Thursday, November 08, 2007


Building Technical User Communities. Dr Greg Low. Rational Press

Greg Low has been involved with technical user communities for some time. He is well known in Australian developer circles (and further afield) and is a frequent speaker at conferences as well as a Microsoft regional director. I’m currently helping to run the Perth .NET user group, so I was glad to receive a review copy of this book from Greg, curious to see if there was something we could be doing, but currently were not.

The writing style is conversational, easy to read and interspersed with recounted stories. The book is divided into the following chapters:
  1. People, Not Technology
  2. Something for Everyone
  3. Finding Speakers
  4. Tried and True
  5. Pizza Does Not Define a User Group
  6. Don’t Reinvent the Wheel
  7. Recruiting Members
  8. Content and Handouts
  9. Using Technology
  10. Recruiting Volunteers
  11. Conducting Meetings
  12. Tips for Presenters
  13. The Fine Print
  14. Funding
The book makes it clear from Chapter 1 that “Communities, whether technical or not, are about people” and the reasons why people are motivated to get involved with a user group are examined.

In Chapter 2, “Something for Everyone”, Greg describes his strategies for making meetings have relevance to all attendees:
  • Avoid Single Topic Meetings
  • Avoid Increasing Depth
  • Some Repetition is OK
This advice might seem to fly in the face of how many user groups are organised but his explanations make good sense. I think this chapter could be summed up by the following quotes, which in other settings might seem cliché or hackneyed: “Participation is very important” and “Everyone wants to feel valued”.

I think Greg did a good job of keeping the book short and easy going; I read it in 2 sessions over 3 nights. Not all of the advice will fit every user group, but I would be surprised if a single user group did not found something of interest that they can put to use. There are many valuable ideas that can be quickly put into practice. It was pleasing to find out that our group seems to be following much of the advice given in this book.

The only negative thing I found that was that there were a few short paragraphs that were repeated, but maybe that was just to drill in the message!

If you are thinking of starting a technical community or even already involved in one, this book is certainly worth reading.

[BTW Greg, the tale of the Avocado mouse pads made me smile!]


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