2020 report from the Chair

Posted on: December 4, 2020 - 21:39 By: dave

Kia ora koutou.

Looking back at last year's report, I started with remarking that 2019 was a "strange year"... wow, little did I know what was coming.

Among other things, this year, we're going from a President's report to a Chair(person)'s report. And (spoiler alert) it only gets wackier. 

This year, amazingly, two of our historical problems stopped being problems: 

  1. we now have a functional Constitution, and
  2. we now have a legitimate, stable Council. 

The current Council, whom I would like to thank for their commitment to the Society and willingness to make time in their busy/hectic lives over the past year, is comprised of the following:

  1. Jo Allum (Tauranga)
  2. Eliot Blennerhassett (Christchurch)
  3. Carl Klitscher (Wellington) - Treasurer
  4. Steven Ellis (Auckland)
  5. Danny Adair (Wellington)
  6. Tim McNamara (Wellington) - Deputy Chair
  7. Dave Lane (Christchurch) - Chair

I'd like to give a special thanks again to Carl Klitscher continuing in the role of Treasurer, and helping is with some heavy lifting, particularly with regard to compliance with Charitable status, and with taking the lead on getting to the bottom of a couple hard technical problems (like stuff related to this site). 

This year, as with most of us, the Society's been somewhat "hunkered down". When COVID19 hit New Zealand, we were in an interesting position. For about six months prior, thanks entirely to CatalystCloud's generous sponsorship in the form of cloud hosting infrastructure (all Free and Open Source Software, and all based here in Aotearoa!), I'd been messing around with implementing an instance of a video conferencing platform called BigBlueButton. It's not some little "talk to a friend or two" platform like Facetime or WhatsApp or Skype or various other proprietary tools. It's a full blown large-scale (hundreds of participants) seminar and online conference platform. It's more comparable to the now-ubiquitous "Zoom". 

As luck would have it, on the eve of the first Lockdown in response to COVID19, we had it up and running. On the strength of that, combined with several other Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) tools we had available already, we issued an invitation to NZ-based businesses and organisations to make use of these resources to help them adapt to the "new normal". 

Over the subsequent months, we had more than 200 individuals, businesses, educational institutions, and organisations make use of our suite of fully open, NZ-hosted, freedom-respecting tools. The systems performed admirably, and many thanks to members of Council (e.g. Tim, who developed a statistical usage visualisation tool for our BigBlueButton - we were hoping to determine its upper limits of number of participants, but we've never hit the ceiling!) for their support through a few months of intensive use (it's tapering off a bit now)... our biggest group in a single meeting was 45... and there was no evidence of performance problems, so we suspect we could handle groups up to 100 or perhaps more! We'd love to max it out some time just so we can verify that upper bound...

So, what else has the Society been doing since my last report... 

Monthly Face-to-face meetings

Both the WOSSAT (Wellington) and Christchurch Free and Open Source Software (FOSS) Gatherings (our GetTogether and Meetup.com listings) have been continued meeting monthly, with the Christchurch one moving to virtual meetings (on the second Tuesday of the month, 8pm, using our BigBlueButton) and, due to the virtual nature, also inviting folks from Auckland to take part. As far as I know, the WOSSAT (which is run by folks not directly affiliated with the NZOSS, but who're active members of NZ's FOSS community) has also been running session both online and in person (Lockdown levels-allowing). 

Free and Open Source Software services for NZ

Thanks to ongoing generous onshore fully sponsored OpenStack cloud hosting infrastructure provided by Catalyst Cloud, we have continued to offer a broad range of fully Free and Open Source Software services for our own use, and to make many available for anyone in NZ to test or, in most cases, actively use, all free of cost! 

We are pleased to see that our BigBlueButton system has been included in the Ministry of Education's list of available educational video conferencing technologies. We'd love to see the ministry become more pro-active about making FOSS tools like this (and Jitsi Meet, which is also on the list, but is limited to smaller group conversations) available to all schools at scale rather than relying on overseas proprietary technologies, really built for a corporate market, and with many privacy and data sovereignty issues. 

Our established foothold in the increasingly well-established Fediverse, namely our Mastodon instance (a community-run, FOSS alternative to Twitter available for use at no cost), has more than doubled its participants to 576 users, who've collectively made almost 34,000 posts as I write this...

And, as always, we're currently looking at additional tools too offer and enhancements to make to our FOSS service offering for NZ!

The year to come

In the coming year, we've got a lot planned. We're considering offering some membership "perks", namely services specifically to financial users (our BitWarden password manager!) and generally improving our membership services.

We've also got an idea of a business spin-off from the Society to meet a massive latent market demand... but more on that later! Looking forward to continuing to work in our NZ FOSS community in the coming year!

Nāku, nā,

Dave Lane
Chair, NZ Open Source Society

(for reference, here's my previous report)