Every alt.net meeting is exciting for me. This time it was the 4th one since we started doing this three years ago in Israel.
The final discussion we had was how to get more people into alt.net. Here are a few points that came up during the discussion.
- The numbers of people coming really doesn’t change that much. It’s mostly the same people, and mostly the same people are active in the discussions.
- The name alt.net is a bit misleading. For one, it has acquired an elitist aroma, which may rub people the wrong way. Most of the sessions were not on .net technology. They were about processes, lessons learned, ALM, architecture, leadership and motivation. We could have easily build a software conf, that would interest people from Java, C++. Ruby etc.
- Only, we don’t know who the leaders in the local Java/Ruby/etc scene. We don’t know about the communities there. We’re still in our .net pond community-wise.
- The good thing about small numbers is that we fit in a couple of offices. Bigger conferences would either lose the un-conference mentality, and would require bigger places, which requires money. Apparently, for IDCC, it was hard getting both space and sponsors. The sponsors should pay money, not just give give-aways.
- While having a couple of “superstars” in the community, having them is not enough to get people on a Friday morning to an all-day discussion about software development. Star power helps in bigger conferences, where people know what they’ll hear about in advance.
- We got some feedback from people who considered coming for the first time, and either didn’t or overcame the fear of entering what seems like a closed group. If people ever hear of alt.net, the exclusive club aura may keep people out.
- Who do we want in our community? Ken, one of the organizers, described that we need more active people, who can contribute. These are the people who read blogs, especially of others in the community, like Ayende’s or Roy’s (or even this blog).I can attest to the fact that I’m always learning new stuff, and people are open and curious. I definitely want more of those around.
- Where are they? Do they come from user groups? Well, most of them don’t. When I gave the unit testing talk in the SharePoint user group a few months ago, the not so big crowd were definitely not there yet. Regular talks in the different Microsoft-run user groups sometimes draw some potential, but mostly not. People come to hear from Microsoft, not to discuss alternatives, raise questions, and get help.
Is it possible that the numbers we see are real? Maybe the community has peaked? That would be sad – as great as the members are, we may be building our own echo chamber. It didn’t do any good for the international alt.net scene.
Maybe the best way is to drop the alt.net name, start looking for people in other fields and rebuild it anew.