February 21, 2010

maemo-bangalore foss.in N900 contest

I managed to get my hands on the N900 after a long long wait. But the path to getting the device was long and tragic. Here’s the story.

Back at foss.in (Dec 1st week 2009), I heard of a contest held by the Nokia maemo-bangalore team.  The sexy 3d pic on the blog got me all excited. So, at foss.in, including all my customer commitments, I worked 3 days/nights at a stretch to write a youtube video browser, cilantro (anagram of the irc nick of a good friend and lead of qt/webkit team to whom the app is dedicated to :-) ).  In all honestly, I put myself under some pressure to participate in the contest – I was already overloaded with work but I thought that if I can get my hands on the device I can improve QtWebKit Flash performance  since I was working on that at that point. So, you can understand my excitement when awaiting for the results.

Except it was not announced (we were told informally that it will be announced at end of foss.in). We were told it was postponed to be on the 8 Dec 2009. Minor disappointment. But, fine. That didn’t happen either. After a few tweets and poking a nokia friend, the results were announced on 11 Dec 2009. No mail to winners, no notification on when we will get the devices. Just the blog.  I mean no “thanks for participating, we will announce winners on xx date” even. Oh well. I forgive, only because I won. But my joy wasn’t long lived.

To my shock, the winners had folks who had not written their app for the contest. Atleast following the links on the blog suggests that the apps were published way back. Surely, one expects code to be written around the time of the contest? I must be wrong, so to make a more judicious decision, I went around looking for the source. Except, with all my googling powers, I cannot find the source for any (except one which had a commit long before contest announcement). Still convinced that my assumptions were just wrong, I left a comment on the blog asking for the code. No response. I sent a mail asking for the code. No response. So, I poked the Nokia friend yet again. This time I got a response saying they *cannot* publish the code and they will send a mail to just let people upload code to maemo garage if they care. HUH!? So, here we have a contest for foss.in where the winners have been adjudged with no published code. Sad, really sad.

On dec 18, I was told it *might* take a month for the device to arrive (and only after I asked them). 1 month!? I mean I wrote this app to get my hands on it immediately. Maybe I am expecting too much. I wait. On Jan 8, I asked them what the status was. No response (see the trend?). So I poked Nokia friend again and I got a response on Jan 14, saying they will intimate me by phone. As, you can guess, nothing was heard from them ever again. On Feb 3, I mailed them again. No response as usual. This time I didn’t ask my Nokia friend. I had given up on the people running the contest and I was going to take this outrageous behavior public.

Amazingly on Feb 16 2009, I got contacted by the maemo team for the first time ever (i.e first time initiated by them). And I did end up getting the N900 but the whole thing was such a sorry experience that I will never enter a contest that involves the maemo-bangalore team. I am not even sure if I deserve the award and if the contest was a FOSS contest (we can never know until we see the source). I had given them the link to my source but they haven’t bothered updating the blog post.

@maemo-bangaloreyou need to learn to communicate and in the least, atleast respond when asked questions. You should be ashamed of treating the community and contest winners this way. If you don’t have resources to do a good job, just don’t run contests. What you have done is a mockery of FOSS. I am not actually upset with the late delivery of the device but the way you ran the contest.

If I were Nokia, I would fire the incompetent person who ran the contest.

11 Responses to “maemo-bangalore foss.in N900 contest”

  1. Sujith H says:

    Oops. Really sad story :(

  2. Abhijit Bera says:

    Hi Girish

    It is slightly disappointing that the devices did take sometime to arrive however I think it’s unfair to put the entire blame on Maemo Bangalore.

    Look at the bright side. You probably got your device. I am waiting for someone to bring it for me from Bangalore because delivering it by courier to my Mumbai address attracts a heavy octroi. So I’m still waiting to get hold of mine. :)

    There was no pre-condition where one had to write the app during foss.in. They did allow people to port their existing applications obviously with the aim of expanding the number of applications available for Maemo. It’s clearly mentioned here:

    http://maemobangalore.wordpress.com/2009/11/26/maemo-foss-in-hack-ideasporting-applications/

    Your answer regarding source code is mentioned there. They wanted the source code to judge. It was their discretion what they would do with the source code.

    As far as professional conduct is concerned I was very happy with the Maemo Bangalore team. They were able to answer many of my questions and actually helped me get my application working on the device. It was a good learning experience. Personal interaction beats IRC/Chat any day. So I guess for Nokia the purpose of the event was served:

    1) They got some people to port applications onto their platform.
    2) They were able to get people interested in developing for Maemo.

    Cheer up! Enjoy your N900. I hope to see some more awesome applications like Cilantro from you soon. :)

    Abhijit Bera

  3. Girish says:

    Hi Abhijit, thanks for the comment. I explicitly said “I am not actually upset with the late delivery of the device but the way you ran the contest.”. So, it’s not about that.

    My point is
    a) Spirit of the contest – They call it ‘maemo foss.in hack ideas’. Maybe I am misunderstanding what a ‘hack’ contest is. If one can submit pre-written code, I would have called it an ‘application’ contest and asked people to submit existing apps. I would not have participated if I was competing with pre-written applications – it’s a different competition altogether.

    Legally, they did nothing wrong. Over at twitter, people are discussing legal stuff. That’s not the point. IMO, what has been done is not in the right spirit for foss.in.

    b) Maemo-bangalore team – I might have been harsh on the maemo-bangalore team, but they haven’t replied to single email of mine by themselves.

    As for having fun the device and cheering up, all that matters to me is to how and why I got the device. And that will really cheer me up. All I want is more information.

    What do I expect out of this post?
    1. I want the maemo-bangalore team to announce that it was a closed source contest, commercial apps were allowed and that pre-written applications were allowed too.

    2. I would then want (after the disclosure above) the foss.in organizers to take a stand on this for future foss.in competitions. Whatever that stand is, I am fine, but it helps me clear up my mind. Nokia’s purpose as you asy was served, but was that the purpose of foss.in?

  4. Atul Chitnis says:

    Girish:

    I don’t understand why you keep harping about “closed source”, because the contest was NOT about that at all. A FOSS license is always between the developer/originator of the software and the receiver. Nowhere does he GPL state that you have to world-publish your code – it only states that you must give the same rights to the receiver of the software as you yourself have. Contestants were obliged to submit the source to Nokia, but Nokia is under no obligation to publish the code UNLESS they publish the applications themselves.

    As for the rules of the contest – they were made very clear to both us (the organizers of FOSS.IN) and contestants. You may have just missed it, or misunderstood it.

    I also have a bit of a problem with the way you are turning this from a personal issue into an indirect attack on FOSS.IN. *We* are very clear and upfront about what the objectives of FOSS.IN are. Maemo is a legitimate FOSS platform. Apps developed for Maemo can be open or closed (just like every Linux-based app), but of course open apps are preferred. FOSS.IN does not “enforce” this kind of thing (we don’t own the FOSS world), and we are merely concerned with contribution to FOSS projects. Nothing that happened in this contest deviates from this objective – it is simply your flawed understanding of WHAT FOSS is.

    Again, the fact that Nokia has not (yet) published the source code of the contest winners does not make this closed source, UNLESS Nokia publishes the applications themselves without publishing the source.

    I hope this is now clear.

    Atul Chitnis
    Project Lead (2001-2009)
    FOSS.IN

  5. roop says:

    @achitnis Ok, so there’s this event where individual A (or company A)
    submits his “open-source” software to company B (and publishes neither
    objects nor source to anyone else in the relevant universe). It’s
    totally legal, yes, but it’s just that I did not expect foss.in to
    hold such an event as a part of it’s proceedings. Just a flaw in my
    expectations, I guess. :)

  6. Girish says:

    Atul,
    I am of the opinion that this type of contest is not suitable for FOSS events. You cannot control the world, but you can happen what happens at foss.in. Didn’t you explicitly ask us to not talk of commercial and non-opensource projects at foss.in? Sorry, but would you have been OK if I talked about the opensource project ‘Asparagus’ that I made for a customer and showed you a legal document that it’s all GPL except nobody else can see the code? Also, note that, I only said that this is sad, not illegal.

    I honestly don’t see why you are sympathizing with maemo-bangalore.

  7. Girish, I think I agree with you. Sure, this contest is legal, and probably the ppl from FOSS.IN were happy with it. And it resulted in more apps for the N900. And you got an N900 from it.

    Still, it surely does not sound like fitting the SPIRIT of FOSS.IN – the source is not published, the code not written for the contest specifically, and communication was bad too. The Maemo-Bangalore team needs a good promo/marketing person, clearly, who knows FOSS…

  8. Atul Chitnis says:

    Girish:

    Opinions don’t matter at all. FOSS.IN did not conduct the contest, Nokia did. And their objectives were clearly explained to us before the event, and also to the contestants. I certainly saw nothing objectionable to it, because it taught people to use open source tools to write apps for an open source OS, and get the, quickly up to speed.

    You are deliberately trying to make this a FOSS.IN issue, and I’d thank you if you wouldn’t, because it is a cheap shot, and wholly unbecoming of you. You are using an strawman argument to rabble-rouse for a personal issue you have, and dragging our event into this. What is suitable for our event or not is not decided by you or anyone else – it is decided by us, and we are the best judges of this.

    Frankly, if you were so upset about all this, you should have returned the device so that some other contest participant can receive his prize, and then take the high ground morally and argue. And you should have done this BEFORE doing what you are doing now.

    FOSS.IN was very careful when it allowed the contest, and to this day see nothing that Nokia has done wrong. In fact, I would go as far as to categorically state that this was the first time a sponsor actually did something that was both useful and within the rules for participants at FOSS.IN, and we would encourage EVERY sponsor to do this.

    Nokia’s intentions were wholly honourable and well-meant, and they did nothing wrong anywhere. That the devices got delayed (which is really the core of your rant) wasn’t their fault – I know what the real issue was (and still is), you do not.

    So before you and the fanbois jump on us at FOSS.IN again, think twice. You have nothing to gain and everything to lose for the community if you encourage the line of thinking you are trying pushing forward.

    BTW – as I am writing this, I see this:

    http://maemobangalore.wordpress.com/2010/02/22/clarification-regarding-the-contest/

    That clears it, I hope. If you DO wish to continue this discussion, please leave FOSS.IN out of it.

    Atul Chitnis
    Project Lead (2001-2009)
    FOSS.IN

  9. Thomas Zander says:

    @Atul you are being unfair; you were the one commenting here first and opening a sub-thread involving FOSS.in, don’t blame Girish for following up.

    Just an observer.

  10. Girish says:

    @Atul, please re-read the post. I never implicated foss.in about anything. Please post the line that irks you, I can clarify. It is a post about a contest held by maemo-bangalore at foss.in. The subject of the blog says so clearly. Even in my comment, I am only expecting a stance from foss.in about the contest. ‘Cheap shot’, ‘strawman’? What are you talking about? Why are you getting so worked up about foss.in? It’s about the contest and nothing else.

    Since you ask – as for returning the device, I accepted it because we have to carry out some work on the device (and guess for who? 5 letter company name, starts with N). You think I have nothing to lose? Nokia is our main customer. Think again. So, please stick to the topic of the contest.

    @maemo-bangalore, you prioritized the devices for us over employees? Wow, You expect sympathy from me? This is just plain mismanagement on your side and not something to commend you about. In the least, you could have communicated this to me (it’s 3 months since foss.in). I also know folks who wrote code *during* foss.in. They didn’t win in favor of existing apps whose source and contributions we will never see and one of which appears commercial. How is this contest fair?

    @rest, I have said twice this is not about late delivery of the device and I won’t repeat again. Once in the post, once in blog comment. It’s all about how maemo-bangalore ran the contest. The dates are provided are not to impress the late delivery but to help understand the delay in communication.

  11. roop says:

    I thought it was nice of maemobangalore to have come up with a response
    to this blog post in their own blog (http://maemobangalore.wordpress.com/2010/02/22/clarification-regarding-the-contest/ ). I added the following comment to their post more than two
    weeks back (23 Feb 2010), but it’s still apparently “awaiting moderation”.
    Methinks that’s either very fishy, or very slow.

    ———
    @maemobangalore: A couple of winning entries in the result announcement point to apps written half-a-year ago. Naturally, I thought some prizes of the contest were given to code written half-a-year ago (which doesn’t sound nice). It appears that you suggest that these entries were ports of half-year-old apps ported after the contest was announced (which is cool stuff). Please clarify whether that’s the case.

    Also, in the interest of transparency, would be nice if @maemobangalore publishes the code of winning entries (which is possible if the code is open-source licensed).
    ———

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