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I am thinking about starting an area user group to discuss and share information on a variety of technology topics surrounding programming practices.

Any suggestions for finding attendees, space, sponsors, speakers, etc. - and managing all of this?

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I run the London Java User Group and we did a number of things to get it started and then to keep it going.

Getting attendees:

It typically starts small: You, your friends, your colleagues. It's not hard to grow as long as you are willing to be 'social', which means:

  • Having a centralised portal for efforts (we have a meetup.com site)
  • Constantly promoting the group on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Blogs, mailing lists etc
  • Asking each new member to try and bring a new person to the next meeting

Getting Space

  • Workplaces can be surprisingly amenable to you using a meeting room or two
  • Look for training companies that have space (they'll expect to be able to promote themselves in return)
  • Local software vendors
  • Pubs (we'll eat/drink X amount if we can have your back room)
  • Universities
  • Technical schools (added via Matthew in the comments of this answer)
  • and more

Sponsors

Be very, very, very careful with this. I've seen far too many sponsors ruin technology groups. Make sure you get real value and not just get a mandatory sales pitch every month.

The list here is likely to be your local workplaces and your local vendors (oh, and book publishers). In all honesty, you don't actually need much sponsorship until you get to a certain size and/or want to hold sizeable events.

Speakers

  • Grow them within your local community!
  • Ask local vendors to send their experts (real experts, not sales drones)
  • Ask the global software community (so for Java, the JUG leaders mailing list)

Once you get to a certain size you'll also find yourself simply having them almost arrive on your doorstep.

Managing

I'd start with a couple of people who have a very clear vision and a drive to make that vision succeed. Later on you can form a much larger group of associates that can help you run things (think of it as an open source project).

Make sure you're an efficient user of online collaboration tools. Google docs, mailing lists, Google groups, meetup.com, whatever.

Events you can hold are:

  • Lightning talks
  • Regular Talks
  • Coding Dojos
  • Pub nights
  • Unconferences / Open Conferences / Closed Conferences
  • Code retreats
  • Technology/language shootouts
  • Book and software giveways
  • And more

Hope that helps!

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Great answer! I'll add that when looking for meeting space, "technical schools" that have some kind of programming track (e.g. game programming) are often amenable to hosting programming user groups due to the overlap and for the exposure. Examples in the US are ITT and DeVry. –  Matthew Frederick Apr 19 '11 at 14:33
    
+1 @Martijn Verburg: Agree, very nice answer, and likely to be selected as the answer in a day or so. –  blunders Apr 19 '11 at 15:03
    
@Matthew Good tip, I'll add that –  Martijn Verburg Apr 19 '11 at 15:08
    
+1: I'm thinking of starting a group for people who program internals for GNOME-related technologies in the Bay Area, and this is really helpful. –  Bob Murphy Apr 19 '11 at 18:49

You need interest from people first. LinkedIn might be a good place for finding people interested in your tech in your area.

Your own colleagues and their personal networks might help too.

What type of speakers you would have may be a chicken and egg situation

Only then can you figure out space, and sponsors.

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+1 @james: Not the info I was expecting, but nice points, thanks. Have you ever started a user group before? –  blunders Apr 19 '11 at 12:14
    
@blunders - no I haven't, but someone I follow on Twitter started a geek book club in my city, and then was surprised when no-one turned up - you have to know your audience :-) –  Ozz Apr 19 '11 at 12:19

Universities/colleges nearby. Where I am, we already have these at the university. Perhaps a cooperation with one of those?

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+1 @Jonta: Nice suggestion, sure there was an existing group teachers would be happy to promote the group. –  blunders Apr 19 '11 at 15:05

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