Tuesday, 08 March 2011 13:07

Linux Australia needs to lift its public profile


A survey conducted by Linux Australia has thrown up one standout conclusion – the organisation is still very low-profile and needs to do some serious self-promotion so that the general public can become aware of its existence.

A total of 528 responses were received to the survey which was set in train by James Turnbull, who was president of the organisation for the first six months of 2010 before he stepped down to take up a job in the US.

When I interviewed Turnbull shortly after he took office, he had this to say about his reasons for deciding to conduct a survey: "We do not engage with them (members) and we need to. I am also keen to engage people who are not members and find out what we, as an organisation, can offer. Then we'll be more representative."

Turnbull, one must add, never shied away from engaging with the media, no matter the questions thrown at him.

His successor, John Ferlito, also a very approachable type, released the raw data of the survey publicly in January. The results are yet to be analysed officially. When I asked Ferlito whether the responses were all from different IPs, he said that this analysis had not been done and he saw no need at that stage (the query was put to him on February 21) to do so.

The survey responses — 423 from Australia and 15 from New Zealand, the rest from other countries — appear to be mostly from people who are involved in some way or the other in the FOSS community.

All but two responded to the question "How involved are you in the Linux community? eg . posting on the mailing list, attending Linux Australia events, voting in elections".

Of the 526 responses, 45.4 percent said they were occasionally involved while nine percent were heavily involved and 125 said they were moderately involved. Only a little more than a fifth said they were not involved at all.

When those taking the survey encountered the question "where did you first hear about Linux Australia" a little more than 60 percent skipped it. Of the 209 who answered the query, only 12 had heard about Linux Australia through the media.

To the question "Is there a reason you are not a member of Linux Australia" (multiple reasons allowed, hence percentages will add up to more than 100), only 254 answered and of these nearly half said they had not heard of the organisation. Thirty percent said they did not understand what the organisation does. And 41 percent said they saw no reason to be a member.

I have been dealing with the organisation for nearly a decade and the answers do not surprise me. There was an upward trend in engagement with the outside world in the years that Melbourne's Jonathan Oxer was president but for the next two years — 2008 and 2009 — Linux Australia literally went missing.

Turnbull, in the first half of 2010, and now Ferlito are trying to reverse that trend but it looks like a long, hard climb lies ahead.

Other replies that should push the organisation in the direction of publicising itself more came in response to the query "What would most make you consider becoming a Linux Australia member?" Though less than half the respondents (221) answered, 42 percent wanted to see the organisation provide more support for the adoption of Linux and open source software in Australia.

Another set of responses which tell the organisation it should make itself better-known came from the query "What would you like Linux Australia to offer?" There were 443 responses and 231 said the organisation should indulge in more advocacy on Linux and open source software issues.

That means putting out statements when issues around free software and open source software surface, getting one's statements and face in the media and as the well-known security guru Bruce Schneier once told me, being a media slut.

Others wanted discounts for LA events, including the LCA, training or professional development, certification and more coordination of the activities of user groups around the country.

LA officials can take heart from the fact that more than half the respondents (296 of 433 who responded, nearly 70 percent) indicated a willingness to pay an annual membership fee. A lesser number, 322, offered no answer when asked how much they would pay, but the biggest number, 134, were willing to part with $25 each year.

Exactly half the respondents replied when asked whether they attended LUG meetings – and of that number, nearly 80 percent said they attended meetings of Linux user groups.

The survey respondents were mostly in the 25 to 35-year age group (170 of 436 respondents – nearly 40 percent). As far as gender goes, 387 males and 38 females were among the 526 who submitted responses. Ninety-two people skipped the question while 11 did not specify their gender.

And finally, a bit of trivia – 365 of the 527 who responded when asked what distribution they used answered "Ubuntu." Debian (187), Fedora (106), CentOS (103) and Red Hat (91) followed.

When I communicated with Ferlito on February 21, I told him that going by the LA site, there seemed a lot of good ideas about making LA a better-known entity but very few seemed to have been implemented. I also commented that many pages (like this one) were sadly out-of-date and asked if there were any plans to rejuvenate things on this front.

Ferlito said the first face-to-face meeting of the current LA council would be held this month.

"We are hoping to revise our policies and goals at the time. We are going to spend most of the meeting time as an opportunity to get work done, which will include a revamp of the content in the wiki and details on subcommittees and processes," he said. He also indicated that documentation about the LCA would be updated.

Gaining a public profile is a difficult process, especially given the fact that all the Linux Australia officials are technology professionals who have their fingers in many pies.

But the organisation could do no worse that hire a professional to handle their public relations on a war-footing. They have the right person for the job in their midst too - Donna Benjamin, the indefatigable president of the Linux Users of Victoria. A couple of years of work by her would almost certainly — from what I've seen — be enough to substantially raise the profile of a body that deserves to be better known but is often its own worst enemy.

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Sam Varghese

Sam Varghese has been writing for iTWire since 2006, a year after the site came into existence. For nearly a decade thereafter, he wrote mostly about free and open source software, based on his own use of this genre of software. Since May 2016, he has been writing across many areas of technology. He has been a journalist for nearly 40 years in India (Indian Express and Deccan Herald), the UAE (Khaleej Times) and Australia (Daily Commercial News (now defunct) and The Age). His personal blog is titled Irregular Expression.

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