Thinking About the Importance of a Membership Base

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Recently I’ve been working with the rest of Conservancy’s staff on launching and promoting a Supporter Program, a way for individuals to support Conservancy though membership fees (we’re avoiding the term “member” because Conservancy’s members are our member projects).

We launched this program for a number of reasons. Part of this, of course, is financial. While we do receive a portion of the revenue donated to our projects, we keep that number low enough that it doesn’t even pay for a single staff member. We need to raise money in order to be able to keep the full support of our projects that we have in place now. I sometimes refer to our model as “fiscal sponsorship plus” because we do a lot more for our projects than many of the other organizations in free and open source software (by design – it’s useful to have different orgs doing different things!). But that level of support requires significant resources and we don’t want to pass that burden onto our member projects if we can possibly help it.

We do fundraise from companies (and if you think your company can sponsor Conservancy please get in touch!) but there can be trade offs with this as an overall model. Bradley wrote an excellent blogpost about this already. Because we are focused on what’s good for the community and not necessarily what’s good for companies (though our interests are often aligned), we need a strong membership base to help balance things out. Trade associations have a much easier time fundraising from companies for these reasons but we as a community get so much more out of a public facing org.

We also realized that we’ve really been focused on promoting our projects and not necessarily Conservancy as a whole. While everyone has heard of Git, Samba, Wine, and Inkscape (the list goes on, it’s very hard to chose projects to single out when they’re all so great) I think a lot of people don’t even know that we exist or what we do. By launching this program, we have a lot more excuses to tell people about our activities and why we matter. I had a great time writing our fundraising page, and distilling this into a short explanation.

That said a lot of people *do* already know about Conservancy and why it’s an important organization. I’ve been so excited at the sign ups we’ve had for Conservancy’s Supporter program so far and I realized something today that floored me – the list of Supporters to date is in large part comprised of experts in the field. I was looking at the list of Supporter names and it read like something of a “who’s who”. We could make a killer conference if we gathered those people to speak! It gave me confidence in our program and in our organization generally. If these people who I deeply respect think that Conservancy is worth contributing to, then we must be on to something good. I expect it will take us years to build up the membership base we want but it’s fitting to have so many leaders signing up and publicly acknowledging us. I’m hoping we will be able to grow the program a lot in the near future and we’ve got a lot of exciting stuff we’re working on that I can’t wait to talk about.

I hope you have a great holiday season! Please consider joining the ranks of Conservancy Supporters and generally supporting the charitable organizations in free software (specific props to GNOME and the FSF)!

Thinking Fondly of GUADEC

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It’s been a really long time since I’ve blogged and Oliver Propst is here in New York and since I’ve been telling him about GUADEC I realized that instead I should write it all down!

Getting to GUADEC was very exciting for me as I finished my talk at OSCON and then ran straight to the airport in order to make my flight. Unfortunately this meant that I missed the first day of GUADEC in addition to the all day board meeting the day before. All of the travel was worth it when the bus pulled into the station in Strasbourg to find Rosanna and Sri waiting for me! We walked over to the bar gathering and it was fantastic to see everyone and catch up and I was immersed in GUADEC all over again.

It was really fun to be at GUADEC and definitely a different experience than as Executive Director. There were so many great talks that it was often hard to choose between the two tracks. I loved volunteering to help with sessions and felt pretty privileged to introduce two of the keynotes: Nate Willis and Matthew Garrett. Nate spoke about automotive software with the cool narrative of hacking his own car. I loved that he tied it all back to GNOME with practical recommendations for the community. Matthew gave an incredibly inspirational talk about GNOME and its future. I highly recommend watching the video when it comes out if you didn’t get a chance to see it in person. I think we’ll have a lot to talk about over the next year and a lot of work ahead of us too.

I spoke about what I learned as Executive Director of GNOME. It was nice to reflect over the years I spent in the role and also to provide some recommendations going forward. The GNOME community is exceptional and if we can prioritize attracting newcomers and communicating better about why we do what we do we’ll be unstoppable. I proposed that we have technical evangelists for GNOME so that we have the ability to appoint our most articulate and charismatic community members as representatives. I think the GNOME community needs to go to companies and talk to them about GNOME and help them with their GNOME usage (or potential GNOME usage). Happily two extraordinary people volunteered after my talk so we’ll see!

All of the board meetings were a bit grueling but I think good discussions were had. And the marketing hackfest was fun and productive as usual.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention all of the hard work of Alexandre and Natalie who made GUADEC run so smoothly, even in a venue that they had to scramble to arrange when the original venue fell though at the last minute. Happily, Alexandre was the winner of the coveted Pants Award this year, so we had multiple opportunities for our community to express our gratitude.

I also had a blast shining the bright light of truth on the Swedish Conspiracy. And I’m looking forward to GUADEC in Goethenburg too!

Thanks to the GNOME Foundation for sponsoring my travel!

New challenge

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Working as the GNOME Foundation Executive Director has been one of the highlights of my career. It has been a pleasure to work with many wonderful people, and we have made fantastic progress over the past
three years. GNOME is such an important, vibrant project, and I feel lucky to have been able to play a part in it.

I think I have made some important contributions to the project while I have been Executive Director. I’ve helped to recruit two new advisory board members, and we recently received a one time donation of considerable size (the donor did not want to be identified). Financially the Foundation is in good shape, and we have run the last three years in the black. We’ve held some successful funding campaigns, particularly around privacy and accessibility. We have a mind-blowingly fantastic Board of Directors, and the Engagement team is doing amazing work. The GNOME.Asia team is strong, and we’ve got an influx of people, more so than I’ve seen in some time.

I hope that I have helped us to get in touch with our values during my time as ED, and I think that GNOME is more aware of its guiding mission than ever before. The ongoing success of the Outreach Program for Women and positive relations with other organizations fighting for software freedom have all helped us to tell a powerful story about who we are and why we matter.

With all these achievements, I think it’s time for me to hand the reins over to someone new, who can bring their own personal strengths to the role. It is time for a new challenge for me also, so today I am announcing my new position as the Software Freedom Conservancy Executive Director. As many of you know, I have been volunteering with Conservancy for some time, since I helped found it when I was a lawyer at SFLC. I also can’t wait to work closer with Bradley, who has done a bang up job in the role of ED thus far (he’ll be taking on the title of Distinguished Technologist while remaining President and on the board). It is an important organization where I think I can make a difference, and GNOME is in good hands.

Don’t worry though: I’m not leaving GNOME. I will be announcing my candidacy for the board when the call comes out (this is a real exception for me as I’ve generally declined serving on boards). I will stay on as pro bono counsel, and of course I’ll continue volunteering in other ways. The Conservancy has also agreed to partner with GNOME, so that I can help to run the Outreach Program for Women with Marina.

I’m excited for the future. GNOME is already in great hands and I look forward to what the next Foundation Executive can bring to the table. If you know of someone who would be fantastic in this position please let the GNOME board know! I am incredibly proud of what we have achieved in the past three years, and can’t wait to see where we go next.

Conferences conferences conferences

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I’ve been really behind on blogging but with good excuse! I’ve been running from one conference to another, talking about GNOME and free software and having as many meetings as I can to forward our causes. It’s been really intense – I’ve basically given six talks in six days.

First up was South by Southwest (and the most out of date report). As I mentioned here before, I was especially excited for this one in part because I was looking forward to the technically savvy crowd that may not be as familiar with free and open source software and also because my session was featured on the sxsw blog. This was a new experiment for the GNOME Foundation, and we were figuring things out. Happily Sri came to help and we were able to team up. We mostly hit the streets talking to people, which is surprisingly effective at sxsw since so many of the attendees are people we’d want to partner with in some way. We made some great contacts and have already been following up.

My talk was pretty well received, and there were a couple of articles that came out of it too. One here and one in Le Monde”, for example. I was interviewed a few other times too, especially after the session with Snowden remotely dialing in. I was encouraged to hear him talk about how important UI is to free software which also gave me a good opportunity to talk about GNOME. I also got a few good leads on fundraising and partnership for Outreach Program for Women.

Next year I’d love for us to partner with other free and open source software orgs and sponsors and have a Free and Open Pavilion in the expo floor. I think sxsw is an excellent audience for us to try to reach, if we can figure out a way for our presence to have the maximum impact.

More recently, in the last week I was at the FSF’s LibrePlanet and the Linux Foundation’s Collaboration Summit. Both are great conferences. I always love LibrePlanet as it’s one of the few conferences that is entirely ideologically motivated, and I find it really restorative on a personal level. I had the honor of keynoting the conference again, entitled “We can’t all be cyborg lawyers: How messaging may be our most important obstacle,” where I talked about my experienced advocating for software freedom, marketing exercises done by GNOME and the FSF and how we can approach this going forward. I also led a session with Marina on diversity, and one with Deb on messaging.

Perhaps the most exciting thing about LibrePlanet was that the GNOME Foundation won the Free Software Award for the Outreach Program for Women:

We're so excited to accept the award!

Marina and I right after Richard Stallman presented us with our award!

You can read the whole press release on the FSF’s site.

I also taught a course on legal ethics on the day after the conference, which also happily earned me some continuing legal education credits to boot. Later in the afternoon Marina and I got coffee with a few other advisors of the Ada Initiative which was really fun.

I then flew to California for the Collab Summit, where I spoke on the Outreach Program and then again on issues about representation in Free Software. I’ll try to make an independent blog about some of my thoughts soon. This conference, while being almost opposite to LibrePlanet, was also really productive, and I was able to have a lot of great meetings. Now I’m off to finally have a bit of a weekend, there’s more news coming soon so stay tuned.

Getting ready for SXSW!

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I’m excited to leave for Austin in the morning. I have a few goals for the trip:

  • Give my talk about medical devices and free software. If you’re coming to sxsw, please come to my session, which is on 5pm on Friday! And if you’re not, tell other people about it. I was so happy that the conference featured my session and ran a little interview with me.
  • Get some new people thinking about ethical technology and free software. Sri and I are organizing a GNOME and free software meet up on Saturday, more details to come!
  • Spread the word about the Outreach Program for Women. The application period has begun so it’s the perfect time.

Got any other suggestions for things I shouldn’t miss? Please say hi if you’re at the conference. And thanks to everyone who voted for my session!

Support MediaGoblin!

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The Goblin Force strikes again!

MediaGoblin launched their fundraising campaign yesterday with the FSF. Check out their fantastic video (it’s definitely worth watching and was obviously the product of quite a bit of work) and donate generously.

One of the awesomest things about free software fundraising campaigns is that we all want each other to succeed, even when we are in competition. One of the best examples of this is the launching of the Pitivi and MediaGoblin campaigns. Instead of getting frustrated and bitter at finding out they were launching around the same time, they teamed up to adjust their timing so as not to hit on the same day. Even though this meant that MediaGoblin delayed by a few days more than they had meant to. And the Pitivi fundraising page even links to the MediaGoblin campaign.

Love is all around.

I just made my donation to MediaGoblin and can’t wait to see them make their goal!

Support Pitivi!

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Exciting news! GNOME is hosting a fundraising campaign for Pitivi. Their fundraising page launched today. I love their announcement:

Free and Open Source video editing is something that can help make the world a better place, as it gives people all around the world one more tool to express themselves creatively, fight oppression, create happiness and spread love.

I’m pleased that GNOME is able to serve Pitivi as a fiscal sponsor on this, and I have to give Mathieu, Thibault and Jeff a lot of credit as they’ve already done so much work to set it up.

So go check out their video (made with Pitivi, naturally) and donate now! I just made my donation…

P.S. keep your eye on these guys, and special thanks to them for partnering up on timing!

A happy end of year to all

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As another year comes to a close, I’m happy to reflect on some of last years highlights (and in no particular order)!

  • We met our goal on our privacy campaign (we’re now evaluating the best ways to use the money – let us know if you have any ideas).
  • Work was done by Igalia with the money from the accessibility campaign to improve document accessibility in GNOME.
  • We were present at many conferences around the world, and I had the honor of keynoting at LibrePlanet, GNOME.Asia, FSCONS, and Minga por la innovaci√≥n tecnol√≥gica in Ecuador and speaking at a few others. Many of us were also featured in interviews and articles.
  • GUADEC was a success in Brno, and even Lionel Dricot admitted that “rumors of the death of GUADEC were greatly exaggerated”. The talks are still available to watch with the files available too
  • Thanks largely to Marina Taylor’s efforts, we had multiple GNOME newcomer tutorial sessions and one that I was able to attend at the GNU 30th
  • GNOME 3.10 was released with many improvements, and noticed for its polish and speed, among other good things. Allan Day’s post about the release is a good summary.
  • The marketing team had its first dedicated hackfest in years, and emerged the engagement team, with a more refined view of what makes GNOME special as a community and a project
  • Two new members joined GNOME’s advisory board – the Linux Foundation and Private Internet Access
  • Some prominent new projectsand companies are choosing the GNOME desktop and GNOME technologies.
  • GNOME seems to be improving in adoption generally, especially in more ideologically driven communities. I was pleasantly surprised at a number of conferences when I asked how many people were using GNOME 3 and a majority raised their hands. I loved sitting in the back of other people’s talks and seeing so many GNOME screens in front of me. In Ecuador I was excited to hear about a new GNOME-based distro in the works as well as government deployments underway in Latin America.
  • Andrea Veri has been working hard to make sure that GNOME has made real progress on the sysadmin front (if you’re not subscribed to infrastructure-announce, you can see an example of the kinds of things he’s been up to on his blog.
  • We ran the Outreach Program for Women, which this year involved more organizations and participants than ever before.
  • We organized many hackfests and meetings, including the first FreeDesktop Summit.

There’s a lot more I could write about, but these things really stand out to me. So many thanks go to the GNOME community. Here’s a holiday card that our president Andreas Nilsson made:


Please don’t forget to donate to your favorite charities as the year ends! This is my usual donation roundup, and this year is no exception:

Gone Fishing!

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Well, not really. But I’m on vacation this week. I’ll be checking email and taking care of a few things that I didn’t get to finish, but I won’t generally be available. Have a great week!


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I had a fantastic time this past weekend at FSCONS, which is a conference dedicated to free society in Sweden. It was really energizing to be around so many freedom-focused people, and it’s a part of the world where I haven’t spent much time (I’d never been to Sweden before, but I confess I did spend too many weeks reviewing documents in Stavanger, Norway when I was a law firm lawyer).

Below you can see a picture of my keynote, as taken by Albin Olsson, and licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 Unported license (incidentally, it also appears that Albin updated my picture and added a swedish translation on Wikipedia!)


My talk was entitled “Proactivism” and it explored how important it is for everyone in our community to be focused on being an activist for ethical technology and to proactively evaluate ways that we can improve. As examples, I talked about GNOME’s accessibility campaign, our privacy campaign and OPW, focusing on OPW to spread the word. I hope that I have another opportunity to give this talk in the future with other examples. I asked the audience to confess, and I would say about 80% of them had used Skype in the last two months. At another conference this may not have surprised me as much, but the vast majority also raised their hands that they were GNOME 3 users. It was great to talk to so many people who were really happy with it!

I enjoyed the other talks I went to too, and learned quite a bit. Of course, a major highlight of the conference for me was hanging out with the local GNOMEees:


And I loved checking out Gothenburg. I was very impressed by how many local free software and free culture people live there. I know the local GNOME team is working hard on putting together a GUADEC 2015 bid (we extended the deadline as apparently two years is way too long in advance to be able to properly plan a conference) and I wish them luck!

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