Supporting Free and Open Source Software
Most of the time we, as humans, do what we know, because it is comfortable and we trust it. I have been an LoCo team contact for a long time and served on the Ubuntu LoCo Council as well; I am comfortable with the structure of LoCo teams. I know the people that are involved and they are all highly energized and devoted. Today an article I read on Datamation made me take a step back and ask a few questions.
For my part i have not really come to any conclusion because I have seen many successful LoCo teams and each had their own way of becoming successful. The purpose of this post is to expose more people in the Ubuntu Community to the question. First let me go over some of the points made in the article.
The first quote defines the ‘audience’ that the author was talking about:
However, for those who have been exposed to Ubuntu Linux at some level, the temptation to give the OS a shot might finally take hold. These individuals are usually more tech-savvy or might be the family tech support person. Assuming the PC is fast enough to support it, Ubuntu suddenly looks like a viable option in these instances.
For my part I would say LoCo teams are well suited for the helping tech savvy users who have heard about Ubuntu explore using the OS. I do not think the Ubuntu LoCo teams can function in a manner similar to an Apple ‘Genius’ or a ‘Geek Squad’ member at Best Buy. This level of support is for the type of user who really needs extensive hand holding; on their schedule not on someone else’s. My mother is a user like this and she bought an iPad because she liked being able to go in to the Apple store and get individual help when she wanted it.
The second quote indicated that the author felt that LoCo teams could have a positive impact on the adoption of Ubuntu.
A more natural approach would be a greater focus on the Ubuntu LoCo teams. These are Ubuntu support groups who volunteer to put on events in their local areas. They help those who need assistance with Ubuntu, along with providing other great benefits.
Here the author describes what he believes to be one function of LoCo teams. One key item is the idea of local areas. In the United States LoCo teams are organized by state and some states cover rather large areas. In large states like New York, Texas, Florida and California the geographic distance makes it possible to have a well established active group in one city and no activity in another. The information on the LoCo Team wiki page shows that the focus may be less on helping people become Ubuntu users and more on assisting Ubuntu users meet other Ubuntu users.
Ever since the birth of computers, enthusiasts and fans around the world have collected together in garages, universities and pubs to talk about their interest, learn from each other and help promote their interest. Combine this with the huge popularity of Ubuntu, and you have the Ubuntu LoCo project.
With the incredible success of Ubuntu around the world, the LoCo project is here to help groups of Ubuntu fans and enthusiasts work together in regional teams to help advocate, promote, translate, develop and otherwise improve Ubuntu. Our worldwide network of LoCo teams is providing a strong backbone to our already vast and extensive Ubuntu community.
I would say advocating and promoting Ubuntu includes making people aware of Ubuntu as an option to OS X or Windows, but does it include activities that would actively help people transition to Ubuntu? My LoCo team has participated in install festivals, but we do not provide ongoing classes for new users.
The author goes further though and gives his experience with looking to his LoCo team for these kinds of events.
With this in mind I went to my own LoCo group page thinking surely there would be lots happening considering how new Ubuntu 12.10 is, right? Sadly, I was mistaken. Upon visiting, I was presented with a static website and crickets.
I will admit that having old resources like this does not help. People will be turned away when they do not find recent events or even upcoming events. Also, having a team event scheduled that is 388 miles or seven hours away is not likely to be any better either. While many community events can take place on IRC those events are not likely going to capture the attention of the audience the author is speaking about. For my part I have met very few tech savvy OS X or Windows users who know what IRC is and less who use it. If they do use an on-line text based chat it is of the instant messaging variety.
The author continues by discussing where he sees the LoCo teams as successful.
After poking around the various LoCo resources, I realized why the expertise gap remains between Ubuntu and Windows and how incredibly ineffective the current LoCo setup is. Honestly, I’ve seen local Linux User Groups with better organization than this! While the LoCos do okay with coordinating international events, they remain largely within their own little echo chamber. And last time I checked, that isn’t a great way to get new users on board.
I can see this perspective given that the author found the resources he mentioned and then found Ubuntu Hours on loco.ubuntu.com. I would also agree that I think the LoCo teams do a great job of coordinating international events such as Open Week or Developer Week. In order to really evaluate the the question of the effectiveness of the LoCo teams you have to first answer the question of what the purpose of LoCo team is. I believe as a community we have to avoid asking the author why he is not building a team in his area; while that ethos is part of the Open Source Way I do not think that will extend to the large audience of users we all hope Ubuntu will find. I also think this is a valid question that has been floating around in the Ubuntu community for the last several cycles as we eye crossing the chasm:
Is Ubuntu ready to cross the chasm? Are Ubuntu LoCo teams effective in helping to reach the audience that helps Ubuntu cross the chasm? Are Ubuntu LoCo teams supposed to be focused on reaching that audience? As a community it is healthy to take a step back and ask questions like these from time to time. I am still thinking about this and I hope you will too.