- What I missed completely, didn't explain well enough or with enough impact to be memorable
- What they audience is particularly interested in (sometimes they hear the explanation in the presentation, but are so interested in it that they will ask about it anyways to hear about it again)
- What the audience disagrees with (expressing disagreement by posing tough questions is commonplace)
What was very interesting is that my audience was not technologists, aside from a couple of people who came to hear my presentation because they use KDE or Linux. Most, however, were students working in the social and political spaces. Many of the ideas I presented were completely new to them because software isn't something many of them have reason or opportunity to ponder very often. I don't blame them, as it probably doesn't seem like a very tasty topic to most people. "Computers, how boring!"
So what did these smart, driven people ask about?
- How do I switch? The fellow asking worked with a person who used Linux and had been interested in switching, but hadn't quite figured out how or if they should do to readiness of our products. They use a Mac, live in the first world, they are their own tech support and use their computer as an office tool. They represent what is probably one of our hardest demographics for switching: high expectation, computer literate, self-supporting home user. (Sign of interest)
- Are there kinds of applications that will always be proprietary? Specifically, why would vertical or niche applications go open source if there aren't many people interested in them? (Something I didn't cover)
- Does Free software destroy the industry and economy around computer technology? (Something I did cover, but either not in enough detail or the person asking disagreed with me)
- If anyone can participate, what ensures the quality of Free Software? (Clever question, not something I didn't cover as I really didn't have time in my talk to dissect the mechanics of the open source model)
- If Microsoft has been saying for years that they will produce secure software but seemingly can't, what chance does F/OSS have in doing that? (I only manage a small tangent on security in the talk in relation to trustability of the software and how that can impact sovereignty.)
- How can non-software endeavors apply the principles that have made F/OSS successful? (This was actually asked twice in slightly different ways.)
- When will we get an open source Facebook? (Something I didn't cover at all.)
What fascinates me about this body of queries is that these are the kinds of questions people have about Free software when they first start thinking about it seriously and critically: economy, security, universality and self-applicability.
The one question that jumped out at me as being unusual and not a question I'd heard a hundred times before at presentations was the one about an open Facebook. I was very impressed that at least one person in the audience put it all together and realized that Free software is great but what about web based services? It's not a question we have great pre-made answers to yet, though things like identi.ca are starting to flesh out the answers.
So ... How will these web sites work? How can we open them up to have the same benefits of Free software on the server, desktop and device? What about the data involved? How about choice of provider? etc..
I hope that online services are simply so young (in their current form) that they will simply mature into a Free software landscape naturally as they go. I hope that we will wake up a little on the server, desktop and devices communities and find ways to make fertile soil for Free online services to give them an additional edge. (On that note, the microblogging Plasma widget now supports identi.ca.)
These are, however, just hopes and hints. I don't see convincing, concrete solutions just yet. We must change that, though, if Free software isn't to find itself being run around by proprietary services online. Food for thought.