Running Successful OpenSolaris User Groups

I've been re-reading Eric Raymond's How To Become A Hacker, and one of his links in there points to Rick Moen's Recipe for a Successful Linux User Group. Both documents are excellent. So, I figured I'd scratch out a little "Recipe for Running a Successful OpenSolaris User Group" based on what these guys have said, my own experiences participating in some user groups, and also some observations about a long post I wrote a while back -- Building OpenSolaris Communities. I'll keep adding to this post over time. But for now, here are a few obvious items:
  1. Start: Just start. Decide that you want to form a little group and get going. Keep it simple. Don't do too much planning initially. Just get some guys and go to a local pub or coffee shop someplace and talk. That's a user group. Remember, this is a social exercise first, technical one second. Just my opinion.

  2. Infrastructure: Eventually you should have some sort of web presence to show your stuff and a mailing list to talk to people. If you want this infrastructure on opensolaris.org, start here and we'll help you out. Or you can use Google/Yahoo if you like, and if you have some gear you can always build and host your own site. Also, you can leverage many of the social networking platforms out there, such as Facebook, LinkedIn, Ning.

  3. Meetings: Many people feel that to have a user group and attract new people they need technical meetings with well-known speakers right away and that these technical meetings have to occur every month. Why? Why not every other month? Or once a quarter for tech meetings with social meetings in between. Don't treat this as a job. Treat this as fun. Technical meetings naturally grow over time to fulfill a need, but you have to get together as people first to see what happens. Who's working on what? Who knows who? Who wants to collaborate on some projects? Who has some lessons learned to share? Who else lives in the area? Whatever. Don't force it. Talk on list and meet casually till things click, and over time the need for technical meetings will be obvious.

  4. Meeting Rooms: If your group does grow into having regular meetings with presenters and demos and such, you'll need a room. Check with the local universities in your area first. But also talk to the local tech companies. And maybe some members of your user group can offer access to their company's offices on a rotating basis on the weekend. Ping Sun, too, if we are around. We certainly have an interest in seeing OpenSolaris User Groups thrive, and many groups are hosted at Sun facilities worldwide anyway. And if you don't have any Sun employees in your group, this is a good way to get them involved.

  5. Joint Meetings: As your own meetings mature and as you reach out to other communities in your area, consider doing some joint meetings. Get the BSD guys together for a joint OpenSolaris/BSD session. Or an OpenSolaris/Linux meeting. Or go up the stack and talk to application developers and web developers. There are many other user groups and communities out there that you can hang out with to explore technical and personal relationships.

  6. Audio and Video: Some user groups I've been to or observed in the OpenSolaris community are recording their meetings to audio and/or video files for download. Others are streaming. Others offer conference call numbers for live phone participation. These communication techniques are very cool because they enable you to reach new people in your local area and around the world. I live in Japan, but I've called into meetings in China and the United States, and I've viewed online audio/video content from India and Prague and elsewhere. All this brings up another point: local user groups hanging out at local bar are now really international communities. This was always true to a point, but with easy and pervasive communication tools you are now local and global. That's cool.

  7. Size: Don't worry about growing big. Most user groups are initiated and maintained by a pretty small number of people. That's ok. Keep it small if you want. Or grow it large. There are no rules. You decide. But don't feel you have to be this way or that way to be a user group. You don't.

  8. Consistency: Although size is not that important, consistency is probably a bigger deal. Try to keep conversations flowing on list, and if you meet live, try to meet regularly. Some groups meeting monthly and others quarterly. You decide. The frequency of meetings is not as important as the consistency. Momentum and predictability are important for establishing trust and helping people get involved.

  9. Diversity: Try to encourage some diversity. Keep your group open to everyone in the area. You never know who is connected to who out there. Also, part of diversity is to reach out to other groups and other communities. I'm an OpenSolaris guy, but the Tokyo Linux User Group welcomed me to their meetings and on their list as soon as I contacted them. I use Linux, too, but that's not the point. They are open to everyone. And that's a big deal. This is open source. Be open. Same story with the Tokyo2Point0 community.

  10. Identity: Design a t-shirt. A logo. Etc. People love to identify with something bigger themselves, something doing good, something they love. Leverage this natural feeling and promote an identity for your group. You don't have to be aggressive about this, but just be aware that over time your group will develop a culture. Let it emerge naturally.

  11. Photography: The camera is one of the most powerful community-building devices I've ever experienced. It cuts cleanly through tough culture and language barriers, and the vast majority of people I've met love to see images of themselves hanging out with others. I've met thousands of people by taking pictures. So, take pictures.

  12. Leadership: Although most people like keeping things as casual and decentralized as possible, someone has to lead from time to time. Book a meeting room at a university or local company. Send out notices. Update web pages. Collect money at bars for drinks and food. These are all activities that require assertions. As your group grows bigger, the need for clearly identifiable leaders will grow as well. Do you want to lead? And if you are leading, consider rotating leaders at some point. Give other people a chance.

  13. Money: Chip in some of your own cash, but don't go wild. Over time as your group grows, maybe try to raise some money via auctions. The Tokyo Linux User Group does a great job of this. Also, poke the local tech companies for some sponsorship dollars. Hey, you never know. Ask. Use the money for hosting services, trips to conferences, t-shirts, or any other infrastructure costs. You're not running a business, though. You don't need lots of money.
That's it for now. Not complete but just some ideas to kick around. I'll update this from time to time as I think of stuff. Also, if you know of other lists of "how to run a user group" let me know. Until then, keep checking out http://opensolaris.org/os/usergroups/ for updates to the OpenSolaris User Group Community.
Comments:

Hi Jim,
Thanks for the tips and the feedback based your own experience, let alone the way you voice it!

Posted by Jean-Claude Vandonghen on October 25, 2008 at 09:01 AM JST #

Thanks for the kind mention, Jim. You definitely have a good checklist, there, and I like the fact that it's concise, something my own pieces achieve only on a good day. ;->

Rick Moen
rick@linuxmafia.com

Posted by Rick Moen on November 07, 2008 at 04:30 AM JST #

Hi,

I am steping by your blog, really great...
This blog for how to successfully manage an opensolaris is for me a goldmine. I am going to try follow your recomendation ...

Thanks for those Webpages...

Gerald

Posted by Gerald Patterson on December 16, 2008 at 04:29 AM JST #

The method which you pass on this great information demonstrates the points you're making well. Great post!

Cheers,

Steven

Posted by Steven Acres on April 11, 2009 at 07:30 PM JST #

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