Until a few years ago, The Netherlands (wrongly called Holland) had only one single usergroup : PHPGG. After a few years a decision made to merge this Dutch group and the Belgium version of it into a single usergroup: PHPBenelux. Made sense: The Netherlands and Belgium aren’t that big and there are cities in the world that have a larger population than our two countries combined (and they are probably bigger too!). With their powers combined, there is much more they could realize. Think of it like being the MegaZord of PHPGroups. Perfect! Nice meetups every month in a city alternating between Belgium and The Netherlands, high quality speakers (don’t mind if i say so myself), great PHPBenelux conference every winter, and enough attendees on each meetup.
But there is a trend going on in the PHP world, especially in the Netherlands. There are usergroups popping out of the ground lately, mostly centered on a specific city. And it’s easy: goto meetup.com, sign up, create your group et voila, you are born. If you are a high-end group, you even will register a domain-name as well.
So, as of today, we currently have the following php groups: phpgroningen, phpamersfoort, phpamsterdam, phprotterdam, phptwente, phpbenelux, symfony2 (utrecht). And i’ve probably forgotten a few as well. Does this make sense? I mean, from the center of the Netherlands, you can be everywhere in less than an hour (ok, except maybe for the up-north and down-south). Do we really need a per-city usergroup? Are Dutch people too lazy to travel further than 5 minutes until the next city to go to a meetup? Well, they are not showing up anyway, as the attendee-ratings are dropping.
But adding more usergroups will not really solve this problem. If people don’t travel to your meetup in the next city, neither will they attend the meetup in their own city. In fact, the fragmentation only worsen the problem. I understand phpAmsterdam, it’s a big city (don’t laugh!), many expats and foreign people and there are lots of faces on those meetups I don’t see at the phpbenelux meetups. On occasion I do visit some meetups of phpTwente. It’s a group with some nice people, but never a big crowd. 5-10 people tops. Will phpTwente attendees come and visit a phpAmersfoort meetup? Probably not: we’ve already got a usergroup thankyouverymuch.
Fragmentation like this will only result in isolation, less people attending the meetups and in the end – loosing interests in the meetups all together. A symfony2 group? It’s fun, it’s crowded the times i’ve visited but what’s next? A twig usergroup? A “if-statements inside twig” usergroup, where every month a new speaker will talk about the possibilities of if-statements inside twig? I think we are missing the big picture of WEB development by focussing too much on small subjects in small groups of people. Do you want to go to a meetup to learn something new? You do PHP? Great, goto a ruby meetup! Or java? Or even the cocoaHeads! Don’t only target your current audience by speaking about complex subjects, don’t speak about subjects people already know, but talk about new stuff as well. Meetups are great ways to let people get acquainted with new things. Talk about ruby on a PHP meetup. Talk about PHP on a ruby meetup. Talk about soft-skills or complete different subjects that have nothing to do with the usergroup at all.. Inspire attendees, not only talk about the same subjects over and over again. KEEP the userbase, get them enthusiastic, have them bring new people with.. GROW your userbase, not splinter it..