Self-organization being made easier for WP Meetups seems to be the key concern of the WordPress Foundation’s initiative to draft a set of guidelines for WP Meetups.
Though I’ve been following the discussion at makedotorg and shared experiences from our own meetup group, up to today I fail to see how the basic approach of centralizing would essentially support WP Meetups in general. Or in other words: how making things “easier” would be equal to making things “better” here.
The WordPress Foundation should not guidelinify and centralize WP Meetups since a bunch of essential benefits from organizing a meetup group comes from having to define your own purpose, values and methods of interacting as a group. Those benefits may be taken away from future meetup organizers if they are just supposed to follow a predefined scheme.
Easier = better?
First things first: Credit must be given to Aaron Jorbin for taking on the responsibility of leading the Meetup Best Practices Team over at make.wordpress.org. It is not an easy task, and Aaron has not been making it easy for himself. Instead he has come up with substantial questions and extensively sought and received feedback from meetup organizers from the community. His first draft for a set of guidelines reads reasonable and fair to my eyes—if one generally embraces its underlying idea: the approach of trying to make things easier for WP Meetups by ways of centralizing and standardizing.
Everybody love things being made easier in general. That’s why we have the internet. But does making it easier automattically mean making it better?
Regarding the idea of guidelines for WP Meetups all I can see up to now is how (by undoubtedly good intentions) the need for essential group activities is about to be taken away from meetup groups. Which includes the need for meetups to sort out how to organize themselves as a group of individuals.
So? What I’m trying to say is this: Having to sort out certain things as a group
will be can be of great value for a WP Meetup—namely in its very beginnings.
Guidelines vs. regulations
When I’m sharing bits of our Potsdam meetup history here, it goes with the understanding there are small meetups like ours, and there are huge ones with over 1.000 attendees each month. Granted that issues and challenges may vary largely between the two, it’s really a no-brainer that a set of guidelines would need to fit both, big and small.
Guidelines in general should be dense and focussed on principle, not implementation. The moment a set of guidelines or rules starts to cover ways of implementation, it usually is about to transform into regulations.
Rule of thumb: guidelines require thinking for yourself; regulations require obedience.
Community role models: They can do it? We can do it!
When our meetup group started in November 2011, we had nothing at hand but a vague idea what a WP Meetup can be. The vacuum of definition we were facing, however, has been a total blessing in retrospective, because first of all we had to define what we want to be. And we had to do it together as a group.
Naturally, we started looking for role models and behold, there had been a bunch of meetup groups before us all over the planet! They had their own websites we were able to research, slides and videos online and, most importantly, they obviously had achieved everything we were able to see of them by themselves. There you go: role models. They can do it? We can do it, too! Isn’t that as easy as it can get in a community of people?
In the following we set up our website, created a simple way of announcing new meetup dates (categories, really, getting things done was key), discovered a web tool for voting on topics for lightning talks and spread the word on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.
Achieve together = make friends
There were things to do and we got them done very easily. Achieving small tasks together we got to know each other better and learned about each other’s qualities—a process commonly known as making friends. Making friends usually includes building confidence. And confidence in each other and in our group enabled us to put together a larger event for the local WordPress community only half a year later.
Btw, the definition we ended up with for our meetup not only included what we thought was key to our very undertaking, but later proofed to be principled and simple enough to serve as a blue-print for others to start upon. It basically says meetup time is friendship time.
Our WP Meetups are not for canvassing! We value open, informal exchange and ask all attendees to respect that.
In order for everyone to be able to relax, have fun and learn business stays outside, period. That’s really it. (Doing business with meetup friends outside of the meetup is fine, of course.)
WPF, please stay out of the way of your people!
“There you go, a blue-print for others!”—Yes, I know and I guess that’s what the folks at the WordPress Community Summit must have had in their minds when they first came up with the idea to centralize WP Meetups on meetup.com.
But am I really the only one seeing a difference here between a grass-roots role model and a standardized procedure provided by an authority like WPF? Are a meetup.com account and a set of guidelines or best practices coming from WordPress officials really seen as necessary for WP Meetups to prosper?
At the risk of confirming the cliché of being über-criticizingly German (hi Zé!) I’d say let meetups make their way by themselves. Let them try and fail and learn and grow as groups of self-respecting individuals. There are enough role-models out there in the WordPress community.
For this time, WordPress Foundation, please just stay out of the way of your people.