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Ongoing observations by End Point people

Hot topic: user groups!

By Selena Deckelmann · Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Tags: community

Theodore T'so, Linux filesystem hacker, recently asked:

Do you attend or participate in a LUG? How active is it? What do you get out of participating in a LUG?

I attend and participate in my local LUG, PLUG. I've attended meetings since about 2000, and presented once to a group of about 45 people. They meet every month, and have an additional "advanced topics" meeting every month I've presented at as well.

What I get out of PLUG has changed over the years. First I was attending to meet other Linux enthusiasts and learn things. Now I go to meetings to see my friends, swap war stories, and to present on topics of interest to me. My goals are less about general networking, and more about directly connecting to, sharing information with and learning from people I already know, who are for the most part my friends and colleagues.

The comment thread on Ted's post is kind of long, and there were lots of interesting comments. I decided to respond to some requests for howtos and weigh in with my opinion on the rise of user groups:

My experience has been that user groups (not just Linux User Groups) are exploding in number, but that the total number of people in each group is relatively small - like somewhere between 15-30 people (or less).

It’s so easy to throw up a wiki page, or create a mailing list, and start meeting to talk about things weekly or monthly. Portland, OR has a unique culture developing around this, and the manic activity around it is somewhat documented in our community’s custom-developed calendaring system — http://www.calagator.org.

I gave a user groups talk at FOSDEM over the weekend — http://tr.im/fjbl and Gabrielle Roth and I produced a printable pamphlet for OSCON last year that details how you can run your own user group: http://tr.im/fn81

We need to convert that printable thing into a wiki page, but you know, there’s never enough time in the day :)

One interesting thing I noticed about the FOSDEM crowd was that the audience was intrigued by the idea of creating an ad hoc group, without a formal leadership structure or a non-profit/legal status established. Several people commented to me after the talk that this seemed like a great way to get people interacting with one another without all of the pain of establishing a non-profit. Not sure if other countries/cultures have the same issues (favoring formal organization, over the informal, sometimes chaotic groups I tend to be interested in and work with).

Oh, and someone in the audience asked specifically about non-hierarchical organizations, and groups that truly have no leader. That was some food for thought — I’ve seen a couple groups operate that way, but there tended to be forks in the community after a couple years. Not sure that’s really a bad thing, but certainly an interesting part of user group culture and something I would like to blog/speak about more in the future.