Ralf Hendel, Geschäftsführer
Drupal Enthusiast und Freizeit-Pianist.

Erfahrungen DrupalCon Kopenhagen

DrupalCon, quo vadis? Reflections on Copenhagen

Its Friday, 27. August, and the DrupalCon in Copenhagen has ended. A few Coding-Sprints are still going on, but the actual program of events has finished.

With its application, the Copenhagen Team of MortenDK prevailed against the Berlin Initiative and those allied to Stephan Luckow. In the run up to the Con, there was a controversial discussion about its fundamental direction. A few people complained that the Cons were getting more expensive and that the Community character was being lost. Others appreciated this as a sign of maturation - Drupal is gaining importance and becoming more professional.

In Copenhagen, you could easily have formed the impression that the prices were rising but you were getting a worse service.

Its an opportunity to think about things. What, basically, makes a good Con? What can we learn from Copenhagen, and take into account in future decisions about the venue?

What is a DrupalCon about?

A DrupalCon is an Art Conference, which Drupal-Professionals and other interested parties can come to, and attend talks on special Drupal topics and exchange ideas.

A DrupalCon is also the Community Event, where Drupalers can physically meet people they would otherwise only chat to by Email or Skype.

A DrupalCon is therefore automatically a good idea, because many Drupalers attend and interesting sessions are guaranteed. But what features make a really good Con? How can you evaluate a Con? What makes a Con superior, in terms of its participants and the daily program of events?

Well, in my opinion, I think the key features are the halls, the available technology, the organizers, the catering and the events that are scheduled.

The Bella Center

The Venue was the "Bella Center", a Conference Center situated about 5 km south-east of the city center.
The joy on seeing it had its own subway station put us on the right track: the route that was peppered with Drupal Icon-stickers laid out like a trail of breadcrumbs, and led around a large Hotel construction site proved to be the right one, and took us right up to the entrance.

The Halls

The Halls were all equipped with modern facilities. There was one huge auditorium - large enough to take 1.300 participants - with 3 Maxi-Screens for the Opening, Keynote and Closing ceremonies, which could be divided into three large halls and 3 additional smaller ones. In the smaller halls, the participants sometimes had to stand. They weren't really designed to cope with well-attended sessions.

The Technology

The WLAN was very robust, and rarely overloaded. This was very impressive, considering there were 1.200 participants, who were all on line simultaneously with their Smartphones AND Notebooks! The sound quality was also very good. If any of the Speakers couldn't be understood, it was entirely the fault of their dialect. It took me some time at the beginning, to understand what "Mardschils" were! There were three extremely painful (!) and loud Microphone-feedbacks during the Drupal Teaching Session. After that woke us all up, we were able to follow the Session very well. That was the only problem I experienced. Help was on hand immediately to change the microphones.

The Catering

The catering on the first day consisted of packed lunches, of the type usually only served at 8,000 meters. What little food these contained was wrapped in a huge amount of plastic. This generated a great deal of waste, and was completely unnecessary. I couldn't understand this at all.

There were no lunch packs at all for some of the participants on the first day. Presumably the Caterers were let down by the Organizers, in regard to being told exactly how many portions were needed. On the following days, there was a boxed sandwich with a Mars or Snickers bar on Wednesday, and hotdogs on Thursday.

Vegetarians had really bad menus.

Coffee and tea were only available twice a day. There were cold water dispensers in the building itself. No other types of drinks were available.

At best, the catering could only be described as a complete disaster. "#cateringsucks" grew into one of the most commonly used Hash tags of the entire event.

The Events

As part of the evening program, the organizers had reserved the Australian Bar in the heart of Copenhagen, and re-named it the "FooBar". For the participants, there was a free beer called "Awesomesauce", and wine. The beer was heavily hyped in advance. From a personal perspective, I questioned the fact there weren't any non-alcoholic beverages on offer. The image of beer-swilling Core-Developers is one I personally find neither appropriate or beneficial.

'Cool' was the appearance of the "Kitten Killers", a Band made up of staff from NodeOne, a Swedish Drupal Service Provider.

'Uncool' was the seat allocation at tables in the FooBar. I understand that this wasn't only at our table. Because it was too loud to talk, we were only allocated the FooBar on the first evening, and on other days, went elsewhere to eat.

The Organizers

Because I heard nothing from the Organizers, I'd say it all worked very well. Hearty thanks to the entire Team, whose efforts ensured all the procedures ran so smoothly.

My Conclusions

I found relegating the critical Article "Why we should fear Wordpress" to Chapter 3 of the Drupal Blog remarkable. Jennifer Lea Lampton had a Session titled "WordPress is better than Drupal: Developers Take Note." which I sadly, didn't attend. The Twitter comments suggested it had hit the raw nerve of Drupal - in terms of Usability, its worse than WordPress - which is a very sensitive point.

When considered in the light of the exuberant self-congratulation expressed at the closing session, the Community might do well to indulge in a little more self-criticism. Drupal has, without doubt, become one of the most powerful OpenSource systems around. The development of Drupal over the past seven years, and the prospects of Drupal7 are undoubtedly impressive. But we have to ensure it stays that way, and that its Usability is enhanced to the same extent.

The Launch of WordPress 3, and the implementation of Content Management led to a lot of chx Twittering that WordPress is now at the same state as Drupal was in 2005. There were three Twitterers who thought that in terms of its operability, Drupal was in the same state as Wordpress was in 2008 .

"Come for the software and stay for the community."

This was the new slogan from Drupal Marketing. The slogan can best be understood in the sense of encouraging a "Back To Our Roots" return to the most important aspect of Drupal: Drupal is a winner because of its strong sense of Community.

During the Con, proposals were Twittered about holding a future DrupalCon on a Campsite during the Convention. In size, a Con with participants running into four digits could hardly be considered a feasible option, but the people who suggested it really do mean it. It frames the desires of, and expresses the sense of connection that exists within the Community. Today, about 150 Developers sat on the Coding-Sprint, and worked together on Drupal7. Coffee and tea were, yet again, not available. The Organizers should remember that represents 150 highly committed idealists who have each waived their ability to make money working on their own projects in favor of the Community. I fear that appreciation by "the Upper Set" for the developers at its base is being lost.

The Copenhagen Con struck me as being a little cocky. This arrogance is something we simply cannot afford, if we want to grow with Drupal and want to inspire other people to do the same.


valderama - Fri, 09/10/2010 - 17:32
The DrupalCon in CPH was my first one, and the overall impression was great! Well, I agree that the term "awesome" was used a bit too often - but that is a matter of taste. I also have to admit that non-Alcoholic Drinks for free in addition to the Drupal-Beer would have been good! However, I found the party/work balance to be really good, in particular if you consider that such gatherings are also social events to meet new people. Besides the WiFi, Coffee is THE most important ingredient for a good conference. I would have appreciated a bit more of that black sauce. So that are a few things, that imho are worth of mentioning it. All the rest of the conference was organized greatly! And definetely worth the money!
eigentor - Sat, 09/04/2010 - 14:39
Thx ralph for being the messenger. You know he gets killed ;) Personally I enjoyed the drupalcon. And yet, the kind of culture shock that it was kept me busy most of the time. One thing is not true anymore - it is _not_ a pure volunteer run event anymore. The Association took the leap to make it more professional and succeeded. There was quite some discussion before the conference about it being too expensive. I did not find that, but it is surely slowly going into the direction of more professional events that can cost from 300 Euros easily up to 2000 Euros. The criticism that comes up feels to me it has to do with that change of direction. The conference wants to be more appealing to business people - so it gets less attractive for people that liked the improvised character of earlier cons. The most important part of Drupalcons for me always was sitting on the lawn before the venue and getting to know people in the drupal community. For this, sadly, the concrete space in front of the Venue in Copenhagen was little inviting. You would not sit down there. The weather was just bad luck, I guess ;) And if it has the intention to get more professional and costs more - well, isn't it understandable that people have less tolerance towards food that tasted very nice but in terms of amount could in no way get you through a day with listening to four sessions and hanging out from 10am to 6pm. The lack of coffee was just intolerable. I also understand that the Copenhagen team did everything they could. Ralph and me spoke to Isabell and the fact is, there was sufficent money per person per day for food. But - they were obliged to take what the bella center provided. In these kind of conference centers you are not allowed to bring in external caterers. And yeah - food bought directly from the conference centers is horribly expensive and Denmark is no cheap country. But still - the team could not do anything about it anymore when the conference was running so how to blame them. So the trouble is due to switching to these bigger venues that we definitely need for further events. It will definitely split the community. Thought should be invested for further cons to cater the needs of both groups - the people that come for the community and those that wanna go to a kick-ass business event. Sadly, what really shocked me was the presentation of DC Chicago, that, to judge from the presentation, goes way more into that direction. The prices for renting a room in the hotel sounded really high (well, I guess one must not get a room there to participate) and I am waiting with interest for the price of the conference itself. Ralph surey exaggerates here and there, but the concern he raises if perfectly valid. And yes, always saying awesome, awesome, awesome does not help it. The critique is less going towards the organizers of this specific event but towards the general direction of Drupalcons.
Gast - Tue, 08/31/2010 - 12:13
You should ignore that kind of report. But as you get involved commenting it, I have to say, I didn't get the awesome out of Drupalcon. Coffee is a detail, but an important one for a lot of people, especially after lunch. I don't care, but I don't understand how you end up not giving some to people. Even when you wanted to pay for it, it was hardly possible due to the queue. The thing that annoyed me the most at this drupalcon is people like you constantly saying it's awesome awesome awesome... seriously, it was... just ok. This rockstarism is really annoying.
Stewart Robinson - Tue, 08/31/2010 - 11:29
I am shocked at how offensive you are towards a volunteer led effort. Sure, the Drupal Association are involved, but I assume that, apart from Isabell, they slow things down because of some group think mentality. Morten and the team spent nearly a year planning and pulling off a brilliant event that was low priced. Go look at the average price of an event at 1000+ capacity conference venues. The guys arranged a bar with free beer. If you don't want free beer then don't go. I am very grateful for the sponsored beer. The wifi was great, and should be from now on in every large conference venue we attend for Drupalcon. How about a bit of love for the volunteer effort instead of complaining? To quote and tweek JFK. Ask not what your community can do for you - ask what you can do for your community...
Gerhard Killesreiter - Mon, 08/30/2010 - 16:48
It's funny, on Friday I remarked to some friends, that the only thing left for somebody to be offended about it the amount of beer drunk during DrupalCon and there we have it... I grant you that the catering wasn't really great, but there were people complaining about it at every Drupalcon that I've attended (apart from those where we didn't have any actual catering...). Personally, I didn't think the wifi wasn't all that great. Paris has had better wifi for me. All in all, I've had a great time and want to thank the CPH team for it!
McGO - Mon, 08/30/2010 - 09:41
I totally agree with you, Ralf and Kars-T. And i totally agree with mortendk, too. Drupal is no longer a minor open source thingy that is situated at the edge of software solutions. At least after Dries keynote in Paris and after his keynote this time everybody accepts that Drupal is known by the big business. And so it needs its business-cons. morten pointed it out and it is a problem and an advantage, too: the DA makes the decision. The problem is, that the DA has to look for positioning Drupal in the center of the business' perspective, just to make sure it is able to spread in the business world. And it is good! External money is good for the community as long as someone makes sure that the effort comes back into the community. I think that the CPH team did a great job. Precisely because the Con more and more evolves into a business conference, it was great to have a place for the coders. AFAIK it was the first con to let the people chose what kind of party they want to make after the con: drinking with morten or hacking with chx. And is crucial to adress these people as a big pillar of Drupal in there way. Beneath business, the geeks are a target audience, too! Unfortunately it seams, that both groups are incompatible :) That is what i ment, when i tweeted about the campingsite con in http://twitter.com/mirko_haaser/status/2219049680. And no, morten no singing and guitar campfire atmosphere required ;) It is possible to put more than 1.500 people in one place and let them concentrate on hacking: http://events.ccc.de/camp/2007/Intro Catering sucked and as long there is a German, there is enough time to grumble. I am saying that as a German ;-) And it is ok to complain about catering and to adress it to the correct receipient: the bella center and those hungry people (not to use the email adress from mortens slides) that took 2-3 bags. So again: You did a really great job CPH Team! And you deserve to be acclaimed. It is wonderful to be part of such a great community and to have a chance to meet all you guys on a regular basis. Next stop: London, caus Chicago might be too expensive... /McGo aka Mirko Haaser
mortendk - Mon, 08/30/2010 - 03:40
Thanx for the critique of the Drupalcon Copenhagen. We worked hard to be perfect, but off course that will never be possible 80% is the goal we went for and i sure believe we got it (the wifi didn't crash thats like 70% already) I dont expect everything to be in everyones taste, now that the european conference have grown to around 1200 people (around 900 last year) its off course not possible That be said i still think that a critique should be fair, and theres somethings here that is eater untrue or would be solved in 10 seconds First of all there wasnt a choice in which way (by size & price) the drupalcon should move last year. That was already decided by the Drupal Association (DA) before the selection of city. The DrupalCon was going to be more professional this was already decided, so the days of borrowing 3 rooms at the university, calling in the pizzas & cola & praying for the wifi to be up, is long gone (thats for the drupalcamps & DUG's) This drupalcon would be the first where it would be the DA & the Local team & a professional event company (blue project) would make it all work, and bring the european conference to the next level. It was not about directions, it was about getting the job done as smoothly as possible. after Paris had been a bumby ride. ""#cateringsucks" grew into one of the most commonly used Hash tags of the entire event." Lets be fair and do a little count before we say that a tag is so commonly used. I looked at http://search.twitter.com/search?q=cateringsucks afaik there were 3000 tweets during the drupalcon with the #drupalcon tag There was 24 tweets with the #cateringsucks tag. 9 which were rt so in all there were 15 tweets with the hashtag These were written by 8 different people, 7 was from germany, and thats out of 1200 attendees. Not to mention that 6 of these tweets are by you Ralf. Maybe im reading the numbers wrong, but thats not a commonly used hashtag for an event? We totally agree that the food sucked - the reason is things not in the hands of the Drupalcon Copenhagen crew, and was done very last in the process :( Hopefully that will be changed in the future, but at least we had food that was eatable, and didnt have to walk to the mall 5 minutes away. - and no the cater knew how many we were so the problem were people taking 2-3 bags the first day. Why wasn't there free softdrinks in the bar? well its a bar. To make it easy for the bartenders it was only a number of beers that were paid by the sponsor, having individual orders would have turned into chaos and long lines at the bar (and thats not good for anything) Having people to split out their orders would make it impossible to run an effective bar, and my bet is that about 99% of the people at the bar were there for the awesomesauce. doing it otherways would end up in long lines for people to get drinks, and we didnt wanted that When we was maid aware that some wanted the music turned down a bit, we did it the same night and made the pool bar to the "silenter place" Nobody made me (or any in the bar or cph team) aware of it the first night. I was in the bar each night till about 3 in the morning, so it would have been a simple question to me or another & it would have been fixed in a second. Its all a matter of taste, but the fact that the drupalcon's are known for throwing great parties, is not exactly keeping people away! ... and lets be honest you really didnt digg that we had our own beer made by world renown brewmaster mikkeller? For those who didnt wanna party and instead wanted to code, we had the CHX coders lounge that was open from 19 till 5 each morning. There were food outside for everyone at the codesprint, it was not allowed for us to get as long as the catering was there. Theres a lot of rules when your at big venues - thats the cost of being big as drupal is now To call the DrupalCon Copenhagen for arrogant isnt at all the expression we got from anyone at the conference (spoken, mailed & tweeted) not even close! If thats based upon feelings that Drupalcon 2010 went to copenhagen... well its not a debate thats worth taken ive heard the rumours before, and frankly it seems childish to me. Im extremely proud of what we in Copenhagen created with the Drupal Association for the Drupal Community. If thats being cocky - Then Ill accept that as my personal badge of honor. /mortendk
dasjo - Sun, 08/29/2010 - 18:40
thank you for this very good write-up! copenhagen was actually the first drupalcon i attended and i head a very good experience from an overall point of view. but of course there are some points you mentioned which are not perfect and i find it very positive to express critisism in a productive way, like you did. as drupal with its community is growing dynamically it gets harder to satisfy different needs within the community especially on such an important event as drupalcon is. as we will always need a stable core, so we need to maintain our community and treat it equally and respectful to needs as a more silent talk areas will help at foobar 2.0 and better food and coffee supplies will help us be even more happy and more effective :)