As many of you know by now, Open Source Scotland 2012, was cancelled on Monday morning with just over 90 days until the event. I can’t tell you how heartbreaking it was to take this decision, but there comes a time when one has to do what is right, rather than what they want to do.
#oss2012 was audacious attempt to do something revolutionary. A multi-day multi-workstream event modeled around a Music Festival rather than a conference. If that wasn’t a hard enough sell, I decided to aim as high as possible with the speakers invited, and host the event in Scotland. For a while, it appeared that a year of hard work was paying off…
In November our Early-Bird tickets sold out in under 90 minutes, only for PayPal to keep the money generated. In December the venue management devised a new and accelerated payment plan.
Both of these were major issues, but only in terms of cash flow, rather than the feasibility of the event. I decided that I would, once again, personally invest money into the event to cover any short term cash shortage, and through some very difficult means. I sold possessions, liquidated investments, emptied savings, and begged/borrowed from family & friends (once in a manner so humiliating, I hope none of you ever experience). Finally, and somewhat miraculously, I was able to raise the capital needed to ensure the event would go ahead.
Pine Trees, and Holly Berries
It did not make a good holiday period.
For the first time in my life, Christmas was not spent with my family; but rather on a couch in England. The physical and mental rollercoaster took it’s toll, and I had my first Meniars attack in half a year as my body wilted under the stress. New Years’ was cancelled under doctor’s orders, and was replaced by a day of watching Star Wars (thankfully, A New Hope, Empire and Jedi; not the first 3).
The following Friday (5th Jan), my team had their annual pre-back-to-work gathering that I was able to join late via Skype. As you may know, they made a united case for us to no longer promote WordPress as our go-to CMS. I found their case compelling, and agreed; writing a blog post about their request and reasons before heading for a fact-finding week in the US.
I’m sure many of you know of the communal public chastising of me personally, the outright lies about my company, and gut wrenching and bone chilling the threats against my person and family. It is a sickening example of the militant mob mentality that has been cultivated by a section of the Open Source community who take perverse pleasure in ensuring their point of view prevails through brute force.
What a difference a week makes
I touched down in Heathrow on Monday morning at 7am to be greeted with the news that at least 21 tickets were refunded in the previous week citing something to do with WordPress or RWW as the reason; though in total we refunded over 30 tickets (some gave no real reason). The hit to our cash-flow was catastrophic. I had less than 2 hours to find roughly $12,000. I didn’t. I couldn’t.
God help me, I’ve already sank almost $40,000 into the event, I simply couldn’t find any more.
So I sat and wrote a very short e-mail to each of the speakers and attendees.
- All speaker expenses will be covered.
- All tickets will receive a 100% refund.
- I will do everything in my power to refund any costs incurred by people who had bought a ticket (such as travel and accomodation), though bluntly, I’ve no idea how I’ll manage to do so.
With that e-mail sent, I went to my 8.30am client meeting. By 10.30am, and without sleep for just over 2 days, I made it through the door of my flat in time to receive the text that none of the threats against my family from the militant WordPress community had come to pass. Relief permeated through me, releasing me from the mixture of paralyzing fear and regret that I’d lived with for the last week. I broke down, crying, and with what sounded like a mixture of screams and vomit.
I can see clearly now, the rain has gone…
About an hour (?) later, I remembered the conversation when the doctors told me that I’d be stone deaf by 40, and probably by the time I’m 35. That as I was losing the sight in my left eye, then I’d probably lose it in the right one as well, though on a longer timescale. They couldn’t promise that I’d keep my annunciation or speech patterns. That my balance and ability to walk un-aided would diminish; and that living near to a hospital was probably in my best interests. That moment… that was rock bottom.
That deserved the all those tears, and the moments of self pity.
This? Dealing with some fanboys? This is
Sparta a speed bump.
As they wheeled me back out to the ward, I remember doing my best Daniel Day Lewis impression, and telling them that I was walking out the front door. When I arrived home to a worried family, I told them I had an ear infection, and that all was well. It wasn’t, but it got me through the next few days. Sometimes getting through the next few days is all you can do.
With that thought in the forefront of my mind, I pushed myself off the floor and into the shower to wash of the mixture of sweat and sick and god knows what else. I made my afternoon meeting, praying the whole time that my colleagues were going to put my appearance down to lack of sleep.
For the last 5 days, I’ve been focussing on work, simply getting through each hour.
Praying for the quiet of the weekend.
Open Source Communities
As much as I really want to draw a line under the last two weeks, I do feel it would be exceptionally remiss of me not to comment on the way we use the word “Community” in Open Source circles.
With Open Source Software we like the premise that everyone is equal, and that all values and opinions are represented, that everyone is equal and welcome; we like to think we’re all in a singular community. We’re not. We are individuals. We may be individuals working together, or working towards similar goals, but to forget that we’re not a single unit acting as one, is folly. Doing so, creates a mob mentality, a high-school-esque idea that in order to be accepted or part of the core group, one must prove their worth by loving what you like and hating what you dislike.
We must be vigilant and quick to point out that supporting that sort of behavior is detrimental to the actual community. Communities are people who don’t always agree, but want to learn, know and grow. I’m presenting excerpts from my Emperor’s New Clothes talk (from DrupalCampNYC) at WordUp Scotland and Digital Barn in the next two weeks; both places want me to speak for the differences in my opinion – so that we can all debate, grow and learn. That’s a community! Surrounding yourself with sycophants and fanboys, who attack anyone with a different opinion does not make a community – it makes a scary cult. Cults make a concerted effort to have Open Source events that’s not about them closed down; communities don’t.
I never liked to think of WordPress in that way, regardless of the tattoos, threats, and offensive “Made in Texas” t-shirts. But I am incredibly saddened that when finding out about the threats against my family, the best a paid employee of the core team could muster was calling the threats “Lame”. That my friends is not condemnation, that is not leading your community, that is, frankly, useless. This is in stark contrast to the leaders (and members) from other/competitor Open Source initiatives that contacted me directly with offers of support.
Like Shane, riding into the Open Source sunset…
I think it’ll take me quite some time to get over the last two weeks, and I have no idea what I want to do regarding #oss2013.
But, I’ll do something. Just as soon as I can rustle up the $40,000 to pay for #oss2012.
Open Source Matters
We’re not better people simply because we’re fans of Open Source Software; We’re fans of Open Source Software because we’re trying to make things better for people.
So lets leave the ego’s at the door folks, get perspective, and enjoy some XKCD: