Sunday, September 26, 2010

The Importance of User Groups

shapeimage_7-2010-09-26-19-22.pngIn August I was elected President of the Las Vegas Mac Users Group (www.lvmug.com). It is an honor to be elected and to have the opportunity to volunteer to help other Mac users become more familiar with their computers and facilitate their exploration of the platform. Computer User Groups have been around since the 70’s when hobbyist computer geeks assembled their Altair’s and other kit computers. The Homebrew Computer club in Northern California was a great example of where enthusiasts gathered to learn more about computers and to show off what they had built. Homebrew was where Steve Wozniak even showed off his first Apple I computer. Homebrew was also where Dan Bricklin first showed off his creation VisiCalc for the Apple II.

This was of course in the days before we all had Internet access in our homes and even on our phones where we can look up any information anytime or anywhere. So are User Groups still relevant? Of course they are still relevant. There are many things that all computer users can still learn from each other. I have found spending time with Users Groups people ask questions I may never have thought of, or show off a piece of software they found that I have never heard of that might fit nicely into my daily work flow. Besides learning new and interesting things it also gives me a chance to socialize with other Mac Users. It is fun to spend time with people who are as passionate about their computers as I am.

For the late 90’s in Apple dark days when things weren’t going well Apple relied on the Mac Users Groups and Apple faithful to keep them going and keep them going the Users Groups did. Now in the 2000s Apple is hugely successful and moved from just selling to computers to an array of consumer electronics and bringing more people back to Apple we are seeing a resurgence of the Users Groups again although this time with a slightly different focus. Todays Mac Users Groups tend to be less of the geeks and more regular users helping each other out. Everyday computer users meet in classrooms, restaurants, libraries, and other spaces to ask each other questions and share tips and tricks with one another. Of course there are some hard core geeks in every group like myself who love to answer questions and share with the group and if we don’t know an answer at least know where we can find the answer.

Las Vegas is home to three Mac Users Groups and with a little searching it is fairly easy to find a Mac Users Group in most towns or at least close to smaller towns all over the country. There is even a group for people who run the Users Groups http://www.mugcenter.com/ where they have resources for finding guest speakers and companies willing to offer discounts to User Group Members as a way to encourage people to become members of User Groups. There is also an advisory board for User Group leaders http://appleusergroupresources.com/ to help find speakers and connect groups with software companies to offer discounts to members and software demos.

So the Mac User Groups today are really more open and accessible to the average user today than they were twenty years ago. It provides users a space to ask questions and learn more about their computers and find new ways to use them. The thing that truly sets the User Group apart from the Internet is the camaraderie and it creates an environment where you may learn things that you didn’t even know to ask about.

So the next time you have a question about your Mac instead of spending hours Googling and reading and Googling again, try searching for your local Mac User Group and drop in and visit. You may make new friends, get your questions answered, learn something you haven’t even thought to ask. But you will certainly have a good time. Our community is still smaller than the Windows Market and Mac Users stick together and are always willing to share what they know with anyone interested and if we don’t have the answer we love going on the journey to find that answer together.

To find a Mac User Group in your area visit http://www.apple.com/usergroups/ and go to Find A Group or go to http://www.mugcenter.com/mug-event-calendar/ for a calendar of events for Mac User Groups across the country and visit one near you.