My thoughts on Astricon 2019

A bit of pre-amble if you'll allow me.

If you follow me on twitter you'll know that only 5 weeks before Astricon was due to take place, I responded to a blog post from Sangoma - the custodians of the FreePBX and Asterisk projects - two of the key projects in Open Source Telephony. The blog post essentially said "Open Source will fail you, use PBXact instead". PBXact is Sangoma's commercial offering of FreePBX.

Around 2 weeks later I also recorded a ClueCon Weekly episode with Fred Posner around the topic of Open Source Telephony and the standards we have to hold each other to in response to that blog post from Sangoma. We believed this interview was going to be released before Astricon because we talked heavily about our hopes for Astricon in it.  I've included the tweet and the video below.

I'm now back from Astricon and wanted to put the record straight on a couple of topics. TLDR; Astricon was better than I thought it was going to be and while I believe Sangoma, as a whole, do believe in Open Source and want to do better, they have work to do going forward. The ClueCon weekly video went public during Astricon which made no sense to me and led to people (including myself) questioning SignalWire's timing on the matter.


First of all, let's talk about Astricon in Atlanta, Georgia. This was the first Astricon where Sangoma had been able to take the reins and truly implement their vision of what Astricon should be. Since Sangoma bought Digium there's been quite a lot of change over the past year - key members of the now combined Sangoma/Digium team have left and I must admit I wasn't really looking forward to speaking at the event.

What can I say? I was wrong and I'm so glad I went.

I ended up enjoying myself, the company around me and although only a few of the "regulars" that I love attended, I made new friends and talked to people I hadn't seen before. I really do love smaller conferences. The venue was nice (although a little pricey even at the special rate) and the food during the day was amazing - I'd never had food like that at an Astricon before. The evening networking was a distance above anything I'd attended at Astricon in the past too. Usually we're in a room at the venue, we're limited to cheap wine and beer and because there's 600 people in a big room, you end up having to shout over one another to hear each other. Not this time. We all went 200m away from the venue to a sectioned off bar with a great outdoor seating area and I drank Whiskey - the first time that's ever happened at an Astricon "happy hour".

Of course there are things that could be improved and I've already sent my feedback to the team - for me the three biggest things were:

1) too short session length (40 minutes instead of 30 with time to transition between tracks)

2) no recordings of talks (this is hugely important for both the speaker, attendees wanting to go back and hear some detail again, and for those who couldn't make it for whatever reason - plus, it's 2019)

3) the badges had tiny printed names on them (it's 2019 - we can do amazing name badges that are double sided nowadays!)

But we must remember that this was their first one since they decided to run the event themselves instead of outsourcing parts to TMC. Anyone that attended should send their own feedback too - as an event organiser myself, feedback is vital.

Sangoma, that blog post and their commitment

As a result of that tweet where I called out Sangoma on the impact they were having, both Jim Machi (VP of Marketing) and Bill Wignall (CEO) reached out to both Fred Posner and I. If you haven't seen it, Fred wrote an amazing blog post about Sangoma and FUD which nicely summed up how we all felt at the time. On the last night of Astricon both Fred and I met with Bill and Jared Smith (who Sangoma have just promoted to VP of Open Source Community Development) and went through our concerns, our thoughts on Astricon and what the future held for the communities that love these projects.

I can tell you now, if Bill hadn't reached out and we hadn't met; I'd have walked away believing that while there are amazing people at Sangoma who care about Open Source, the company as a whole was really only interested in one thing - making money and that's a difficult thing to do when you're supporting open source projects. But that's not what happened. Bill and Jared spent a considerable amount of time with us and allowed us to speak freely about the issues we've seen over the past year. Now I'm not saying everything's perfect but I don't feel like any of us could be doing a better job of it. I know some of the suggestions Fred and I expressed will be taken seriously. I trust Jared and now I trust Bill in the fact they're trying to do good. I know the dialog will continue.

Moving onto ClueCon Weekly

The ClueCon Weekly video that was released during Astricon. This has become a hot topic since Astricon - unfortunately it was released at midday Central time on the last day of Astricon even though we had recorded it weeks beforehand. Now, I stand by everything I said during the interview with Madison but some have questioned the timing of the release. Anthony Minessale says it wasn't something done consciously and while I don't believe there was anything malicious in it, I do believe that is was done purposefully. Only the day before David Duffett's role at Signalwire was also made public (on the first day of Astricon). If there's anything I know about running a business it's this - you want people to be talking about your project/product and not about the competitors. Now I'd fully expect this from a company outside of the Open Source ecosystem such as Twilio but for me, a blatant PR grab on both days of Astricon is no accident. I consider members of the Signalwire team friends of mine and that's why I believe it wasn't done maliciously - it's just good business.

Like I said, I don't regret any of my words used in the interview and I know Fred feels the same as I do. But to me, this wasn't being a good Open Source citizen - it was being a business - the very line that got Sangoma in hot water in the first place.

The future

In short, because you deserve a medal for making it this far, I'm hopeful about the future of Asterisk, of Astricon and of the Open Source community around it - and that includes Sangoma. I'm giving Signalwire the benefit of the doubt on this one and hope we won't see these kinds of shenanigans again.

You can also go check out Fred's own thoughts on Astricon too