This year’s FrOSCon was a huge success, as always. But one thing was different from the previous years: We replaced pentabarf, our old conference management system, with a new system written by me.
pentabarf served us well for five years. It really is a wonderful system that can save you lots of time and keep you organized while putting on a large-scale event like FrOSCon. However, updates have always been painful and regressions made our lives harder than they should have been. When I learned that pentabarf is basically unmaintained since April 2010, I decided to do what every respectable software developer would do: reinvent the wheel :)
But seriously: I was never happy with some of the design decisions in pentabarf. The beauty of Rails’ conventions is that you can ususally quickly dive into and understand other people’s code. But pentabarf deviates so much from accepted best practices in the Rails world that I always found it unnecessarily hard to make changes in its codebase. Also, pentabarf lost track of new developments in Rails a long time ago.
So I thought rolling my own system might make sense. After all, I am a web developer first and conference organizer second. The result is frab (yes, that is ‘barf’ spelled backwards).
frab is still very rough around the edges, but it has already served us well before and during FrOSCon 2011. In the coming months I plan to polish frab some more and make a formal release.
But there is more
I will not stop there, however. Several things have been bugging me for years now, and with the development of frab, they all seem to fall into place.
First of all, I have been fantasizing of launching a web-based software product for years. With ibird, I already am part of a web-based product company, but sadly, ibird never really reached its full potential. I wanted to try something different and new.
Then there is my deep believe in free and open source software, which do not seem to have a place in today’s SAAS world. (There are exceptions, however. Most notably Teambox.) In the desktop and server software world it is already an established and quite common business model to produce open source software and charge for services etc. instead for licensing. This, however, is very rare on the web, at least as far as SAAS is concerned.
But I strongly believe, that with web-based software, the advantages of such a model are a lot more obvious than with traditional software. Installing a web-based application and keeping it up to date is quite hard. Add to that, that you also need to setup a server, keep that up to date and secure and scale everything when your usage patterns change. That is a lot of work for which you need an expert staff if you want it done right. Simply renting the software and not having to deal with all that is the main motivation for SAAS. I do not see where this is in conflict with open sourcing the software itself.
So, I have been wanting to try this out for a long time now – selling subscriptions to a web-based open source software.
Last, but not least, I always wanted to put everything I learned through FrOSCon to good use elsewhere. FrOSCon is strictly a volunteer effort. No one gets paid to organize FrOSCon, and that is how it should be. But that does not mean that the skills and knowledge we acquired while organizing FrOSCon cannot be applied for other causes as well.
I have been thinking about those three points a lot. And most of the time I thought about them as seperate issues. But as stated before, with frab it all comes together.
frabulous will be a hosted version of frab. If you want to benefit from frab’s wonderful set of features but do not want the hassle of maintaining your own installation, I will happily provide you with one.
Since frab is not yet 100% ready for general use and since most of its features are tailored to FrOSCon’s needs, frabulous will start off with a private beta. During this beta test, I hope to iron out some remaining bugs, but most of all I want to learn from other conference organizers about how they approach their events and what software features could save them a lot of time and trouble.