[kwlug-disc] On lowering new member hurdles & comment cards.

Paul Nijjar paul_nijjar at yahoo.ca
Fri May 7 23:00:48 EDT 2010

On Thu, May 06, 2010 at 09:49:15PM -0400, Lori Paniak wrote:
> I've been enjoying the refreshing vacuum of KWLUG for almost five years
> now.  
> In that time, the direction-less and poorly documented membership of
> KWLUG has been instrumental in several remarkable FLOSS achievements in
> SWO and beyond: Ontario Linux Fest, Open Street Map, numerous FLOSS
> projects, FLOSS fund...  and stimulated other groups with similar
> free/libre perspectives.  I would go as far as to say that KWLUG is the
> flagship Linux User Group in the country on the basis of vitality,
> (anarchic) organization and tangible impact.
> So what is it, exactly, that we are trying to fix?

At the risk of igniting another 100 posts on the topic, I'll take an
honest stab at answering this. 

There's no question that the LUG has done some pretty neat things. I
agree with Khalid that we don't want to mess with that. 

For a certain kind of person KWLUG is a fantastic resource. It
provides a technically-inclined group of people to turn to for
socialization, information, and technical help. 

But just because the LUG works for a certain kind of person does not
mean it is perfect. Here are some anecdotes to illustrate some

- Some people attend meetings a couple of times, get frustrated and
  never come back. We know from attendance lists that there is quite a
  bit of turnover. Some of this is just fine -- people try the LUG
  out, find that Linux is not that interesting to them, and leave. Other
  people are interested in Linux but put off by other things. Can we
  solve this without wrecking what is good about the LUG? I don't know.

- At Computer Recycling we sell two kinds of computers: ones with
  Ubuntu installed and so-called MAR machines, which come with legal
  versions of Windows and MS Office. Our Linux sales are not terrible
  but one big deficiency is that we have no good place to point people
  to learn more about Linux. Their friends use Windows, so they want 
  Windows. Maybe that is inevitable, but I wish we could grow an 
  ecosystem where regular people without a lot of computer experience
  could learn about running Linux. (In fact we may have fewer
  resources, since the Conestoga College courses that used to 
  be offered are sporadic at best.) 

- Similarly, I know that some people come to meetings and find that 
  the topics are way over their head. I know that people will talk 
  pretty freely one-on-one, but are intimidated when speaking in front 
  of a large group. 

- For a couple of years I "mentored" a couple of would-be Linux users
  via e-mail. Both of these fellows were highly motivated to use 
  free software, so this was not a burden. But short of offering to 
  mentor more people myself, I do not see a good way for these people
  to get over that learning hump. 

So what I am trying to fix is promoting adoption of Linux among those
who are not inclined to be highly-technical enthusiasts. The LUG may
have no role to play in this (I have started a 100-post thread at work
to see whether we have the capacity to maybe do some more formalized
training there.) But it might. I wonder whether the LUG could be doing
a better job of being welcome to newbies and helping newbies climb
that learning curve. 

Having said that, I am totally on board with not breaking what is good
about the LUG, and not imposing too heavily on the LUG's membership.

If we (as a LUG or individuals) don't have the energy to make these
newbie-friendly things happen, then so be it. If we do have the
energy, then I would prefer a world in which these things are

I also worry that the LUG (and Linux in general) is becoming obsolete
in the Web 2.0/Apple/Cloud world, but that is another thread for some
other time. Suffice to say this: I believe that if we (as enthusastic
Linux users) don't care about helping newbies who are a little less
motivated than we are, then we will never see Linux taken seriously
"on the desktop", we'll keep getting steamrollered by bad DMCAesque
legislation, and regular people will continue to misunderstand how the
freedom in free software makes a difference. 

- Paul

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