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The Strength of Java Users Groups

Posted by brunos on September 2, 2003 at 8:45 AM PDT

One of the most influential computer communities in our days is
clearly the Free Software Community. It is interesting to see how a
community that started with the idea of developing a free source
operating system, and has organized itself around software projects,
turned into a worldwide force, both technically and also
politically, with influences seen in so many places, from small to
big companies, from governments to social projects. And it is a
community created and grown by its users, and not only by companies
or commercial interests.

What I notice, at least in Brazil, is that although the community is
organized around free software projects, the impact that it has is
in good measure caused by the strong work done by their Users Groups,
that are responsible for promoting events, meetings and discussions.
Although the projects are were most of the work happens, Users
Groups give everybody a focus point, a "real world" support,
that expands the reach of the community beyond the "virtual world".

Can we, in the Java community, learn anything from this example?

Many free and open source projects are developed in Java, and as
such there's an overlap of those communities. The Java Community --
being formed by developers -- is also somewhat organized around
software projects. And many see the Java Community Process as
our "real world" existence. The JCP is the gathering that
we have for defining our standards, were we as a community meet to agree
on our differences. But the JCP is our technical, higher level community
effort, it cannot reach the day-to-day developer, that's looking for learning,
sharing and peer support.

Java Users Groups, on the other hand, are groups formed specifically
for those community activities. This is the place were users, not
companies, go to learn and discuss, and share experiences. Where
people go to eat pizza, drink beer and talk about their use of Java,
their success and frustrations.

JUGs can provide the capillarity to reach developers worldwide, and
to expand the reach of our community. This, we are doing, and the
list of nearly 500 JUGs on
http://servlet.java.sun.com/jugs/worldwide.jsp shows that the Java
Community is everywhere. And from our experience in Brazil, this
listing is even far from complete!

But are we doing more then reaching developers? Being an active
participant of this community, I have the feeling that we're not
making the best use of our strength.

When I go to Free Software events, I see both the technical, project
related debate, but also the political, ethics, government,
organizational, educational and social discussions. Are we, in the JUGs, doing
the same? Are we discussing the many other aspects of our
technology? If we believe that "Java is Everywhere", and that it will
affect our lives (and not only as technologists), I think we should
be more active in discussing how will this happen.

How can we channel the efforts of thousands of Java developers that
congregate in JUGs to improve our technology? Can JUGs drive a
stronger participation in the JCP? Are we even happy with our role in the JCP?
What's our opinion in the "Java and free software" discussion? Can we
make a difference in reaching the 10 million developers goal? What about
the use of Java in our schools and in our government? In
short, how can we participate and help drive Java's future?

Some can argue that we already have a strong participation, since
anyone can join and discuss in the JCP, we have forums like
JavaLobby, and we can create and join projects and communities in
java.net. There's even a strong presence of JUGs in java.net.
All of this is great, and shows that we do have many tools
to help us in our tasks. But I think that we can, and should, do much more.

JUGs are a fundamental part of the Java
Community, and their importance is probably underestimated. There must be a better
understanding of our community, and a better focus of our strength.
And this is not going to work if someone try to do it for us, so, we better
start doing it ourselves.

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