difficult time before you talk about anything else.

What is the donor getting out of donating?

Imagine yourself in their shoes. If you don't know the answer to this, you'll need to find out. Perhaps another person associated with your project knows your contact or used to work at the company you're approaching. Take a look at what else the company or donor has funded and how they talk about their recent donations. Maybe they've even told you themselves when they donated to your project last, saying something like, "We're always happy to help keep Linux secure. Keep up the good work!"

Is it very clear how your project will be spending its income this year?

A financial plan that is tightly coupled with your technical roadmap makes things much clearer for potential donors. If you had to explain two or three things that you are prioritizing in the coming year at say, a virtual high school reunion, how would you phrase it? You wouldn't list the libraries and discuss all the things you don't like about your API. You'd say something like, "This year we're increasing interoperability and working to better support folks running smaller instances of Foo." Then tell the donor that you're going to be paying developers to work on those two big picture goals.

Is there something you're working on that is very timely?

For example, Etherpad's collaborative editing tools now include video, so Etherpad hosts may need more tools to help them support the increased bandwidth for their all-remote teams. Is increased capacity or internationalization illuminating the need for different security measures or more translating? Whenever something very timely is part of your roadmap, be sure to mention it to your potential donors so they can choose to donate now, when their support is likely to be the most impactful.

What if some of your use cases and upcoming plans are really cool, but extremely detailed?

Make a blog post about the exciting, but wonkier, bits of what you're doing. You can easily link to these posts for donors that do want more detail. You might even find that these public posts help you find some modest donors or contributors who are interested in helping with some really specific aspects of your work. Documenting your technical challenges could help another free software project down the road with a similar conundrum. Pay it forward!

The short version is that you want to think about your work from a potential donor's perspective when you are asking for money. Be respectful of people's time and mindful of the things they may be dealing with that aren't your request. Make your case clearly and succinctly so that folks can quickly see how your work fits in with their goals. Don't make folks have to circle back with a bunch of follow-up questions, because they just might not get around to it. When you write your email, make sure you word things in a way that makes it easy for the person you are writing to simply forward the email to their boss or to someone else in the company who may have access to additional budget. Make sure there's enough brief context included so that someone else who doesn't know you or the details of the project could understand what you're talking about. Stay safe and good luck with your fundraising!

We'll be talking about this post in our online chat later today. Join us in #conservancy on freenode.net or if you don't already use an IRC client, you can come in through your browser. Just visit this page, and choose a nick (or nickname) and you'll be "in channel." Conservancy member projects are also welcome to contact our Director of Community Operations, Deb Nicholson, for project-specific help with their fundraising plans.

Tags: resources

Conservancy Supports Successful Ninth Annual DrupalCamp NJ

by Deb Nicholson on March 19, 2020

Conservancy is proud to have been able to facilitate DrupalCamp NJ for the second year. In this time when so many events are being cancelled, we have a new appreciation for how crucial the in-person events we've already had are for building the free software community. We're glad we were able to support this event.

A man and a woman in front of a classroom full of people, the screen behind them says: Using Machine Learning to help with Daily Workflows

"Using Machine Learning to Help with Daily Workflows" Photo by Peter Wolanin, available under the CC.BY.SA 2.0 License

The 9th annual DrupalCamp NJ was held on the campus of Princeton University. Over 300 attendees came over 3 days to discuss and learn about web development and Drupal, a free and open source CMS (GPL v2+). This year had a 17.5% rebound in the main campday attendance due in part to moving the main day to Friday from Saturday. They also expanded the trainings on Thursday to offer more topics and boost attendance. About 27% of the attendees were new to Drupal, which is higher than the past few years. Drupal has seen overall growth recently as version 8 has matured and been adopted especially for academic and enterprise websites and web applications.

For 2020 the DrupalCamp NJ organizers made a concerted effort to increase speaker diversity and also reduce the environmental impact of the event. Before the camp, they committed to having 25% of the sessions have a speaker who identified as underrepresented or a first-time speaker. To make this happen they went beyond past outreach efforts and hired a consultant to reach out to new speakers, as well as advertising the speaking opportunity in newsletters geared towards a diversity-minded audiences. In the end, they exceeded their goals! See more at https://www.drupalcampnj.org/announcements/session-submissions-and-speaker-diversity. Of the 25 accepted sessions, 10 had one or more speakers who self-identified as a woman (40% of total), and 15 had one or more speakers who self-identified with an under-represented group in tech (60% of total). The also camp purchased carbon offsets and planted one tree per attendee, and reduced the number of give-aways likely to be thrown away.

A cluster of three people conversing in the foreground, with others in the background, at a reception

"After party at the chemistry building" Photo by Peter Wolanin, available under the CC.BY.SA 2.0 License

Presentations at the event on Drupal continued to focus on version 8 and the upcoming version 9. The community is still getting comfortable with the technical shifts in version 8 such as a major rewrite to use object oriented programming, dependency management with Composer, integration and dependence on Symfony components, and use of Twig for templating. Other presentation topics included progressive decoupling, voice-based search, machine learning, accessibility, testing, team management, and more. All 25 sessions recordings are available on the DrupalCamp NJ website.

Be sure to save the date for the 2021 DrupalCamp NJ and 10th year for the event! It will be January 21-23 at Princeton University. Follow @drupalcampnj on Mastodon or Twitter for the latest updates!

Tags: conservancy, events

Conservancy's Remote Work Tools

by Deb Nicholson on March 17, 2020

Conservancy has been a 100% remote organization for over 5 years and is now a remote organization by design. We are dedicated to empowering users through software freedom and we always use free software tools to do our work wherever possible. As many folks are newly switching to remote work or collaboration as part of "social distancing," it seems like a good time to share the "free as in freedom" tools we use and tell you how they work for us.

Etherpad! It's a Conservancy member project and a handy way to write collaboratively. We use Etherpad all the time when we want to collect notes on something, write news items or blog posts (this post was written in Etherpad!) or co-author something with one of our member projects. We also use them to take notes and minutes in meetings, like our Evaluation Committee meetings and our Board meetings. We have a handy plugin enabled where you can enter your email address and be notified when other people are editing the pad, so that you can jump in when your co-authors are ready. You can use our instance or set up your own.

We all use various clients (Empathy, Pidgin, Conversations) to talk to each other on Conservancy's Jabber server during the work day, both from our desktops and phones. We use group chats to coordinate handing off work, to discuss news items or share links. It's perfect for when you need to talk individually or as a group but don't need to start a big email chain. We use email too, but for less ephemeral conversations.

On the other end of the spectrum, sometimes you need a clear record of a task as it make its way through your organization. That's when Request Tracker (aka RT) is key. We moved a lot of our work to RT around eighteen months ago and it's been fantastic for clarity and productivity, especially when there are several different phases to a shared task.

Internet Relay Chat (IRC) may be old school but it's easy to start using it because you don't need an account, and you can use web clients that don't need any setup at all. As a bonus, it's not much of a bandwidth hog, which is especially nice when your connection doesn't have a lot of bandwidth. Plus, you can always swing by our channel to chat with us about software freedom and adjacent topics.

Zulip is another chat service that we and some of our member projects use (our Outreachy organizers, mentors and participants use it, for example). Zulip is more modern by design than IRC, with emojis and reactions built in and does a good job of organizing different discussions. There's email notification when someone is trying to reach you directly, which is nice if you're not always on Zulip. It's also accessible via web or by installing a local client.

Asterisk helps us self-manage several phone lines and teleconference rooms. We hold our daily stand-up on the phone and schedule calls with member projects, volunteers, and contractors throughout the day, in different "rooms."

Mumble is a great tool for holding international phone meetings which can otherwise quickly become expensive for folks outside the hosting country. You set up a room and then everyone connects via the internet through their own machine, preferably with a headset.

Jitsi is a free software video calling tool for when everyone wants to get dressed and see each other. The Outreachy organizers often use this for their meetings and Karen and Bradley use this as a part of their remote Free as in Freedom recording set up. Jitsi is particularly helpful to propose as an alternative when others want to use Zoom. It can be really nice when you want to share screens or when folks want to be able to see each other. You do need a decent internet connection for video calling.

Firefox Send is a handy way to send files to people that's encrypted and that expires after you use it. This is useful so you can avoid using proprietary services that may be collecting information about the files you are sharing with other people. This works even with large files and requires no technical knowledge, local client or account setup to use.

These are weird and uncertain times. Tools are only a small part of making remote work effective. We're in this together and we're happy to talk about the remote work experience with you anytime. In particular, you can join us at 2pm Eastern/6pm UTC on Thursdays in our IRC channel #conservancy on freenode, when we plan to be around to shoot the breeze.

Tags: conservancy, software freedom for everyone

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