Posted in December 2012

When it comes to community, does size matter?

Many members of the MongoDB community are excited about the possibility of starting a MongoDB User Group in their hometown. Unfortunately, many of our MUG organizers get discouraged quickly when only a handful of people come to the first meetup. Some give up immediately. They see that the NY or DC or London MUGs regularly have 100+ people attending a lecture, and they assume that that is what success looks like.

But you don’t need 100 people to have a community. Community is about building relationships, sharing experiences, and fostering the exchange of knowledge. By that definition you only need 1 or 2 other people to have a community! And in many cases, that’s how successful tech meetups start.

I recently spoke with Van Riper, the organizer of the Silicon Valley Java User Group, about the origins of his JUG. He told me that the first meetup there were only two people and that they had dinner and drinks and talked about code. He considered it a success. Van kept organizing events, until the group grew to thousands of members.

An intimate gathering to hack, talk, study or something simliar is a completely valid way to start a user group. In fact, sometimes those meetups are even more valuable as people have the opportunity to exchange ideas in a friendly environment.

If you keep meeting consistently (ideally at the same time and in the same place) your group will naturally grow. As the group grows, it becomes easier to attract higher profile speakers and the group grows more. I’ve watched this virtuous cycle occur with all of the large MongoDB User Groups.

In NYC, even though our MUG has grown to nearly 2,000 members, I’m glad that we still organize events such as office hours and study groups to maintain some of the intimacy of the early days. Having a variety of events in a variety of formats and sizes ensures that people across the community are well served.

Ultimately, size does matter: you need to adjust your approach depending on the dynamics of your group. For the new organizers, I encourage you to keep meeting, even if your group is small, and build a core membership from which you can grow. For those running larger meetups, don’t lose sight of what a community is and provide ways for members to build relationships and share their stories. Regardless of the size, you can build a successful community with patience, hard work, and a little creativity.

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