If there was one thing Linux Format magazine learned from the Readers' Round Table event it organised, it was that us Linux folk like to get out and have a good chat.
Over the several hours we were all together, we covered dozens of subjects, and the conversation was lively and opinionated. And that was with only nine of us.
Imagine what such a meeting could be like if there were more attendees, more of a schedule and a little better organisation?
This is the realm of the Linux User Group – a network of Linux enthusiasts that weave a web of community across the India, and across almost every country in the world. Many Linux fans get a great deal of camaraderie and satisfaction from attending their local meetings, as well as support, website portals, forums, mailing lists and IRC channels, all of which help to glue the local Linux community together.
You might think that in the age of the internet and the wiki, physical entities gathering together into some form of communion would be considered out of date, but there's nothing quite like meeting people with similar interests and seeing things for yourself.
It's for this reason that the local LUG is often the first port of call for people just beginning to ignite their love of Linux, as well as people who just want to meet people with similar interests. They provide a vital role in helping the spread of Linux adoption, and a focal point for local educational institutions and businesses.
Running a LUG isn't straightforward, and it requires a considerable amount of effort and time. But there's a great deal you can do to make the whole process easier to manage and more effective, while at the same time revitalising your LUG and your membership. And anyone can do it.
As every be-suited middle manager knows, delegation is the key to both success and instilling a sense of duty in the team. And it's the same for LUGs. Many are run using a form of disorganised democracy, with no official leader or spokesperson at the helm.
If you take a look at the list of LUGs on lug.uk.org, for example, you'll see dozens of LUGs that don't even have a contact name. This leaves many LUGs rudderless, even if there are people in the locality who would like to be more involved. It's absolutely essential that there are some people clearly in control.
As Rick Moen, editor of the LUG Howto and leader of many LUGs over his time, puts it: "LUGs have succeeded wonderfully on the strength of ongoing efforts from as few as four energetic and inquisitive people." From this we can deduce that you need to find four people who are prepared to find time to fit the LUG into their lives.
This makes the task of creating roles for people particularly difficult. But there is a solution. Rather than subject your members to the LUG equivalent of a US-style presidential election campaign, simply rotate the leadership between the people who want to take a bigger role in the running of their user group. It's then a simple matter of choosing between the other active members who were up for greater involvement in any of the other roles you'd like filled.
The first job we'd recommend you fill is that of the communications person. Whether it's to deal with Linux Format trying to pester you for a photo, or prospective members looking for further information, it's important that you have a first point of contact who's a real human being. If that human being can keep on top of web site updates, meeting notes and membership lists at the same time, even better.
This would solve the single biggest problem we've experienced when dealing with user groups – finding the right person. And if we have difficulty getting in touch with user groups, there must be dozens of potential members give up before they get that far.
Location location location
Another common block to Linux User Group domination is the lack of a suitable venue for meetings. The easiest option for many, especially in the UK and the Republic of Ireland, is to opt for the local hostelry. There are a few good reasons for this. First, it shouldn't be too difficult to find a decent pub in a locality that's suitable for all attendees, and second, there exists a universal harmony between Linux and beer.