Updated on April 16, 2017
Tor Meeting Amsterdam (Report)
I was happy to be invited to the latest Tor Meeting in Amsterdam, the 2nd meeting Iwas invited to after the Seattle meeting last September. Tor Meetings, similarly to Mozilla All-Hands, are project wide meetings to discuss the current strategy and future goals of the Tor project.
The thing is, Amsterdam is famous for exactly that what you think it is. Lots of bicycles, bridges and certain “herbs” which are popular not only among vegetarians. I was actually surprised by the great number of locals who spoke fluent English, even outside the tourist areas. I’m generally a lazy person, so I was happy to see that this time’s Tor Meeting was held at the same hotel we stayed in. As you can imagine, that was pretty helpful, as one could easily retreat and take a nap in their room if needed.
The “Hotel Arena“, which was conveniently located in a park, was built on top (and around) an abandoned church, creating an interesting mix of classic west European architecture and modern minimalist design interior. To our amusement, the main hall of the meeting was right under the chapel, offering some of the best meeting environments I ever had (after the meetings by the shore we had in Hawaii I guess). Just imagine talking about anonymous networks while looking at church murals over you, definitely a unique experience.
The Hotel was on the fancier side, which I can appreciate, however becomes a bit out of place during coffee breaks and lunch, as waiters are slowly hunting to take your dirty plates. With a bunch of hackers and anarchists it’s pretty safe to assume that a buffet and self-service drinks might be the best choice. I might appreciate that style of high/class service at certain events, but Tor Meetings are not part of that. Then again, this is nitpicking, but nonetheless something which I thought was worth mentioning.
While I can’t help but compare meetings like this with Mozilla events I attended in the past, I must say that Tor meetings are quite special in that regard: They are relaxed, slow paced and mostly verbal. Of course the comparison might be a bit unfair, as the Tor Meeting welcomes around 120 attendees, while Mozilla’s All-Hands meeting goes over 1300. Interestingly, less than 10% of Mozilla All-Hands attendees are volunteers, while at the Tor meeting it’s more than 60%. I’d be happy to see Mozilla doing better next All-Hands in this regard. Furthermore, I appreciated the lack of extensive use of sticky notes, so popular among many community brainstorming meetings. It seems to work for many people, but it’s not my cup of tea I guess.
We had several breakout sessions during the days, which was helpful to gain insights into the work Tor was doing, regardless if technical, political or financial. Among them were:
- New Tor Website Planning
- OONI & Tor Metrics Insights
- Implementing Tor features in upcoming Firefox releases
- Improving the Useability tickets process
- Improving UX in TAILS
Needless to say that some of the most interesting conversations were held on the hallway track as well, where bumping into other people sparked some great exchanges. The sunny terrace with a beautiful view of the park’s lake helped in that regard.
On a more social side, I’d have hoped to see more centrally planned evening activities, as these greatly bring people together who don’t necessarily have much in common which is greatly refreshing I believe. Sometimes I feel like there are a number of groups within Tor which tend to stick on their own as they were used to in the past. I believe that shaking this up a bit would benefit Tor’s inclusivity. I understand though that this is hard for some people, as Tor is not the average open source project, but has rather large political, legal and privacy related implications. It would be great seeing more mingling in going, but this might just be my inner introvert talking here.
It was great hanging out with the folks at OONI, who are a lot of fun, yet take their job very seriously. Their mission belongs to one of the most critical ones in the Hacktivism world, specifically measuring internet censorship in over 180 countries throughout time. It’s projects like OONI which amaze me, as their mission is a critical one which greatly benefits to the internet age nowadays.
It was great to take part in many Design related meetings and discussions as well. We finally launched the updated Tor Brand assets, including a refreshed Tor Logo, Buttons, Banners and so much more. You can grab them on our GitHub repo.
I was grateful to be part of the Amsterdam experience with fellow members at Tor. Looking forward to the next Meeting in Montreal, Canada in Autumn!