"UX Communities: Starting from the beginning": A debate - part two

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 8 March 2011

Matthew Solle, Joe Sokohl, Eric Reiss and I are running a discussion panel at IA Summit 2011. It’s called “UX Communities: Starting from the beginning”. Before heading to Denver, Matthew and I wanted to prepare by having a debate about what makes up a community, and how you go about forming them. Part one of this discussion can be found on Matthew’s You The User blog.

In that post he asked some questions about what constitutes a community, and to what extent it needs a “home”.

In a sense London IA’s home is the Ning site that we use. It gives you a sense of “joining” the group, and the admins do a little bit of verification to check that the people joining seem to be broadly working or studying in the UX field. That doesn’t make you a “member” though. There is no way to be a “member”.

There is no organisation.

I sometimes get asked difficult questions like “what is the official hashtag for London IA?” or “is there an official Flickr group?”. If there is no organisation, then nothing can be official.

Just as membership of the wider group is loose, so is membership of the organising group. Matthew and I are helped on an ad hoc basis by a range of people like Nick and company at Zebra, Jan Srutek, Andrew Travers, and Ann McMeekin Carrier, the crew at Sense Worldwide, as well as founders Ken Beatson and Tom Coombs. We couldn’t run the main events without them, but equally, the pub meet-ups self-organise without our direct involvement, and people like Lee McIvor have stepped in to add extra UX events into the London calendar using the infrastructure of the Ning group as a starting point, but branching off on his own.

I’m very comfortable with that loose approach, but it isn’t the only approach in the UX world. More traditional structures happily co-exist, with elections and committees and a treasurer and a bank account.

Once you are part of the network, part of the community, the question that I begin to ask is whether the Ning site has become “the stone in the stone soup”. It embodies the concept of London IA, but the conversation happens on Twitter, the ticketing on Eventbrite etc etc.

But where would new people go to “join”? How do you keep a flow of people into the community if there isn’t somewhere for them to say “I’m like people like you. I want to be in”. Have you “joined” London IA if you follow the Twitter account? If there is no membership fee, how do you know you are in the club?

This is a continuing conversation, and in the run-up to the IA Summit I also want to look at the roles of physical spaces, “outsiders”, scarcity, and encouraging professional development in setting up a UX Community from scratch. Back over to you, Matthew...or to anyone else who wants to join in the debate.

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