FLOS Caribbean: Success, Part II

by Taran Rampersad

The Free, Libré and Open Source: IT Works! (FLOS: IT Works!) conference's immediate successes were outlined in Part I of this article. The lingering successes, however, are the ones that count the most--the successes that change the face of computing locally and within the region.

Strengthening the Weaknesses

As many members of the Trinidad and Tobago Linux User Group (TTLUG) observed, some things could be done to improve the conference. The price itself, $750TT (approximately $125 US), put the conference out of reach from most grassroots developers and small businesses.

This money problem has yet to be fully understood. Little has been shown regarding the actual accounting for the conference, and it's possible that this information may not be seen. It's apparent that the conference was expensive to run and that someone had to pay; perhaps more sponsors in the future can help defray costs. Indeed, the short time in which the conference was planned did not allow for sponsorship from larger organizations. The fact that it was an inaugural conference also was a problem in this regard.

Some TTLUG members bemoaned the lack of TTLUG influence on the conference itself, an argument that is itself debatable. It's kind of a chicken and egg argument, and the Caribbean Centre of Monetary Studies (CCMS) did do a lot of the formal organization. The CCMS's role was important, as TTLUG has not been formalized to date. To approach sponsors, it's important to have formal recognition. It's equally as important to have an infrastructure suited for such things. Again, CCMS had the proper administrative infrastructure in place, whereas TTLUG did not. It comes as no surprise, then, that TTLUG had little influence of the conference itself.

As a result of the conference, TTLUG members have become more vociferous and more organized. Plans to formalize the TTLUG as a not-for-profit organization are underway, and many mailing list discussions have started discussion on how to approach the next annual conference. A tentative road map involves obtaining more grassroots and corporate support prior to the next conference. Timely additions to the post-conference TTLUG, such as Dr. Ross Gardler and Nissan Dookeran, have put their shoulders to the wheel with their own experience and insight.

Developer participation in the conference was not as high as anyone had wished; it's certainly apparent that TTLUG feels that way. Workshops and so forth are planned for the next conference to heighten awareness of FLOS tools for developers and administrators.

All of these issues are fairly common challenges that face maturing LUGs throughout the world, though there is the matter of context. Trinidad and Tobago is its own country with its own culture and ways of doing business. The real trick here is to learn from the experience of other LUGs and put them into a local context. Because of the context issues, there are challenges that lack precedent on the horizon, yet TTLUG is approaching these tasks with the vigor only the FLOS Caribbean conference could provide.

Strengthening Ties

The Caribbean community shares many similarities with other communities in the challenges ahead with regard to FLOS. The fact that CARICOM exists supports this fact. In business, education and culture, the Caribbean community has bonds that go beyond one island, and the FLOS Caribbean conference has become a start for FLOS community-building in the Caribbean.

The Guyanese Linux Users Group's (GLUG) ties with TTLUG have been strengthened since the conference, and many TTLUG and GLUG members now are subscribed to both lists. Over time, it's expected that more Caribbean countries will have LUGs and will participate in creating a stronger Caribbean community, while enhancing each LUG with the knowledge of others in the region. Though many countries are islands, no country needs to remain an island when it comes to FLOS.

More projects with a community focus are being planned through the workshops mentioned above, as well as through working with schools to stretch their meager budgets to enhance the administrative and educational abilities of the schools. Dr. Ross Gardler's insight into these areas is key, and it was nice to meet him at the conference as I began working with my alma mater, Presentation College (San Fernando) to realize some of these goals.

The Trinidad and Tobago Computer Society (TTCS), which has long supported the Linux and Apple communities, is also becoming formalized and more involved with the community. Because the TTLUG, TTCS and Trinidad and Tobago Apple Community (TTAC) share many members, the synergetic energy has been productive for all groups. From all reports from the TTCS, Knoppix and GNU Win II CD sales are increasing, which means that the level of FLOS usage in the local area is increasing.

Enhancing Strengths

The strengths of FLOS in the Caribbean that preceded the conference made it possible; these strengths are now garnering the rewards of the conference in many ways. The TTLUG mailing lists have been abuzz since the conference. Informal voting has been set up, as there now is more participation from more members. From complete newbies to experienced hackers, the list is alive on many levels.

The TTLUG web site is undergoing some major changes right now (and thus is inaccessible at the time of this writing), but its new face will reflect the success of both TTLUG and the FLOS Caribbean Conference. Where TTLUG was strong before, it's gained confidence from the conference, and that confidence is expected to be as evident on the web site as it is on the mailing lists. It's difficult to quantify the improvement at this time, but it's evident that big things are happening--from ties to the general community and business to the use and creation of tools that will make the dispersal of information more efficient.

The Greatest Success

The greatest success of the conference is learning, and learning was evident throughout the preparation, during the conference and afterward. As the members of TTLUG, TTCS and TTAC use each other for stepping stones toward a greater community, the sky seems to be the limit. There will be pitfalls and there will be challenges, but the confidence and education that have started to permeate all walks of life in Trinidad, Tobago and the larger region will show themselves not only next year but for many years to come. This confidence and education live on in any undertaking now within the community, and there's only one way to move--forward.

Taran Rampersad is a developer, writer and consultant based in Trinidad and Tobago. He can be reached at KnowProSE.com or on the discussion boards at Xeebra.com.

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