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EmacsConf 2020

EmacsConf 2020 happened last to last weekend (28th & 29th November). Same as last year, the conference was online. With more people helping with organizing the conference, it was an amazing and well executed conference.

EmacsConf is the conference about the joy of Emacs, Emacs Lisp, and memorizing key sequences. — From EmacsConf website.

This year it was a two days conference with 37 talks in total. We had almost 1.5 times more attendees / viewers than last year (~400). We also had lunch breaks in between. And yes, same as last year it was an online conference.

Attending the conference

This year I had a good internet connection at my place. I usually don’t use my desk on weekends, so I setup a corner of my house with an external monitor.

Setup for attending EmacsConf 2020

The conference was streamed in 720p and 480p resolutions. Most of the talks were pre-recorded with live Q&A. The #emacsconf IRC channel was being used for interaction with other attendees and Etherpad for writing the questions.

It was great to see the Etherpad working really well. There were around ~124 people working together on collecting notes, questions in the pad. It was impressive to see this collaboration.

Etherpad inaction

The live streaming setup was done using FSF’s BigBlueButton instance, Icecast, GStreamer, FFmpeg etc. Amin was sharing his screen over the stream. Everything was done using free software.


The conference started with opening remarks by Amin Bandali (bandali), Leo Vivier (zeaph) and Sacha Chua (sacha). They covered details about attending the conference and thanked everyone who helped with the conference. Leo was wearing a 3-piece suit (with jeans :P) which was matching the colors of Emacs and Org mode. I liked his idea of dressing that way for the conference.

All the talks were so engaging that I lost the track of time. The two days were gone in a flash. I always enjoy listening about how people use Emacs to make their life easy. Following is the list of talks which I enjoyed the most (It was not easy to come up with this, as every talk is worth watching).

  1. Emacs News Highlights - Sacha Chua
    Covers all the exciting things happened over last one year. Includes 27.1 release, GCCEmacs and more.
  2. An Emacs Developer Story: From User to Package Maintainer - Leo Vivier
    The speaker covers their journey of becoming maintainer of Org-roam from a user of Org mode.
  3. Trivial Emacs Kits - Corwin Brust
    An idea of creating a set of default configurations when a group of people start working on something together.
  4. Beyond Vim and Emacs: A Scalable UI Paradigm - Sid Kasivajhula
    This talk gave me a totally different perspective about modal editing.
  5. Orgmode - your life in plain text - Rainer König
    Rainer’s workflow of using Org mode to manage life.
  6. README-Driven Design - Adam Ard
    How Org mode can be used to do literate programming with an example.
  7. Org-roam: Presentation, Demonstration, and What’s on the Horizon - Leo Vivier
    Introduces Org-roam, Zettelkasten method. How it helps to take notes effortlessly.
  8. Sharing blogs (and more) with org-webring - Brett Gilio
    A demo of org-webring which can generate webring data based on the supplied configuration.
  9. Emacs development update - John Wiegley
    Covers details about few of the upcoming releases and features.
  10. Incremental Parsing with emacs-tree-sitter - Tuấn-Anh Nguyễn
    A generic way to parse different source files effectively and its binding in Emacs.
  11. Analyze code quality through Emacs: a smart forensics approach and the story of a hack - Andrea
    Some of the interesting code snippets to see different stats about a project like complexity, technical debt.
  12. Traverse complex JSON structures with live feedback - Zen Monk Alain M. Lafon
    Iterating on your jq queries interactively.
  13. NonGNU ELPA - Richard Stallman
    Covers details like why we need NonGNU ELPA, how it will be different etc.
  14. A tour of vterm - Gabriele Bozzola
    An alternative to *-term based on libvterm. Supports all the xterm escape sequences.
  15. Extend Emacs to Modern GUI Applications with EAF - Matthew Zeng
    A set of tools which are built to be run inside Emacs, includes things like a browser, media player, PDF reader etc.
  16. WAVEing at Repetitive Repetitive Repetitive Music - Zachary Kanfer
    Generating WAV sound files inside Emacs.

One thing I observed was, that a good amount of speakers and attendees were musicians or music lovers. Being a person who plays guitar, I was very happy to see that. It was interesting to see how people hack on things with Emacs for their very specific needs. I encourage everyone to watch all the talks which are available here (a M3U playlist and different formats of the videos are available as well).

Organizers and volunteers

While the talks were being played, Leo and Sacha were working behind the scene with checking in speakers and doing tech-checks. Sacha automated the IRC channel topic updates. The topic was being updated with the details of current talk.

A very cool music1 was played in the beginning and during the breaks.

Along with everyone, Karl Voit was noting down things in the pad. I was also keeping eye on it and adding notes to the pad. jcorneli, dto and seabass were explaining the current talk in #emacsconf-accessible channel. This involved typing what the speaker is saying as well as showing on the screen.

I wanted to help with the conference in any way I can. So, I added my name as a volunteer for the tech-checks and helped with one tech-checks. Only one speaker reached out to me for the tech-check, that was probably because of a different time zone. After the conference, I started to work on cleaning up the individual talk pages and the subtitles.

Thanks to the efforts of everyone involved, be it tech-checks, pre-recording the talks, the streaming setup etc. Everything went really well without any major hiccups.

If you would like to help with the post conference work, checkout the “Tasks” section from 2020/organizers-notebook and reach out to people on #emacsconf-org channel.

Some initiatives

I was happy to see some new ideas and initiatives born out of the discussions happened during the conference. Following are the things I know as of now, there might be more to it.

Hats off to the organizers for working hard and making this conference an awesome event. All the videos, along with notes and questions from pad have been published within a week of the conference. Make sure you don’t miss the Day 2 closing remarks and subscribe to the emacsconf-discuss mailing list.


  1. The music was casiopeia - basement days and a few tracks by Scott Buckley↩︎


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