Monthly Archive for November, 2010

Community Manager Tip: Community Building with Werewolves

I don’t play werewolf just because I love it. I play it because it builds community.

I played many games of Werewolf at the recent MeeGo Conference, and I talked about it in my conference wrap up post, but I wanted to also repackage it into a community manager tip because I think people underestimate the importance of games as community building tools.

Werewolf is one of those games that I really like to bring to conferences because it gives people a chance to get to know each other. It gives the quiet guy who doesn’t really know anyone something to do and an excuse to meet new people, and it puts people on a level playing field where the company executive, the university student and the internet famous are all equal as werewolves and villagers. It gives people something in common to start a conversation while they learn enough about each other to find other things in common. Many of us tend to talk to the people we already know, which keeps us in our own little friend bubbles that can seem cliquey even when not intended to be. Werewolf is an excuse to talk to people that we don’t know and otherwise might not have met. Unlike those other team building and conference games, people really seem to enjoy werewolf.

A few tips to get you started:

  • Start a game the first or second night of the event.
  • Print up special cards for the event and make extra decks to give away. This allows anyone to start a game later in the week.
  • Encourage new moderators to spread the load and introduce new variations of the game.

Additional Reading

Part of a series of community manager tips blog posts.

MeeGo Conference: Geeks in Dublin

Wow.

I really had a fantastic time at the MeeGo Conference in Dublin last week. Over the past 9 months in the MeeGo Community, I have spent a lot of time getting to know people over IRC, email, forums, and other online tools. You can get to know people pretty well online, but there is just no substitute for face to face interactions and getting to know people in real life. I got to know people better and met so many new and interesting people that I can now keep up with online in the community.

I was one of several organizers for this conference, and from an organizer’s standpoint, the conference wildly exceeded all of our expectations. While we were initially hoping we could find 600 people who would attend, we ended up with almost 1100 attendees from 51 countries. Amy Leeland, our lead organizer for the event, proved to be a complete rock star; almost everything went according to plan and the few things that didn’t, she handled with a professional get it fixed attitude. We also worked with Portland design company Quango on many of the design and event logistics, and they were honestly one of the best vendors I have ever worked with.

In this post, here on my personal blog, I’m not going to do a full report-out on the conference (we’ll save that for the MeeGo blog), so I’ll focus the rest of this post on the community aspects and my personal experiences.

The community was very engaged in the event: organizing early bird sessions, volunteering to help out whenever we needed it, and working and playing together in the hacker lounge until the wee hours of the morning. I also led the unconference day, and I’m always nervous about scheduling an unconference at the end of an event when people are tired and have been watching presentations all week. I’ve seen too many unconference days become the time when people leave early or spend the time in a corner catching up on email. In this case, I was very pleased that the unconference day was a success with attendees presenting in every available space (more than 45 sessions) and staying engaged throughout the day.

One of the keys to getting good community participation and getting attendees to hang out together is to have evening events that are more interesting and fun than what most people would decide to do on their own. Add free food and drinks to the mix, and you really can keep everyone together well into the evening. The Guinness tour and the football game, for example, drew large crowds, and people really did seem to have a lot of fun.

The best part of the conference from a community building perspective was the 24 hour hacker lounge where people gathered after the evening events ended to work on projects, hang out and play games. We used this space to play many, many games of werewolf often lasting past 3am. Werewolf is one of those games that I really like to bring to conferences because it gives people a chance to get to know each other. It gives the quiet guy who doesn’t really know anyone something to do and an excuse to meet new people, and it puts people on a level playing field where the company executive, the university student and the internet famous are all equal as werewolves and villagers. It gives people something in common to start the conversations while they learn enough about each other to find other things in common. Many of us tend to talk to the people we already know, which keeps us in our own little friend bubbles that can seem cliquey even when not intended to be. Werewolf is an excuse to talk to people that we don’t know and otherwise might not have met. Unlike those other team building and conference games, people really seem to enjoy werewolf. I don’t play werewolf just because I love it. I play it because it builds community.

Other interesting personal notes from the conference and Dublin:

  • Organizers are too busy to eat – I made too many meals out of wine and peanuts in the hacker lounge.
  • Jetlag worked to my advantage allowing me to play werewolf until after 3am, and I didn’t really crash until the plane ride home, so the timing was perfect.
  • In Dublin, like many cities in Europe, you have to look hard for street signs. In this case, they are blue and nailed to a random building or fence somewhere near the intersection.
  • You can find good vegan hippie food in Dublin – as always, look for it near a university.

Thanks again to all of the new friends I met and the old friends that I had time to hang out with. I’m already looking forward to the next MeeGo Conference in May!

Photo credits:

Blogging Elsewhere

Here is a summary of links to my posts appearing on other blogs over the past couple of weeks.

GigaOM’s WebWorkerDaily*

MeeGo.com*

*Disclaimers:

  • GigaOM’s WebWorkerDaily: I am a paid blogger for the GigaOM network.
  • MeeGo: I am a full-time employee at Intel and contributing to MeeGo is part of my job.

Why I'm Leaving the Legion of Tech Board

Before I get into why I’ve decided to step down from the Legion of Tech Board, I want to provide a little bit of history and background. In 2006, I attended Foo Camp, the unconference event that was catalyst for the global BarCamp phenomenon, and I was blown away by the experience. The vibe of a conference organized by attendees was like nothing I had experienced before, and you get a group of very passionate and smart geeks – the type of people willing to give up a weekend to pursue various geeky endeavors. When I got back to Portland, I was craving more of that type of event. I started thinking about all of the smart and amazing people we have here, and I wished that we had unconferences and similar events. At some point, I realized that I should just start something and see what happened. I got in touch with Raven Zachary who was also interested in planning a BarCamp Portland, and I started a monthly BarCamp Meetup that helped us kick off the planning efforts for our first BarCamp Portland in 2007.

At that time, in 2006 and 2007, Portland had a vibrant technology community, but the community organized events were a bit siloed and the general purpose events were too corporate for my tastes. We had user groups for almost every programming language organized by communities of people or passionate individuals, and we had corporate events run by various organizations. BarCamp Portland and Ignite Portland filled this gap – larger events cutting across multiple technologies that were organized by the community for the community. However, we found that the logistics of organizing large events without some type of organization to handle things like paying vendors, getting event insurance, etc. was difficult. For BarCamp, we had sponsors pay vendors directly to purchase food, supplies and everything else we needed, but this was a logistical nightmare. We decided that a non profit organization would be a good way for us to have our events and be able to handle the event logistics more easily.

Viola! Legion of Tech was formed in December of 2007, and I am still very proud of the role that I’ve played in this organization over the past 3+ years. I’ve served as Chair, Secretary and board member of Legion of Tech, and I was one (of the many) driving forces behind the organization. Legion of Tech is my baby, but it’s time to push that baby out of the nest. :)

In the past 3 years, I feel like we’ve made great progress toward solving the problem that I wanted to solve – have more large, community organized events in Portland that cut across technologies and help to unify the Portland technology community. I actually think that maybe we’ve swung too far in the other direction with so many of these events.  Attendees, sponsors and organizers are starting to get burned out with so many events, and I’m burned out from organizing events. As most of you know, organizing events is a lot of work, and running a non profit organization is also a significant amount of work. The work that I once found invigorating has become exhausting because I’m not as excited about organizing events as I once was. I’m not as passionate about organizing events, and at the same time, I think that Legion of Tech has to undergo some changes in order to continue to best serve the Portland technology community. There are other people currently sitting on the board (and I’m guessing others in the community) who are passionate about making whatever changes are needed and who are ready to step up with a new vision for Legion of Tech.

Don’t get me wrong, I still love Legion of Tech, and I am confident that it will continue to live on for many years and evolve along with the Portland Tech Community. I am just ready to hand the reins over to other people to drive it in a new direction.

What does this mean for me?

  • I still plan to help organize and volunteer for events like Ignite Portland, but I will probably start to move into more of a supporting role rather than a leadership role for these events.
  • It will free up my time to work on other projects. I have a few side projects that I would like to work on, and I plan to brush up on my very rusty coding skills and spend more time hacking on API data as part of my work on these other projects.

What does this mean for you?

  • Do you want to see Legion of Tech do something a little different? Start thinking about what you would like to see change.
  • My leaving frees up space on the board for more people who want to make a difference in the Portland technology community. You can read our blog post about the election process to learn more or run for the 2011 board.

I’ll be stepping down on December 31 when the new board members take office, so I’ll be involved in the elections for the 2011 board. Feel free to track me down at Beer and Blog if you have any questions about Legion of Tech or the election process.