What is community? A quick look at Wikipedia defines community as “a group of interacting organisms sharing an environment” and I think that pretty much nails it. In this column, I talk about the developer community as a whole and highlight some people, organizations and events I think you should check out.

Within any community, even technical ones, there are roles. This month, we break them down.

I Consume, Therefore I Am

Some people are consumers. They take what is offered and use it to nourish themselves, perhaps physically (free pizza) and perhaps mentally (free knowledge).

In most cases little or nothing is asked of them in return. They come to user group meetings, “lunch and learns”, code camps, etc. They consume what is offered and they leave.

Aside from a plate covered in pizza crusts, you might never even know they were there since they leave no other trace of their passing.

What makes someone a consumer? Is it because they feel they have nothing of value to add? Are they just shy? Maybe the consumer is new to the group and just doesn’t know anyone.

If you have a lot of consumers in your community, talk to them. Try and find out what they want from the community and see if there are ways to get them involved.

Participation Is Optional, but Encouraged

The next step up the evolutionary ladder is the participant. These are people who come to meetings and events and actually interact.

Participation can take many forms, including asking questions during/after a presentation, socializing before a meeting starts or going out for beers after the meeting.

Participants help build your community and can make the difference between a lecture series and a social event.

For user group leaders and event organizers, participants are your dream team. Need a volunteer? These are the people you look to. Need help organizing your next event, or finding a new speaker? Look no further.

If You Build It, They (Probably) Will Come

Alongside consumers and participants, we have the user group leaders and event organizers. Of course, these are not always the same person.

User group leaders have many different motivations for starting groups. Some do it because they’ve been to one somewhere else and saw value in it, so they bring it back to their own community.

Others do it because they have knowledge to share and enjoy having a group of like-minded people to share it with.

Regardless of why they do it, they are a vital part of the community, because without them it wouldn’t exist.

The other side of this coin is the event organizer. While some user group leaders also fill this role, there are quite a few that don’t, either due to lack of time or energy or just not knowing how to plan a large-scale event.

The event organizer isn’t necessarily involved with a specific user group, but sees the value of bringing large groups of people together for the purpose of knowledge sharing.

Friends, Romans, Countrymen...

Speakers play an interesting role in community. Some are part of the community where they speak, often drawn from the ranks of participants. Others may come from afar to visit your community.

Not every community needs speakers, of course, but there is little doubt that they can be a great draw. Having an occasional speaker can be a useful way of bringing new participants (and consumers) into your community.

I’ve talked about speakers in previous columns, so no point going in depth here.

This Community Has Been Brought to You by the Letter S

In addition to the more visible members of your community, there is another equally important member. Simply put, sponsors keep the lights on.

Maybe someone’s employer donates a place to meet, or provides refreshments for those present. Maybe you have membership fees (in which case your members are your sponsors.) Either way, there is someone helping to make sure your community has a safe place to meet.

Sponsorship can come in many forms, including giveaways for attendees, providing technical content, food, or just plain money. Be sure to show your appreciation for these sponsors, if you want their patronage to continue.

That’s it for this month. Got an event coming up? Drop me a line and tell me all about it.