Fedora-Council/tickets ticket #426: Flock 2023: Finalize dates and venue for our next in-person contributor conference

@jflory7 filed Fedora-Council/tickets ticket #426. Discuss here and record votes and decisions in the ticket.

Ticket text:

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Justin, to be clear here: we’re not looking for a FUDCon-style bid for a local group to run the conference. We’re looking for suggestions for cities from where[1] we should ask the RH community events team to get bids, right?

Who are we looking for those additional suggestions from? Council members? Anyone? What are the criteria folks should use in making those?

  1. whence? Is this when one is supposed to say “whence”? ↩︎

My thoughts are:

  1. although Flock normally alternates between EU and NA, we had two EU events in a row (for budget reasons) and then COVID hit, so it will have been six years since we had a US-based Flock.
  2. Airport access is key — we need somewhere that is a transit hub. People should be able to fly in and take a short trip (ideally, public transit!) to the venue.
  3. Likewise, it’d be nice for the venue to be near restaurants and options for socialization and evening events.
  4. It’d be nice to be somewhere where we can do a lot outdoors, because who knows what Covid is going to be like in August and it’d be good to have options.
  5. We can’t afford New York, SF, LA, even Chicago.
  6. When we last looked, Canada was out because of VISA difficulties for many of our contributors.
  7. Again when we last looked: venues in Mexico did not tend to have the internet access we need, especially if we want to make remote participation a reasonable possibility (and I think we do). Places that had what we need (including the airport access) tended to be tourist resorts with high prices (and very high prices on that internet access).
  8. We’re planning again on a hotel venue which provides both conference space and lodging. This has proved to be a good formula — we don’t have to worry about getting people back and forth, and anyone who needs a break can go back to their own room even just for a few minutes.

The difference between “whence” and “where” are too minute to matter, and in American English, the former is basically considered archaic. Just don’t use the word.

In context, “from where” is the wrong phrase too, you should use just “that” instead.

I’m not sure I agree with this (although I privately have in the past). Having Flock in a major airline hub city would be great. But if we can make it more affordable by having it in a “second tier” city, that might be worth the tradeoff. We’ve certainly not limited ourselves to airline hubs when holding it in the EU.

While Cedar Rapids, IA is probably not a great choice in terms of travel options, somewhere like Pittsburgh, PA or Cincinnati, OH might be. (I don’t actually know what transit to/from airports is like there, just tossing out general examples.) As long as there’s multiple flights a day from hubs, the city itself being a hub is probably less important than cost and transit to/from hotel (to airport and local restaurants, etc)

There are second-tier cities throughout the United States that have airports. For some examples off the top of my head:

  • Rochester, New York
  • Hartford and New Haven, Connecticut
  • Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee
  • Charlotte and Raleigh, North Carolina
  • St. Louis and Kansas City, Missouri
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota

These cities largely will require people to have connecting flights within the United States, but it’s absolutely workable and can be reasonably cost effective.

FWIW, STL recently added non-stop international flights to the EU (https://www.stlouis-mo.gov/government/departments/airport/news/june-2022-international-flights.cfm).


We can take some open input. However, because of the tight deadline, our ability to get a wider round of feedback is limited. The Council is the group I need to own this, but any community input to the discussion is always welcome (and it already happening!).

One of the reasons I wanted to make a wider call is because of some challenges with the Detroit bid. I think the most important factors are overall affordability and ease of travel access. We need a city that has good options for travel or at least easier connections. We also need competitive costs for lodging and accommodation, to be mindful of people who pay their own way to Flock as well as for people for whom Fedora is funding.

Also, strong internet connectivity at the venue is a plus…

I had pitched Atlanta and Denver as options because they are some of the busiest airports in the U.S. (and the ATL is my home turf), but the feedback I got from the Red Hat events folks was that both cities would very likely outprice Detroit from other factors beyond travel.

I am +1 to @bcotton’s point about remaining open to second-tier cities.

Well, to be fair, this is also tricky in the U.S. too :grinning: Any North American Flock will always mean VISA challenges for our folks traveling from outside North America and the EU. I have found the EU to be more forgiving when it comes to VISAs for travel & conferences.

But, this is getting a bit off-topic!

It is worth noting that the Detroit bid we have has poor feedback around connectivity. I don’t think the venue we were looking at is quite used to tech conferences. If we went with Detroit, it is definitely an open question on whether we would be able to stream or not (most likely not).

In defense of México, I don’t doubt there are great places that could host us, but this comes back to the point I mentioned about playing to our strengths. It is probably a matter of insider knowledge of knowing the Mexican event landscape, including both ideal cities for travel and venues that could accommodate an event like Flock.

I assume this is a given for the reason you mentioned, and more.

Although I have a soft spot for the ROC (and arguably it would make my life easier since I already know my way around), I think we can give a chance to another city. :grinning:

I don’t know a whole lot about St. Louis, but I also don’t have strong opposition to putting it in our shortlist. Our events team might also have feedback about the city too, but I can find out when I bring our request back to them.

A location in the United States will not work for attendees from India, due to the fact that the earliest folks can get an appointment for a B1/B2 Visa interview dates almost three years down the line[1] from now. The earliest that the folks can obtain an interview-waived Visa also has an average wait time of around 233 days (i.e. almost 8 months)[2] and even then, the requirements for being eligible for the interview-waived Visa are very specific[3][4] and a lot of folks might not even meet those.

  1. US VIsa: US opens up more appointment slots for some visa applicants - The Economic Times. ↩︎

  2. US VIsa: US opens up more appointment slots for some visa applicants - The Economic Times. ↩︎

  3. Apply for a U.S. Visa | Waiver of Personal Appearance for Qualified Visa Applicants – Interview Waiver - Bulgaria (English) ↩︎

  4. Visas - U.S. Embassy & Consulates in India ↩︎

Mega sadface. This is helpful context to know but it definitely complicates the puzzle. I’ll flag to our events team this week and see if they have any recent experience with U.S. visas and travel for Indian citizens.

There are currently only 40 countries on the the Visa Waiver Program for the United States. India is not part of that program at this time, though I’m honestly surprised about that, given that other ASEAN countries are.

Oh wow — I didn’t realize it had gotten that bad. Maybe we need to reconsider a European option after all.

There is some good news on that front: the US embassy and consulates are hiring staff and trying to get fully caught up by the summer[1].

[US Charge d’Affaires Ambassador Elizabeth Jones] also noted that tremendous recruiting and training efforts are underway right now in Washington to recruit and train vice counsellors for many many places.

“Our mission in India is going to get quite a number of them… By the summer, we will be fully staffed here in Delhi and in our consulates to issue visas and do these interviews,” she said.

  1. Tremendous efforts underway to cut wait time for issuance of visa in India: US - The Economic Times ↩︎

We’re taking a look at our options, and possibly considering a bid from somewhere outside of the U.S. Flock is not like most conferences in the sense that it is for and by our contributors first, wherever they may come from. So, I’d like our venue location to also reflect that too.

We’re going to form a consensus for the two additional cities that we request bids for in tomorrow’s Council meeting.

There are a few possible considerations …
Typically it’s easier to get a visa approved from the Chennai embassy than any other embassy, this is because all the Bangalore folks who travel for the conference (B1/B2) category get it stamped from Chennai. Long time back, I have myself been rejected by Kolkata embassy during interview as they hardly come across applications where the applicant is traveling to the US; sponsored (fully/partially) by a company (which in some cases our contributors are not employed by).
Having people added to Delhi will not bring much change in the process. The application queue is about 3 yrs waitlist and even though US visa gets rejected for 214B, and however it’s technically possible to re-apply the very next day again but the waitlist won’t bring much happiness.
IMHO, as someone who has helped a lot of contributors from India with visa situations, its gonna be real hard to target US at least for 2023.

This is because Indian Passports aren’t e-passports. If you visit the link and go to passport requirements, you will find…

The passport must be an electronic passport with a digital chip containing biometric information about the passport owner.

Apparently India intended to start issuing them this year? Is it still not a thing?

This is my top topic for the Council meeting in #fedora-meeting that kicks off in ten minutes. I’d like to identify an additional U.S. city and then one other city in an alternate location that is not the U.S. or Canada, just so we can explore our options fully.

I logged the summary in the ticket, but I will also copy it here for subsequent discussion.

Discussed in 2022-12-07 meeting.

Our top recommendation for Flock 2023 is a city in Ireland, preferably between Dublin, Waterford, and/or Cork. I am forwarding this recommendation to our friends in the events team to get their feedback. Some highlights from our discussion on why Ireland:

  1. A U.S. Flock quickly became challenging because of a 3+ year wait time for visa interview appointments. Any contributor from India without an existing, valid U.S. visa would not be able to come to Flock if the current circumstances remain the same. There is evidence that circumstances would improve, but we’re rolling dice with the amount of time needed for visa processing even in good circumstances. This could be true in other larger countries (e.g. Brazil?), but we have sufficient justification to explore other non-North American options.
  2. Ireland appeared to more efficient at visa processing for Indian citizens than the United States or Canada as of December 2022.
  3. We have a known presence of several Fedora contributors in Ireland. We could bring Flock closer to home for several people at once, and potentially save significantly on travel support expenses.

The only ASEAN country on the waiver program seems to be Singapore (and India is not in ASEAN)