Tuesday, March 27, 2007, was the date of the 2007 Software Innovation Summit – Open Source Software and Trends in Internationalization. The summit was intended to be an annual event, but I am not sure if the event organizers, in particular its Western benefactors, were so inclined to commit to that. The people behind the event were Stephen Walli and Anne Stevenson-Yang. You might recall from an earlier posting where I announced a conference happening at this time but centered more around XOOPS, which is an object oriented and easy-to-use dynamic Web content management system written in PHP. Well supposedly, the good intentions of Anne to promote the XOOPS community got stone-walled by the Chinese powers that be.
Before I go into the story behind the conference, I want to reiterate how important it is for the China open source community to interact with the western communities, and that since the ability for the Chinese to physically travel, and in some cases even correspond via the Internet, can be hampered by various "issues" in China, western open source personalities and projects will have to find a way to come to China. However, as this conference will show, that will also not be an easy task.
What started out as a XOOPS conference, evolved into a government panel discussing the importance of open source in one conference room and in a remote corner of the hotel was another conference room, more relevant to the conference, filled with guest speakers from the US. The guest speakers were Stephen Walli, Mike Olsen, Nat Torkington, Jim Grisanzio and Christophe Bisciglia. I will let you Google their bios for their backgrounds, but by no means are these small-time open source players. The question is how did they get tucked away in a corner of the hotel so far away from the people who needed to be educated by their message.
Well, in order for the conference on XOOPS to take place, a local partner needed to be brought in, someone who could get the right "approvals". Once this partner was brought in, they had their own idea of how the conference should be run. What they didn't have was any clout or influence to bring in notable speakers. This is where Stephen comes in. However, to Stephen's surprise he was also going to need to raise capital to pay for his speakers' time on the podium. A podium, which I will add, was far from where it should have been. To make the long story short, XOOPS ended up with a 20-minute presentation, along with all the other guest speakers, and those in attendance were some software engineers, a few people from private companies and one or two government officials, who seemed to disappear after the first few presentations. The presentations were good, insightful and encouraging to those who needed reassurance that open source was a good move.
My advice to anyone looking to do a presentation in China, especially on open source, is to make sure your message is heard by those whom it needs to be delivered to. It is unfortunate that the government and industry officials in the other room were only able to deliver their party line on how important open source is, but were not able to be educated by speakers who were there to show how open source can be used as a viable business strategy. Furthermore, I don't think the good intentions of those behind this conference were fully realized and the lesson in all of this is that if you come to China, you better be prepared to manage and control all aspects of the visit, even if you need to pay a big premium to overshadow anyone with any personal ambitions that will conflict with your mission.