User Group Website Feature List

MousetrapLast week, I talked about the need and desire to build a better mousetrap. And by mousetrap, I mean user group website. If you think about it, a website is a good kind of mousetrap. You want people to easily find it. You want it to be enticing so that they want to learn more and get involved. And you want it to provide quality information so that they keep coming back.

Of course, having a good website alone will not guarantee the success of the user group. That requires a strong leadership team putting on interesting and challenging meetings and events every month. If you build upon this foundation month after month, the world will beat a path to your door. And a quality user group website helps accomplish this.

I’ve been thinking a lot about what features our user group website requires. As I mentioned previously, there are five very basic yet critical goals that I think are a must:

  1. Showcase who, what, where, when.
  2. Build a membership list containing names and email addresses.
  3. Easily communicate with members.
  4. Track meeting registration so you know how many people to expect.
  5. Build an online history.

These goals require the following high-level features:

  1. Clean, minimal site design viewable on “three screens”.
  2. Search engine friendly.
  3. Reduced user interface friction.
  4. Member management.
  5. Communication management.
  6. Event management.
  7. Event registration including both tracking attendance as well as support for cancellations.
  8. Searchable event archive.

I invite you to leave a comment if there is a feature you would like to add to the list above. The next step will be to design a database schema capable of supporting the data required for these features. And as always, leave a comment if you would like to participate.

Building a Better Mousetrap

I think it’s time to build a better mousetrap. And by mousetrap, I mean user group website. Every user group needs a website that they can personalize. Very basic information like who, what, where, when needs to be front and center so that new visitors can easily learn about the group. While the focus should be on upcoming meetings/events, it is equally important to showcase the group’s history. This history helps to create an online community and attract new members as well as retain existing members.

Southeast User Group Leadership Summit (SEUGLS) 2009Let me take a step back and explain how I came to this decision. On Saturday, October 24, 2009, Microsoft (Glen Gordon) and O’Reilly (Marsee Henon) hosted the first, of what will hopefully become annual, Southeast User Group Leadership Summit (SEUGLS) 2009 at the Microsoft offices in Alpharetta, GA. The purpose of the event was for technology-based user and community groups in the Southeast to gather, share tips, and discuss the issues and challenges facing technology groups regardless of the actual technology the group is focused on. While your first impression might be a total snooze fest, you would be very wrong. Everyone came with a story to tell and a desire to learn how others manage their user groups. The result was very lively breakout session discussions. All too quickly, the day was over but I think I can safely say that everyone had a lot of fun, learned at lot, and hopefully made some new friends in the process. I personally can’t wait for the next summit!

At one of the breakout sessions that I attended, we discussed the “tools of the trade”. More specifically, how we communicate and collaborate with our members and manage the user group we are active in. We made a very long list of websites and applications that every group is or has used. The one thing that surprised me was that virtually every group used a different set of tools. The obvious reason why is because no one tool had all the features that user groups needed to be successful.

In my opinion, four things are critical in managing a user group:

  1. You have to be able to build a membership list containing names and email addresses.
  2. You have to be able to send members updates via email.
  3. You have to be able to track meeting registration so you know how many people to expect.
  4. You have to be able to build an online history.

You can easily argue there are more things that could be added to this list. However, without accomplishing the first three tasks successfully, I’d argue you probably won’t be around for very long. Granted, there are several free event registration websites that are capable of doing the three tasks. However, very few give you the ability to link events together to show the history of the group much less give you a way to promote that very basic information (the who, what, where, when) front and center so that new visitors can easily learn about the group.

Thus, I think it’s time to build a better mousetrap. This is one way I can give back to the user group community that has given me so much. I plan to keep everyone updated on the progress of this project. Once I have built a solid foundation, I’ll post the solution to the community so that others can contribute. Leave a comment if you would like to participate.

Congratulations WNC .NET Developers Guild

1st Birthday Cake Hearty congratulations go out to Dave Kolb and everyone at the WNC .NET Developers Guild. They are celebrating their first anniversary tonight! Happy Birthday Dave!

The WNC .NET Developers Guild is an independent, all volunteer organization, dedicated to promoting Microsoft .NET technology and education to the software developer community of Asheville, NC and the surrounding areas.

Meeting on the second Tuesday of every month, Dave has had a very impressive start over the past twelve months. Their meeting have covered a wide range of developer-centric topics and have been given by some very big name presenters. Tonight’s meeting topic is cloud computing and how you can leverage the knowledge you have about .NET to take advantage of the various cloud technologies including offerings from Microsoft, Google and Amazon. While I can’t be there to help celebrate, I wish Dave and everyone best wishes and best of luck with years of continued success!