What is a community and how to start?

Date April 11, 2009

The word community is derived from the Latin word “communitas” which may mean partnership, joint possession, use, from the below two words:-

Cum = near, with, together

munis = service; duty, office

As we define a community, the point that comes to our mind is that of like minded people coming together and sharing their vision and work towards a common goal which ultimately benefits the society. This is called as a Special Interest Group (SIG). Human is a social being with needs and desire to interact with others and hence form communities consciously or subconsciously seeking others out to learn, to teach, to discuss, and overall – to interact. This is the best form of learning, sharing, and growing together and is the most inexpensive way.

I am sure, you will either be a member of some some user group / community / forum or leading it being an administrator / moderator. What compelled you to start of join a user group? Perhaps you would be finding for a solution online and did a search. You found an article, or a discussion happening around the same query somewhere, or you post a query and virtually receive a solution – you have got your issue resolved quick. Thats the power of a community. You then blog about it and elaborate further and share with your peers those who would be following you. Possible further to an extent you present it at a local user group meeting. This is how we share our knowledge and spread a solution for a better cause with others and transform it into a knowledge bank. This process never stops and just keeps continuing… Isn’t it so?

With this process, if you have learn something from the community – you have taken up an appreciable step by giving back your some additional knowledge to the community – and will definitely expect back in return which is more knowledge that your fellow peers share being inspired by your efforts. So why not be an inspiration?

Now that being the member of a community, you have gained much. Leading it provides you even more exposure. But the question remains, “How do I start a community?” Well, as we discuss about technical communities, you may start with having a free resource online such as Live groups, Yahoo! Groups, Google Groups etc…

Or if you want to host on your own domain, you need to do the following:-

Register a domain name

Register a web host space

The webhost will provide you with a control panel to administer your hosting

Create a database

Install some freely available forum / CMS engines such as DotNetNuke, YetAnotherForum, Kentico CMS, Community Kit for SharePoint (User Group Edition), Tandem Server, etc… in case you are running on ASP.NET / Windows Hosting. Or phpBB, SMF (Simple Machines Forum), Vanilla Forum, VBAdvanced, Drupal, Joomla, Mambo, etc… in case running on PHP / OpenSource platform.

Most of them already contains blogging platform for you to post articles. If not, you may install some freely available Blogging engine such as BlogEngine.NET or WordPress.

You are now ready to go… Start updating them and invite your friends, colleagues, or anyone interested in starting the discussion.

Ideally, it is always good to start with an online groups such as Live, Yahoo!, Google as mentioned earlier and then start off with your activities. Let the dialogue happen, arrange some offline meetings where all of you meet together personally at least once in a month. Conduct some presentations, share your technical knowledge, guide other to move through the same momentum helping them grow.

You have associations such Culminis, Ineta, and PASS to support you with your activities. Join them to register your community as their chapter.

CULMINIS is an international not-for-profit organization devoted to the development and growth of the IT community with a keen focus on supporting the successful growth, development, technical education, community service, and influence of Information Technology (IT) PRO User Groups and Associations. Culminis is an independent organization and is supported by Microsoft Corporation and other sponsors. To find an IT PRO User Group in your area, join as a member organization, or to see what other user group resources are available, please visit the Culminis Web site.

INETA (The International .NET Association) provides structured, peer-based organizational, educational, and promotional support to the growing worldwide community of Microsoft® .NET user groups. INETA’s mission is to offer assistance and resources to community groups that promote and educate their membership in Microsoft’s .NET technologies. INETA welcomes user groups or special interest groups from all facets of the .NET user community including developers, architects, project managers, and IT professionals.  INETA is an independent organization comprised of volunteers from member user groups and is supported by Microsoft Corporation and other sponsors. Membership is open to user groups of any size throughout the world. In order to become an INETA member, a user group leader should review the instructions and complete the application on the INETA Web site.

PASS (Professional Association for SQL Server) is the only independent, user-run, not-for-profit association dedicated to the SQL Server community. PASS goal is to provide their membership with the definitive resource to network with their peers, exchange tips and tricks, and gain access to the latest in SQL Server and BI education, information and news. PASS also engages Microsoft product teams, developers, technical fellows, MVPs and others to help develop programs, educational content, speakers and speakers to meet the needs of our community. For more information on membership benefits and the 2008 PASS Community Summit, visit www.sqlpass.org.

Every associate organization has its own benefit of joining them:-

If your user group is an IT Pro group, you would join Culminis to take advantage of certain key resources such as a Free Hosted Sharepoint Portal, Free Live Meeting, Free TechNet subscription, Discounted training via Operitel etc…

In addition, an IT Pro group focused on SQL server, might also want to join the PASS association, for it’s SQL focused benefits. PASS also provides a free website hosting solution which may be of help.

Similarly, a Developer User Group may get similar benefits from joining Ineta as a local chapter.

Each of the associations provide unique and varied benefits. Sometimes it might feel the features overlap and that would be true. Afterall, it is the community is benefiting more from such services and options already available. All you need to do is make use of them.

In my further posts, I will discuss about some key to success in growing and maintaining a user group and why should you do them?

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