"UX Communities: Starting from the beginning": #4 - Scarcity

Martin Belam by Martin Belam, 14 March 2011

Matthew Solle, Joe Sokohl, Eric Reiss and I are running a discussion panel at IA Summit 2011 called “UX Communities: Starting from the beginning”. Matthew and I have been preparing by having an online debate about what makes up a community, and how you go about forming them. Matthew kicked off part one and I responded on currybetdotnet. On Thursday Matthew added part three.

In it he addressed one of the continual issues with our London IA group - that demand for the evening event appears to have far exceeded supply. As he put it:

“You can’t argue with success but it can be very frustrating for people who fail to secure a ticket”

We’ve tried bigger venues, but found that it makes the events:

  • Less intimate. It is harder to have conversations with the speakers and meet the whole range of attendees.
  • More demanding for speakers. Part of the point of the events is to give people a chance to practice and perfect their talks and techniques. Large audiences don’t help that learning process.
  • More expensive. More people means more catering means more sponsorship money used up per event means less events across the year.
  • More unpredictable. With the release of just 60 tickets, we seem to have hit the number where the vast majority of ticket holders actually attend. With more tickets available, it is easier for people to just get a ticket “in case” and not pitch up. When we had events with a capacity of 100+, we sometimes saw an attendance rate of only around 40% of ticket holders, leaving the venue feeling empty.

It is a great problem to have, but it also points out the role that scarcity can play in setting up a community. I think that to get a community up and running you need to identify that scarcity.

In the case of London IA, I suspect that the initial scarcity was events specifically targeted at information architects. Although there was an active mailing list, most of the other activities in London seemed centred around a broader range of UX interest. I recall the first few IA pub meet-ups having lots of talk of Excel spreadsheets and SharePoint migrations and metadata. My experience was that there weren’t many other events or groups in London where you could have that kind of chat without shuffling off to be with the nerdy book-ish people in the corner.

Nowadays, you can still do that in the pub meet-ups, but the events themselves have branched out into more of a wider UX-church kind of feel - trying to identify speakers who will appeal to the IA community without always strictly talking about IA. We did at one point after a few months briefly toy with the idea of renaming the group London UX or UX London, but I think by then our identity was too strong, and someone else very quickly spotted the opportunity that came with that name ;-)

So I wonder whether getting a community up and running involves spotting a scarcity, or at least accidentally stumbling upon one. It might just be about finding a common point of interest where there is no obvious digital discussion place or social opportunity...

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”, 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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