I mostly attend open source/tech conferences in the Americas. I think I know what you mean, but that's not the main difference I see between FOSDEM and those conferences.
There's still "commercial" at FOSDEM (plenty of sales pitches in sessions, to begin with) but I think what's strikingly different is that FOSDEM has no "agenda", that is, the event isn't crafted around a theme and said theme doesn't dictate the rest of the content and the discussion.
Video should be available soon.
Edit: In retrospect this kind of sounds bad. ULB donates this huge campus for free which is a wonderful thing. Perhaps there is a better way to allocate speakers to rooms so that speakers with expected larger audiences are assigned to the largest rooms. An application for AI maybe?
Just curious: how do you meet at such events? If it were not for the booth, I'm not sure I would have talked with many people.
To be fair though, this isn't very different from any other large conference I've attended so far. Some commercial venues may have a useful conference dinner or other socializing events, especially if they're smaller. FOSDEM does have the beer event on Friday, but I've always attended that with people I already knew (at least from online collaboration), so I have no idea how it compares if you're on your own.
3 years ago I also decided not to come again, yet I did it this time; was a mistake.
It is overcrowded, because it's free. Queues in front of the crappy foodtrucks, coffee stands, rooms, everything, are there, because it is overcrowded. The feeling of dirtiness comes from the unpleasant buildings with tiny corridors, quickly applied concealing cardboards, ducktaped signs, underplanned amount and positioning of trash cans and the lack of enough cleaning staff.
We could explain for hours what other problems are stemming from the fact it is a free conference. However...
The organizers' unprofessionalism regarding crowd control, speaker introduction, moderation, maintaining the "OPEN/FULL" sign does not depend on money. I would think it's common sense, but apparently the moderators do not really care if in every 30 seconds there is someone sneaking in the room through a squeaking door. Every. Freaking. 30. Seconds.
Talks were great. All of those I managed to fit in the room, were fun, enjoyable, with a knowledgeable presenter. I felt extra bad for them trying to answer questions at the end of the sessions when people started to switch rooms because of tight schedules on scattered rooms.
Now I have an accountability buddy who would prevent me going to FOSDEM ever again, unless they introduce a fee of 50 bucks or something.
In the "Observability Track" the Fosdem staff member was totally pissed that no single person listened to his repeated continued pleas to stay back till the Q&A finishes and the talk concludes.
Everyone attending Fosdem must have some level of courtesy towards those who speak and those who are attending.
Also in my eyes, lack of professionalism (or the intent of improve) undermines legitimization efforts.
Thus, with all the respect to those who really care about the volunteering, I don't think it's a legit excuse to repeat "but it's free!"
And don't forget, after all for us: It's not free. I, and many of the attendees paid heavy €s to fly there, book accommodation, eat out, etc. I don't mind to invest into going to conferences, networking, meetups, like OpenStack summit, kubecon/dockercon, Google cloud summit, react confs etc. However...
FOSDEM in it's current format is best consumed from your couch at home, following the live online streams. And one of the reasons for this apparently is that FOSDEM is unfortunately "free".
I think we are mostly beyond the need for legitimization of FLOSS these days. But as you mention there is no shortage of professional events.
That means I probably missed some of the FOSDEM experience but I also didn't experience much crazy (except for the wintry mix that made moving around so hard on Saturday)
You are right that the volunteer experience is inconsistent and I have no data to compare to other years. At times, in some rooms, it felt like the attendees were self-policing (shooshing others, controlling people standing up, etc.) when the volunteers were not. I've also been to events in other places (Open Source Summit Japan comes to mind) where there were volunteers but the experience was much more streamlined. It might be cultural, who knows.
What I heard (and therefore wasn't expecting) is that nothing new gets announced at FOSDEM anymore. However there are still tens of thousands of people in the industry that might hear the news on Twitter/HN/elsewhere and still want to go ask questions/have a debate.
FROSCON in Bonn,
> Some rando is excited because
This is where I stopped reading. Digital toxic waste.
> The fact that the article contains actual code is like kryptonite to Hackernews; the vote-to-comment ratio is well in excess of ten to one.