Running Successful OpenSolaris User Groups
By jimgris on Oct 24, 2008
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:
- 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
- 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.
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
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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
Try to encourage some diversity. Keep your
group open to everyone in the area. You never know who is connected to
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.