Plone Open Garden - Sorrento
Last week, I attended the Plone Open Garden (PLOG) event in Sorrento Italy. This event has been running for a number of years now, under the name 'European Plone Symposium', but this year adopted a name that better reflected the nature of the event. Building on the style of 'unconferences' or 'open spaces', this event makes the best use of its physical surroundings and environment and focuses on less formal talks that are arranged by participants on the day. If, like me, you find one of the most valuable parts of a conference are the chats you have with people in the corridor, over a coffee/beer, or over dinner, then this is an event you should have been at.
Like previous years, I flew from Bristol to Rome and then drove down to Sorrento in a hire car. This means I can use the far more friendly and less-hassle local airport in Bristol, rather than have to head over to London to fly from the larger airports. Driving down through Italy is always an interesting experience in a country for whom indicators seem to mean something totally different to the rest of the world, scooters buzz around you like gnats, and where straddling two lanes and driving down the white line seem to be perfectly normal approaches to driving. You need a certain confidence to drive in Italy, and this being my 4th time of making this journey I think I'm getting the hang of it.
Alas this year, I did something stupid and left my bag with my clothes/laptop/passport in the locked boot of the car at the motorway services (Autogrill), only to return to find I had been relieved of it. I remember some guy approaching me to try and sell me flowers/watches/something as I got out of the car, and think they had a device to intercept the signal from the keyfob when I locked the car. Quite brazen considering I was parked about 10 meters away from a bunch of army lads in uniform and carrying guns, and about 20m away from the highway police.
I reported it to the highway police there who were as helpful as they could be (especially as I can only speak enough Italian to order a coffee and they didn't speak much english), and they took a report and told me to go to the police station in Sorrento to make a formal report the next day.
So, not a great start to my trip... but lesson learnt, and at least I still had my phone, wallet, and satnav. The most annoying losses were the nice bottle of Glenkinchie I just bought in duty free, the Professional Plone t-shirt I got given by the Plone Japan guys at Plone Conf last year, and of course, the slides to my two talks I was presenting at PLOG.
So after kicking myself for my stupidity, I was determined to not let it get in the way of my trip. And driving down the winding roads as you approach Sorrento, I was reminded of what an amazingly beautiful place this area of the world is and I could feel myself relaxing.
Due to me completely forgetting to actually book my hotel until the night before, this year I was not staying at the Hotel Mediterraneo, the main venue for the event, but at the Villa Garden Hotel just around the corner.
After checking in to my hotel I went to the Mediterraneo to find whom has already arrived. I found Vincenzo Barone from Abstract, whom has once again organised this event, and a chance for a good catch up since we last met.
The next day was the start of the main event, with talks scheduled in the morning, followed by the Open Garden sessions after lunch. I was due to give the first talk 'The State of Plone' with some information on the current roadmap for Plone 5 and beyond. With it's usual relaxed style, the schedule was more of a hint for timing than a strict schedule of talks.
My talk was a very informal one (partly due to lack of slides, partly due to me wanting to get feedback) and mainly outlined the goals for moving forward with Plone 5. Previously the mantra from a year or so ago was 'Plone 4 will be evolutionary, and Plone 5 revolutionary'. However feedback from the Plone community has been that the upgrade from Plone 3 to Plone 4 has been such a nice smooth one, that it would be great to keep the evolutionary approach a bit longer. We also have a bit of a catch-22 situation in that some of the cool new technologies coming up in Plone (the 3 D's of Dexterity, Diazo, and Deco) need to get some more testing before Plone can base core functionality on them. Certain aspects (especially Dizao and Dexterity) have been used in production site now for a while (the PloneConf2010 site used Dexterity for the registration system), but it has been a pain sometimes to get all the versions of the dependencies correct. The proposed approach is to try and bring in these technologies into future Plone 4.x releases, but not depend on them yet for core functionality. This was the approach taken by Archetypes back when it was introduced in Plone 2.0. In short any changes that maintain backwards compatibility will be in Plone 4.x and any changes that break backwards compatibility will be in Plone 5.x.
The next talk was by Maurizio Delmonte and Simone Deponti of Abstract entitled "Mixing Plone and Django for explosive results" and detailed their experiences on combining the strengths of multiple systems and creating a system combined with Plone (content management), Pinax (Community) and Satchmo (e-Commerce) together. The entire lot was then themed with Diazo.
Alas, I had to miss the next talk, Plone for Maire Tecnimont: migrating to Plone 4 by Michele Brunetti as I had to go to Naples to the British Consulate to get myself a replacement passport. I also missed most of the Open Garden sessions that day as well, but heard there were some good discussions going on.
That evening I joined the residents at Hotel Mediterraneo for dinner in the restaurant at the top of the hotel. The food, as you would expect from this region, is outstanding, and the restaurant has great views out over the sea. Sat on a table for eight, was myself, and fellow long-time Zopista, Kit Blake from Infrae along with a number of our Italian hosts. As always seems to be the case, talk went from business models, to software, to politics and back again quite a few times. It is always great to sit around a table with people from different nations to hear their view on world events and get the real story on domestic events.
One really interesting aside was related to my trip to Naples to get a temporary passport issued to ensure I could return home OK, and the contents of the UK passport. According to the Italians at the table, the Italian passport states something in the order of 'I certify that this person is a citizen of Italy'. As I'm guessing do most other passports. With a flair that I guess goes back to Britain's colonial days, and our Monarch (also very much in the news with the Royal Wedding being covered on Italian TV news) the UK passport states on the inside:
"Her Britannic Majesty's Secretary of State Requests and requires in the Name of Her Majesty all those whom it may concern to allow the bearer to pass freely without let or hindrance, and to afford the bearer such assistance and protection as may be necessary."
There is something quite quaint I think about that text in the modern day and age, and something I might point out next time I'm standing near naked going through airport security!
The evening rounded up with conversations long into the night sat by the poolside of the hotel drinking with fellow Plonistas, and myself trying to re-create some of my lost slides for my second talk the next day on a laptop borrowed from Vincenzo.
Day two of the event started with talks from Giorgio Borelli on "Managing georeferenced content with plone and collective.geo" and Silvio Tomatis on "Plone and SEO Optimizing Plone sites For best performance on Search Engines". Both of these were great talks, and once again I'm always humbled when I attend talks by Plone community members presenting in what is probably their 2nd, 3rd or 4th language. I've yet to work on a project that requires GIS functionality, but the collective.geo product certainly looks very good, and builds upon a number of existing and well used GIS libraries for python. One key feature is the ability to not just mark a location of an item as a single point, but to define an area via a boundary or shape. It also abstracts the mapping layer away, so you can use Google Maps, OpenStreetMap or a number of other maps by way of the OpenLayers library.
Then came my second talk of the event "Plone: A Solution, not a Product". This was a kind of dry run for the keynote talk I will be giving in the US in a couple of week's time at the Plone Symposium East 2011 being organised by the WebLion group at Penn State University. As I gathered the overlap of participants is going to be very minimal, I would use the opportunity to get some feedback on the talk before I deliver it in the US.
Ironically, on mentioning the talk to Paul Everitt on IRC I found out that he gave a talk entitled "Plone: A Product, not a Solution" (or similar) a number of years back. So what has changed? Well everything and nothing ;) The first bit of feedback I gained from this was maybe my talk title is a bit misleading, and hopefully adding a bit more context to it at PSE will help. I am in fact agreeing with Paul, but he was referring to Plone-the-product, whereas the focus on my talk is Plone-the-product-and-community-and-ecosystem. Having lost the original slides and mindmap to this talk, I have the opportunity to re-write it now and so hopefully the version I present at PSE will be even better. Think of my first (stolen) version as a spike solution ;)
The final scheduled talk just before lunch was "M.A.D.: using Plone to supervise production processes" by Bruno Ripa and Simone Deponti. The talk was a bit of a case study of a client upgrading from Plone 2.5 and a mix of various ways of doing things to Plone 4 realising improvement in GIS capabilities, search, and PDF conversion.
Lunch was a fantastic buffet in the outside restaurant by the pool, and offered further chances to chat to other attendees.
That afternoon there were further Open Garden sessions and a few of us were involved in a ZEA Partners meeting chaired by Kit Blake and Cesare Brizio, in which it was agreed that the 'new' lightweight version of ZEA would be based in Italy. The former entity based in Brussels had run its course, and time has come for a newer lighter weight model in which we expand the scope of membership to 'any company using python web frameworks'. One of the main tasks was to elect a board of directors for this new organisation which are: Kit Blake (Infrae, NL), Geir Bækholt (Jarn, NO), and Massimo Azzolini (RedTurtle, IT). I am looking forward to the future of ZEA and working more with the other members as we go forward. Stay tuned for more information on the new organisation as we publish it.
Later on a TV crew arrived at the event to film what was going on for a news website PUPIA. The clip is in Italian, but gives you a good flavour of the event and venue:
That evening, a few of us not staying at Mediterraneo went to find a local restaurant to have dinner there, followed by more late night talks by the pool, and a chance to drink some of the honey-liquor brought over from Slovenia by Nejc Zupan.
Alas, I had to leave the next morning in order to get back to the UK for my daughter's christening on Sunday, so missed the sprints that took place on the Saturday and Sunday. I'm glad to say my drive back to Rome was a lot less eventful then the trip down, and ironically left Sorrento with an unusually grey and wet morning only to arrive back in Bristol for a glorious sunny evening.
I sincerely hope Vincenzo and Maurizio continue to hold this event in future years, and that more people take the opportunity to come along to an occasion that I think is very unique in the Plone calendar in terms of the chance to just sit back and chat to those people whom you have been dealing with online but maybe not had the chance to really get to know in person. One topic of conversation was could the 'Plone spirit' be spread to other open source communities, and I'm hoping that next year we get some more people from some of the other Python web frameworks to come to Italy to join in.