Updated on November 18, 2016
SFK’16 in Prishtina, Kosovo – Report
The Balkans is a unique region. With centuries of complex history behind it, Balkan countries show interesting dynamics and cultural differences across its territories. This is also noticeable in the tech scene. With no particular famous tech hub in the Balkan countries, the tech scene is relatively decentralized compared to Western European countries (London, Berlin, Paris etc). Due to this, there are many opportunities which haven’t been fully taken advantage of yet, but which start to emerge slowly in the past couple of years. There is an interesting article about this from a friend and colleague of mine, Chris Ward, during his stay in Albania some months ago.
With Kosovo declaring Independence in early 2008, things have changed for Kosovars and Albanians very quickly. With this breeze of fresh air, many new initiatives were born as well, among them the local FLOSSK Community (Free Libre Open Source Kosova). With a complete inexistence of Free & Open Source initiatives in Kosovo & Albania at that time, it has been a pioneering effort locally for all things Free & Open Source. Its initial impact has influenced the local tech scene so much that FLOSSK has served as an inspiration for our local Open Labs hackerspace community in Tirana, Albania.
The roots of SFK
One of the milestones FLOSSK prides itself with is SFK (Software Freedom Kosova), an annual conference created as a meeting place for all Free Software enthusiasts in the region to cultivate the local community and drive their values forward locally. On a practical note, it aimed to offer people a local alternative to conferences abroad, as many were unable to travel far from home due to costs and visa issues (which is still a huge problem).
With the first edition having taken place in 2009, SFK 2016 is now in its 7th edition (there was no SFK in 2015). In its early days it was one of the few bigger open source conferences in the region, which many other communities looked up to.
With 2016, it was time for a new edition of SFK. As 2015’s edition was canceled due to lack of time, many people happily awaited the return of the conference this year, including me.
As a Mozilla Tech Speaker, I got my session approved and together with Gabriel and Giannis we would facilitate the Mozilla presence at the conference. I would arrive on the 2nd day of the conference, due to being in Munich, Germany for Push Conference the 2 days before. Apart my taxi driver not knowing the Venue (it was a bit outside the city) my travel went smooth and I also gave an impromptu Fedora Badges workshop only minutes after I arrived.
I was quite disappointed with the number of attendees when I arrived. Although, I don’t blame the organizers for that, as there are only 3 people behind the conference this year (apart the volunteers) the tracks and venue was ideal for 300 people at the same time. It was however overkill for 100-150 people who were there at the same time. A more dense event with less tracks would be beneficial. No need to have 3 tracks when already small groups of people get even more fragmented.
On the last day, there was also a Workshop track at Prishtina Hackerspace, which was 500m far away from the venue. While being relatively close by, it still contributes to people going different paths. This is already annoying at a huge conference like FOSDEM, where everything is in the same campus anyway. Let’s avoid this next time I’d suggest.
Anyway, I was happy and proud that over 15 people from Open Labs coordinated their trip to SFK’16. It’s great to see the community growing steadily and the Open Labs crew definitely held the morale high during the time at the conference.
I had a workshop about Mozilla Open Design (surprise surprise!), introducing the new branding within Mozilla, the GitHub repo where people could help and/or request designs and last but not least, the Open Innovation Toolkit which we recently launched (thanks to Henrik, who introduced me to it face-to-face in Munich the days before). The workshop ennded up being full, with over 25 people participating (mind you, many sessions ended up being almost empty, due to the high fragmentation and relatively low attendance during the conference). I expected to encounter more questions and debates during my workshop, however attendees were relatively passive, which made me feel like I was talking too much at some point.
Having said that, I always try to have a casual and conversational approach when speaking or holding a workshop, to allow attendees to familiarize themselves quickly. A little bit of humor sprinkles on top helps as well.
We also held an impromptu Mozilla meetup, where two new contributors joined and Giannis and me advised them how we could work together. I have been seeing the 1:1 approach work quite well, whereas a more “top-down” facilitation process might reach more potential contributors, but the success rate being much lower.
Bonus: Conference Visual Identity
Something which you might not know, is that I had the pleasure to design the visual identity and branding of the conference this year. FLOSSK approached me via my startup Ura, to request design help for this year’s edition of SFK. Traditionally, SFK has used the FLOSSK Logo in its branding throughout the years, so I suggested to step up the game here and create a logo for the conference itself (a dedicated post to the process behind it is coming soon).
The concept behind it was simple. If a crow would represent FLOSSK, what would represent FLOSSK’s conference? A crow feather, of course. Additionally, my thinking was that during these community organized conferences, a lot of BoF (Birds of a Feather) sessions take place, so I found the play on words quite catchy.
For the posters and banners I used Public Domain photos of crows to accompany the branding of the conference. Gotta love Unsplash.
I plan to upload the source files to GitHub soon, under a Creative Commons license as well.
It’s good to be in Prishtina, as a lot of things feel familiar, yet different. I had a warm fuzzy feeling to be with our local community from Open Labs Hackerspace, as this was the first time so many of us (over 15) were traveling together. The conference itself was a bit underwhelming, or maybe I’m used to people running around like crazy at bigger conferences? Maybe.
It was good to see another edition of SFK after 2 years, but I would like to see more people investing time and efforts into it to deliver an experience as back in the days. Less but more focused content next year.
Attendees: ~200 (total)
- International speakers
- Venue was well equipped
- Solid after parties
- Good networking with fellow speakers before
- Wifi was great
- Attendance was quite lower than expected
- 3 days and 3 tracks for the size of the event is too much
- Venue at the 2nd day was way out of the city
- Food and drinks were not organized well