TL;DR: As a conference organizer, by open-sourcing all your conference assets, you enable local people to “fork” them. It helps spreading the model faster and much further. Every time it reaches another remote place, there’s potential improvement, exactly like with open source code. It is not a franchise but really a fork with pull requests, just like code on Github!
1) The story of open-sourcing a conference: the case of APIdays Conference
As we are a small self-funded startup, we needed to be smart about doing this while being focused on our business. So we organized the 1st conference in Paris, France last December with the help of a strategy consulting company as partner.
We brought the API/developer world (speakers, API-related sponsors, API-oriented attendees), they brought the big names and the media (big companies, business speakers, sponsors and attendees).
They even did a study on APIs and they helped a lot for the logistics too (food, video recording).
We asked our computer science engineering school to lend us two big rooms to receive our attendees rather in a hacker spirit.
Since a lot of people in this community only knew each other through forums, email exchanges or sometimes videoconferences and there were no real conferences on this specific topic before, it was warmly received:
- 48 speakers (2 made 2 talks)
- 50 talks on 2 tracks (one technical and one business track)
- 230 attendees for 2 days (around 160 each day)
- 60 000 total views on Slideshare counting all the speakers’ slide decks.
Even international speakers and attendees (from US to Japan, 12 countries in total) came at their own expenses to talk or attend. It was crazy and totally unexpected.
Although we were really just bootstrapping, attendees, speakers and sponsors were very happy and we have received numerous requests to organize other APIdays events worldwide (the most serious requests from last December were for Madrid and San Francisco).
However we had no resources (neither time nor money) and It was just a side project to help us meet people from the API world, new or met online.
How to make this event live longer? Keep the dynamic? Enabling the API players to meet and letting us run our company at the same time?
We had good assets such as speakers’ and sponsors’ contact information, a brand, a well designed website, some marketing material, etc. So we decided to open-source the conference to everybody that would want to fork APIdays conference (and organize their own).
2) What does that mean exactly to open source a conference?
- the code of the website on Github : https://github.com/webshell/apidays.io
- the printed material: psd files of printed posters, stickers, banners, roll-ups in a shared Dropbox account
- the copyright : everything is Creative Commons
- the speakers list (now more than 100 speakers worldwide)
- sponsors’ contacts, enabling to secure at least $10-15k of sponsoring for each event without finding local sponsors
- best practices for organizing and experience on the program
Then, of course, we can help promote these local events, by reaching to our existing and growing community and we offer assitance by sharing our knowledge of speakers’ craft for making a consistent program on the topic the local organizers want to focus on.
The local organizer team is responsible for the local event (food, room, local speakers, local sponsors).
We worked with Apicultur (a Spanish comapny in NLP APIs) for APIdays Mediterranea in Madrid (10 days ago) and we now work with Parisoma (open incubator) for APIdays San Francisco next June 21-23 (only a few tickets left).
In the past month, we have received even more serious requests to help organize APIdays in Seattle, Denver, London, Mexico, Moscow and Berlin during the next 8 months.
There are however still some challenges to face when “forking” such conferences.
3) The challenges of making an open-source conference
We need to:
- manage our resources (time and money) even though these conferences enable us to meet with interesting people for a lesser cost, it still has a cost.
- keep the open spirit of the conference (sharing the new or modified assets with future organizers, no exclusive sponsorship, no pay-to-play for speakers)
- maintain the value by making only non-vendors and non-product-oriented talks, even sponsors’ talks.
- give a consistent roadmap of forked conferences to the whole community and network helping them to better schedule.
We really feel like “committers” of these conferences. We manage our partners’ pull-requests (new marketing material, new speakers, new sponsors, new ideas). It’s really exciting!
If you are a conference organizer or you will organize a tech or business conference someday, this open source model can really be an opportunity to spread faster and improve the level of your conferences, just like open-source code.
Open question: why not make conferences on open source, open-source?