Wanted: Virtual Alt.Net Community Contributors, Organizers, and Presenters

image This is a public call for greater community participation in the Virtual Alt.Net online community for 2010 and beyond.

What is Virtual Alt.Net?

Virtual Alt.Net is an online community that met weekly over the past year or so utilizing Live Meeting as a platform for exposing as many people as possible to software development concepts and ideas that many consider to be related to the Alt.Net community.  Virtual Alt.Net was spearheaded by Zack Young who accepted primary responsibility (along with several other people assisting him) for ensuring that speakers were invited, announcements of upcoming meetings distributed to as many people as possible, a web site for the effort was created, and a calendar of upcoming talks maintained.  Essentially, this entailed all the effort that would normally be related to maintaining a real-world user group, but didn’t include the need to secure a facility for the meetings, order food and beverage, and ensure attendees have access to the building.

As a member of the organizing team for the NYC Alt.Net user group that meets monthly, I can easily appreciate the amount of effort required to organize a weekly meeting.  Even without the requirement of securing space and refreshment, coordinating speakers on a weekly basis is a significant effort and Zack and his team are to be commended for assembling interesting topics on a weekly basis throughout the year.

What makes a healthy user group community?

The backbone of a healthy user group requires just one thing: community participation.  Forming a user group may be the act of a few individuals, but its continued health depends on the participation of the community at large.  The NYC Alt.Net user group was founded in late summer 2008 by small group of 4 to 5 individuals who formed the initial organizing team.  Today, about 18 months later, the organizing team is still 4 to 5 individuals.  But only three of the original organizers remain.  One of our original team had to bow out due to health reasons.  Another took a nine month assignment overseas in the Far East, and still another took a gig that required him to be out of town Monday through Friday every week for the past six months.  In the interim, others have stepped up to fill the gaps and help organize the group on a monthly basis.

I don’t think it’s an exaggeration at all to say that keeping this user group alive for the past 18 months would have been a lot harder for the original team had others in the membership not stepped up and offered to assist in the monthly organizing tasks.  Now, Virtual Alt.Net is in need of the same kind of increased membership participation in order to help ensure its future viability as well.

Wanted: Virtual Alt.Net Organizers

Virtual Alt.Net is looking for individuals that are willing to participate in scheduling the regular Live Meeting sessions, coordinating speakers, updating calendars, and distributing meeting announcements to the virtual community (via blog posts, twitter, email, and discussion forums).  Instead of having a single person spearhead this responsibility for virtual Alt.Net, it’s important for the continued health of the effort that a broader group of people gather together to collectively organize future meetings as a team.  If you would like to participate in this organization process, please add a comment to this blog post or contact me directly via e-mail (sbohlen@gmail.com).

Wanted: Virtual Alt.Net Contributors

If you’d like to help participate but would rather not commit to being a full fledged organizer, there are still a multitude of areas in which the group could benefit from other community contributions.  Since each virtual Alt.Net session is recorded via Live Meeting, each recording needs to be post-processed and posted to the virtual Alt.Net web site to make it available for download.  While this does not entail a significant amount of work, it is definitely an area in which members of the community could help to participate in the group.  If you would like to volunteer some of your time for this task, please add a comment to this blog post or contact me directly via e-mail (sbohlen@gmail.com).

Wanted: Virtual Alt.Net Presenters

Since virtual Alt.Net doesn’t require the use of any facilities to hold meetings, the most significant impediment to its future health is ensuring interesting speakers and topics are scheduled for every meeting.  In the past virtual Alt.Net has welcomed speakers ranging from the reasonably well known (Oren Eini, Jeremy Miller, Scott Bellware, etc.) to the much less well-known (like myself and others!) speaking on topics ranging from NHibernate to StoryTeller to Domain Driven Design to NHProf to SOLID design principles (for a full list of past topics, see their recordings on the Virtual Alt.Net website here).

Are you someone who has recently delivered a technical presentation to another user group (Alt.Net or otherwise)?  Then perhaps you would be willing to repeat the delivery for a virtual Alt.Net session.

Have you recently attended a presentation whose content you think might be of interest to other virtual Alt.Net attendees?  Then perhaps you might recommend to the presenter that they contact virtual Alt.Net an offer to deliver the same presentation in an online session.

Do you know somebody with expertise in a topic that might be of interest to virtual Alt.Net attendees?  Then you might be able to encourage them to contact us an offer to deliver presentation on the subject.

If you or someone you know is interested in getting some experience presenting technical topics to groups of listeners, then virtual Alt.Net can be a perfect place to begin to gain some of that experience.  Because the group is virtual, there is much less stress than presenting to a roomful of people, offering a great forum for new presenters to hone their skills.  The atmosphere is relaxed and informal, and everyone in attendance is there to learn something.

Whether you have a full-blown presentation to provide, a discussion topic for debate and investigation among the attendees, sample code that demonstrates something you feel attendees might find interesting, or just an interesting problem for which you found a clever solution, virtual Alt.Net represents a great opportunity for you to share your insights with the rest of the community.

Virtual Alt.Net Presentations: a Unique Format and Opportunity

One of the most common complaints that I routinely hear from both presenters and attendees at a live events is…

Its so hard to get anything meaningful across in a 1 hour session.  Presentations either have to be rushed in order to squeeze everything into the short time frame, or they have to be so high level as to be largely useless for the attendees.

Because virtual Alt.Net meets weekly, many meetings and topics are able to span multiple successive weekly sessions.  This format can offer a significantly deeper dive into a topic or area of interest, enabling both the presenter and attendees to gain significantly more value from such a format than they would be able to with a single presentation at a live event like the code camp or other.  If you are presenter that frequently laments the short time constraints in most live events and has a desire to be able to dig deeper into a particular topic in order to provide greater value for attendees, then virtual Alt.Net represents the unique opportunity for you to provide this content over a multi week series of presentations where you have the flexibility to dig deeper into your subject matter and provide greater value to attendees.

And if you don’t want to do a presentation as a multi-week deep dive into the content, then a presentation that lasts just a single session would certainly be welcome as well!

Change in Meeting Frequency?

In order to lighten the burden of having to assemble speakers on a weekly basis, beginning in 2010 virtual Alt.Net meetings will run monthly instead of weekly as a rule.  If and when topics arise that make sense to deliver in a series of successive meetings rather than a single session, these meetings will be delivered in a weekly fashion.  This is designed to try to strike an effective balance between the overhead of lining up speakers for weekly events and the desire for successive related sessions to not have too long a delay between meetings.  Single sessions will occur monthly and series of sessions will occur weekly (or at whatever other interval the presenter feels appropriate).

So in short, the success or failure of the future of Virtual Alt.Net is in the hands of the community.  This effort will only be as successful as the contributions of the larger community enable it to be.  If you or someone you know would like to be an organizer, contributor, or presenter for virtual Alt.Net in order to broaden its organizing team, please add a comment to this blog post or contact me directly via e-mail (sbohlen@gmail.com).

I hope to hear from you soon to ensure that the Virtual Alt.Net effort remains healthy!