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Just a Few of the Talks We Gave in 2018

by Deb Nicholson on January 7, 2019

We gave lots of talks in 2018! One of the most important things we do is to bring fresh perspective on software freedom and to educate people about the most important issues facing our ability to have ethical technology. Many are a similar message - effective advocacy means meeting people where they are, and much of our introductory material is dipped into repeatedly, so we're not suggesting that you buy a van and follow us around. (Not to mention that you'd eventually need to cross the Atlantic, which you can't do in a van last time we checked.) Anyway, here a few of the talks that represent the critical free software themes that Conservancy staff discussed all year.

  • Our Executive Director, Karen Sandler delivered her Linux Conf Australasia keynote on January 24th, "Hey, did you ever get the source code to that thing in your heart?"

  • "In 2012 at LCA, Karen gave her first full length keynote talking about her pacemaker defibrillator, her journey to seek the source code on that device and her newfound passion for software freedom as fundamental for all of our critical technology. Now, six years later, Karen evaluates her efforts over the intervening time and assesses the current outlook for software in our hearts and everywhere."

  • Karen keynoted PyGotham on Friday, Oct. 5 with a talk titled, "Software Freedom and Ethical Technology" which hits on the major themes that Karen touched on for keynote style introductory talks in 2018.
  • At events around the world, she spoke to conference goers about the Internet of Things, how dangerous it is to rely on proprietary code for so many things and tied this all to her personal struggle with her embedded (inside her body) heart monitor. She kicked off 2018, by giving a similar talk in January, to thousands of students at CUSEC, a completely student run conference in Canada.

  • Bradley Kuhn keynoted freenode #live on November 4th, where he discussed, "Interactive chat and the future of software freedom"
  • Bradley asks if we are really winning when open source projects are constantly requiring us to use proprietary software to participate? Realtime, interactive chat is integral to collaborative software development and we should always insist on free software solutions, like Freenode.

  • Brett Smith at LibrePlanet on March 24th, "A usability study of the GPL"
  • Brett brings his unique, interdisciplinary perspective to the topic of license usability. How can we make it easier and more appealing to participate in free software and use free software licenses? Brett shares data and suggestions in this talk on how we could improve our strategies and documentation.

  • Deb Nicholson, our new Director of Community Operations, keynoted Open Source Lisbon on September 27th.
  • This is a snippet from her talk, which was titled, "Free Software: Good for Business, Good For Society." She spoke about how the collaboration and transparency that are part of working with free software communities can help us be our best selves -- at work and in the world.

Interested in having someone from Conservancy speak at an event you're organizing this year? Drop us a note and we'll see if someone from our small staff can be part of your event.

Tags: conservancy

Join us at FOSDEM 2019!

by Deb and Karen on January 4, 2019

FOSDEM is possibly the largest community organized conference for free and open source software. In Brussels the first weekend in February, FOSDEM brings thousands of free software contributors and enthusiasts together for an intense two days of talks, stands and socializing. FOSDEM celebrates its 20th year in 2019.

Conservancy will be there, participating in myriad ways throughout the weekend. If you're going to be attending, we hope you'll join us.

Two Keynotes!

Karen Sandler and Bradley Kuhn will be delivering the opening keynote of FOSDEM, entitled "Can Anyone Live in Full Software Freedom Today? Confessions of Activists Who Try But Fail to Avoid Proprietary Software". Deb Nicholson, our Director of Community Operations will keynote later on Saturay, with her talk "Blockchain: The Ethical Considerations".

The First Annual Copyleft Conf!

We're running Copyleft Conf, a one day conference starting at 9:30 AM and finishing at 6:00 PM CET (Brussels time) on February 4th, 2019 dedicated entirely to providing a friendly and safe place for discussion of copyleft as a key strategy for defending software freedom. Registration opens soon and the schedule will be up next week. Email us for general questions, or to ask about sponsorship. We're also looking for volunteers - it's a brand new conference and there are loads of ways to get involved to make sure everything runs smoothly.

Legal & Policy Devroom

Conservancy staff members Bradley and Karen, along with collaborators, Richard Fontana and Tom Marble, wil be running the Legal and Policy devroom for the eighth time. There is no event like it. Get there early since the room frequently fills up.

Join us at the Stand

We will also have a stand at FOSDEM on both days. We've already had a few impressive volunteers step up (you know who you are, and hopefully how much we appreciate you.) The stand scene at FOSDEM can be kind of intense -- and like dutch licorice -- best in small doses. If you'd like to help out with our FOSDEM stand, please email us -- we promise fun times and deep appreciation, with very little licorice. ;)

Git Merge

Our member project, Git's community will be gathering on February 1st to discuss all things Git at Git Merge. Deb is doing the opening keynote and will be discussing building an inclusive free software future.


Homebrew is having its first in-person meeting. We often help out member projects plan developer meetings and this year, we're proud to help Homebrew get together to discuss project business face to face.

More project news!

Two of our member projects, Coreboot and Godot Engine will also have stands at FOSDEM. Been wondering about the latest news or just want to thank project folks for their work? Swing by the stand.

We're also helping facilitate a phpMyAdmin meeting in Brussels co-located with FOSDEM.

Ah, Brussels in February. Is there anything like it to make one appreciate living in California? JK. We go for the amazing community. Plus maybe the beer and the chocolate. See you there?

Didn't see your project's news up here? Let us know! We'll keep updating this until FOSDEM happens.

Tags: conservancy, Homebrew, Copyleft Conf

Nicer Things: Completely Normal and Nice Things People Have Said About Conservancy

by Deb Nicholson on December 28, 2018

Conservancy makes a choice to be non-creepy, despite the overwhelming piles of spam from non-profit strategists, digital marketing experts and sales pitches for lists of potential donors sourced in creepy ways. If you know us at all, you know we will never choose the upside down path of buying your social media info or paying to ghost you with ads all over the internet just because you've visited a site that lets data collection companies know that you *might* be into free and open source software. Instead, we rely on our existing supporters to sing our praises and recommend our work in a *non-creepy* way, to potential new Conservancy supporters.

"I have been a proud supporter of Conservancy for several years, and am even more excited to be increasing my support in 2018. Among the many crucial projects Conservancy stewards, I am particularly pleased to see the great work they do on behalf of Outreachy and Teaching Open Source. As a donor who cares deeply about my funding having a meaningful social impact, I am very happy to see how well Conservancy stewards its funding and dedicates so much of its time, energy, and money to the success of its member projects."

Leslie Hawthorn, Senior Principal Technical Program Manager, Open Source & Standards Team at Red Hat

"Advocating for freedom from centralized software platforms and surveillance is only part of the struggle, we must also provide a place for community-driven free software alternatives to thrive. I support Conservancy because they provide that home -- while also serving as a strong advocate for a diverse free software movement."

Kade Crockford, Director, Technology for Liberty Program at American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts

Jeremiah Foster, Community Manager of the GENIVI Alliance on why it's so important to have an organization that pays attention to GPL compliance.

"I'm a Conservancy supporter because I support projects like Outreachy. Outreachy helps bring people from under-represented groups into free software, while providing compensation which gives new people the financial stability to engage full-time."

Katie McLaughlin, Director at Python Software Foundation and Conference Director for Pycon Australia

If you like our vision of community-driven, fantastically diverse and always principled free software, then we hope you'll support us by making a financial donation to help us keep doing the work to make that vision a reality.

If you're already a supporter, thank you so much. We really appreciate everything you've already done to help us meet our match.

Tags: conservancy

Elana Hashman: Governance & Federation are the Future

by Deb Nicholson on December 27, 2018

This is part of our ongoing series on generous matching donors. Elana is the Queen of Debian Clojure, Empress of Symbol Versioning, Conqueress of ABIs, Python Packaging Authority, ELF Herder and the Winner of this year's Award for most odd, but needful volunteer assistance this year (keeping people from eating pizza on top of the Conservancy tablecloth and so, so much more.) Elana and several other outstanding individuals are joining Private Internet Access and a big anonymous donor in offering a total of $90K in matching funds to the Conservancy for our continued work to provide both support for important free software and a clear voice in favor of community-driven licensing and governance practices.

Elana hugging a plush cupcake toy.

Deb: What's the most exciting thing you've seen recently in free software?

EH: I'm really excited about a bunch of different emerging free social technologies based on the ActivityPub specification that make up the so-called "fediverse." I think Mastodon might be the most popular—it fills a niche similar to Twitter—but there's also Pleroma, which is Mastodon-compatible and a little simpler to deploy, a peer-to-peer replacement for YouTube called PeerTube, and a federated image sharing app you can use instead of Instagram called PixelFed.

Mastodon has demonstrated that when we prioritize user experiences and work together, we can build free software to sustainably run social collectives on independent infrastructure, and even achieve widespread adoption. This is so meaningful to me: the fediverse embodies all of user freedom, consent, autonomy, self-governance, and community in practice. Independent, federated social networks come with the promise of building online social spaces that better reflect the social needs of individuals and their communities in a way that centralized, corporate social media cannot.

Deb: What do you wish people knew about Conservancy, that they might not know?

EH: Many folks have heard of the wonderful projects that all live together under the Conservancy banner, but I'm not sure if many people are familiar with what it takes to become a Conservancy project!

Conservancy members are required to serve the public interest, develop their software in public, and use a FOSS license. They must also be community-run: a Conservancy project should have a community-elected oversight committee or a minimum of three governing members, so a project can't be run by a single developer, and when members are appointed there can't be more than one employed by a particular company. I think it's really cool that all Conservancy member projects must uphold rigorous standards for community governance.

Deb: You work on several well-known free software projects (Debian, Clojure, Python). Do you have any advice for folks who are just starting with free software contributing?

EH: It's funny when you put it that way — I got started in free software barely five years ago, and I'm almost surprised by how much I've contributed since then. One of the big barriers for me was believing I could do it at all. Even though I've been using free software since 2006 or so, I didn't really see a lot of people like me in the community, and having lurked in IRC channels for years I was so afraid of trying to contribute and getting yelled at for messing up something obvious.

In 2013, I decided to attend an open source day at a conference, and met Asheesh Laroia and Carol Willing. They jumped to onboard me with OpenHatch, a project whose mission was to help newcomers get involved in free and open source software. That chance meeting grew into a GSoC internship with OpenHatch the next summer; later, I became a core maintainer of the project until it wound down. Once I had the right skills, it's become harder for me to say no to contributing to new projects than to just contribute! The fear of messing up spectacularly in public is still there, but it doesn't stop me anymore.

Part of OpenHatch's legacy was encouraging projects to identify and publicly label issues that were relatively small (or "bite-sized") and good for beginners. Now, many spiritual successors to OpenHatch exist, including Your First PR and Up For Grabs.

Deb: What do you hope to see Conservancy accomplish in the next five years?

EH: I think Conservancy is increasingly important for the future of sustainable free software. Recently, we've seen the proliferation of a number of new protectionist licenses, as corporations become more concerned about their open source projects being monetized by other corporations that don't contribute back. I think corporate sustainability and community sustainability are different things, and I'm concerned that the idea of "sustainability" is being co-opted by companies that define it as seeing greater financial returns from their open source projects.

Conservancy fights this co-option with a two-pronged strategy: through its software license advocacy, by helping to educate the public on software licenses and by providing license enforcement to member projects to ensure free software remains free; and through its support of member project operations, by enabling the practice of sustainable community free software in providing fiscal sponsorship and administrative services. I think both are very important and I'd love to see Conservancy continue to grow in both areas over the next five years; perhaps it will even accept some fediverse projects as members :)

Deb: Anything else you'd like to add?

EH: If any of this speaks to you, dear reader, then I'd love to encourage you to support Conservancy by making a donation. But if that's not something you're able to do, you can always volunteer with Conservancy or a member project, or help spread the word for this year's fundraiser!

Photo of Elana Hashman, courtesy of Elana Hashman, all rights reserved.

Tags: conservancy

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