Initially, we hadn’t expected many people to attend the talk, perhaps a hundred or so, and as a result a small room was booked for the event. However, my publicity spread both further and faster than I expected, with people from as far away as York and Birmingham saying that they were going to make the trip to listen to Stallman speak. Thankfully, a larger lecture theatre was booked in time, and even then there were people sitting on the stairs and standing at the back.
Stallman’s speech was generally informative and entertaining, and I particularly liked his Church of Emacs sketch (though as a vi(m) user, I naturally disagreed as to the One True Editor). There were lots of questions afterwards too, most of which Stallman answered very well, but in some places it was clear that he wasn’t aware of the area he was talking about (e.g. some of his comments about “intellectual property” were off the mark). The distinction he tried to draw between creative and technical works (you should be able to edit textbooks and software, but not novels, seemed to be the general point) was a bit flimsy, and fell apart completely when someone asked where computer games fitted into the picture. However, the discussion was interesting, if a little heated at points where Stallman clearly had missed the point of a question.
The only low point of the night was when I got up at the end of the speech to thank Stallman for his “enlightening” talk and ask if anyone had any questions, at which point he completely ignored me, and I ended up looking like a bit of a muppet in front of 300 people. I couldn’t believe he was so rude, but it seemed as if he genuinely wasn’t aware of the people around him—I got the same feeling when meeting him at the car and the fact that he didn’t say thank you at any point for the amount of work which had been put into organising the event.
Overall, I think the event was a success, and the people I spoke to afterwards seem to have enjoyed it, so it was probably worth all the hassle to get it happening. I don’t think I would invite Stallman again though, he’s great when he’s standing up and speaking but an absolute nightmare to accommodate with his huge list of requirements and lack of consideration for other people (e.g. only arriving five minutes before the speech was due to start due to changing his travel plans at the last minute).
A tip of the hat goes to Paul Robinson for putting Stallman up for the night (he will only stay in hotels as a “last resort”) and Dave Crossland for driving him up from Cambridge, plus all the people who forwarded on the publicity that I sent out which resulted in over 300 people turning up.