The birth of a new community

Topping off my mini-tour at the end of May, I was invited to Rotterdam to present to a brand new community of developers.  I was really interested in attending because my experience with user groups is pretty much limited to the London Java Community, and I knew this would be different due to being a) across a wider range of technologies and b) shiny and new.

It was hosted (rather awesomely) in a brewery, and until then I’d never given a presentation in a pub.  Frankly it’s something I’m keen to do more of.  Due to a total technology fail on the part of all of us, we couldn’t get the projector working with any of the various laptops.  However, with 30-odd techies, free wireless and slides available on Slideshare, we managed a novel and collaborative presentation approach, with people clustered around the laptops with the largest screens, and someone at each one valiantly keeping up with my quick pace through over 100 slides of stick-men drawings (a review of the evening is available).

I really enjoyed it, it was quite a change of pace from the conferences - my first attempt at presenting after imbibing probably a little toooo much wine, and a much more intimate venue which encouraged a lot of questions and discussion.  It’s actually a format that worked, and maybe there’s a way to get it to work even more smoothly, if the slides on all the laptops were synchronised, and there was some way for me to gesture wildly at the appropriate parts of the slides like I do when I’m on stage.  Hmmm, maybe that’s actually a webcast now I think about it.

So I had an excellent time, thanks to the hospitality of the rather awesome Rotterdam-ians.  What I found fascinating  - as well as the venue and the novel presenting style - is the formation of a group of people with broadly similar interests.  One of the great strengths of a place like London is its size - you will find a number of people here with interests like yours, and sites like Meetup make it ridiculously easy to find them.  One of the weaknesses of London, however, is its size - there are so many people you could attract that you end up narrowing your search field.  You pick a very specific technology, a tiny geographical area, a single interest, to build a community around.

I’ve been thinking for a while it would be nice to have a community of people who aren’t all the same, who share overlapping but different passions.  But how do you create something like that?  You need a single thing to draw those people together, otherwise they’ll never find each other.

In smaller cities the geography limits the numbers, so you can have a broader range of interests represented.  In London, I can see something as (relatively) specific as a Java User Group becoming even more specific.  With nearly 2500 members, you could easily spin off Java-for-banking, Java-for-gaming, Java-in-west-London-zone-2 etc etc.  In fact, we’ve already spawned off a number of groups like the Graduate Developer Community, the London Scala Users’ Group and so forth.  With nearly 2500 members, you cannot possibly meet them all, you can’t even get a feel for what everyone’s into.  How do you get the intimacy from a smaller user group without narrowing the scope so much that all of you might as well be clones?  The awesome thing about user groups is coming across new ideas, seeing solutions to problems you didn’t even know existed, hearing about things people are working on that never occurred to you.  For that, you need diversity.

And one of the nice things about a city as large as London is you get plenty of diversity.  But how do you pull together that diversity?  How do you create a group that is diverse, when by necessity you need something central for those people to gravitate towards?  And if the diversity creates a large group, how do you create intimacy and feel personally involved, the stuff that comes for free if you belong to a smaller group where you know everyone?

In Rotterdam, at the Girl Geek meetup, I saw the advantage of using something other than a specific technology to gather together a group of interesting people - you get a wider range of experiences and passions.  How you can achieve this without using geography or genetics to select your participants?

Is it even possible to build a community when your goal is diversity?

What I Did On My Holidays

And now, a post for my long-neglected, less technical readers.

I took a week off in July to try and avoid that Oh My God I Missed Summer Again feeling. Granted, it's easy to get that in the UK even if you're not stuck in an office the entire time.

Really this is just an excuse to post some photos on the blog.

Monday
Hopped on the bike and explored from Kensington to Westminster.

Felt distinctly smug when I grabbed my lunch from Victoria amongst all the less fortunate people who had to go back to their offices.

Tuesday
Decided to dose up on Culture, and went to the National Gallery.  Last time I was there I was eight years old, and I distinctly remember admiring the frames more than the art.

The rather marvellous Artfinder makes up for the fact that you can't take photos inside the gallery - I can share most of the pieces that struck me when I was there.

Wednesday
Finally got around to embarking on one of the walks in Secret London.  I chose to do the City, from St Paul's, covering Bank, Monument and Liverpool St.

It was fascinating. I've worked in a lot of places round there, socialise there regularly, and have explored a number of the nooks and crannies.  But I was astounded at how many places I had never seen, alleys I had no idea existed, and gardens hidden away between modern office blocks.

Highly recommended.

Thursday
My parents dropped by and I racked my brain for a different way to explore this massive, old city.  And it came to me: using the artery of the city - the river.  So we took a boat to Greenwich.

Where they were filming Batman.

And I didn't know until after we'd left.

Gutted.

Friday
The sun finally makes an appearance. I was going to write a blog post, but I refuse to be indoors on a sunny day if I can get outside for some Vitamin D production (and I hadn't bought my new shiny then).

Sat in the park, sunbathed.

Brilliant day.

Brilliant week.