January 28, 2004

Getting involved with a LUG

Author: Jono Bacon

It was 1998 when I first got involved with Linux. I was 18, and though I found support on the Web, mailing lists, IRC channels, and other assorted resources, I wanted to meet people face-to-face to discuss Linux. That was when I discovered LUG culture. How can you get involved with a LUG in your area, or even set one up?For those of you who are unfamiliar with the concept, a Linux user group (LUG) is a collection of like-minded Linux aficionados who live in the same area. Most LUGs are oriented around towns and cities, and each LUG often meets on a regular basis, be it weekly or annually.

In addition to regular meetings, most LUGs have a mailing list for members to keep in touch. Many also run a Web site. Like any community, these LUGs often have some core
members that keep the ball rolling and attend every meeting. There are also members who never come to meetings and just use the mailing list.

Why get involved with a LUG?

Before we begin to look at the specifics of getting involved with a LUG or setting one up, we should really have a look into why you would want to be involved with a LUG in the first place.

Obviously people join LUGs for a variety of reasons, but there are indeed a number of common benefits to getting involved with a LUG:

  • Meeting new people -- It is great to meet new people with a similar interest to yourself, even if you are not the kind of person who goes out to socialise typically. Most LUGs include members with various levels of technical ability, so do not feel nervous if you do not know a lot about Linux.

  • Technical assistance -- A LUG is a great source of help for various problems and questions that you may have about Linux. In addition to getting help from other LUG members, you can also share your knowledge and experiences with other members of the LUG.
  • Being part of a community Being part of a LUG is being part of a community, and this is a great factor of joining a group. You will get to know lots of other people, different viewpoints and ways of life.
  • Advocate Linux -- Many LUGs are a boiling pot of
    Linux advocacy. Many people who join a LUG want to
    help Linux succeed and help charities,
    schools, universities, and businesses in their local
    area.

Joining a LUG

There are literally hundreds of LUGs from around the world that are available to join. The easiest way to find one in your local area is to do a search on Google for your town, area, or country and the letters LUG. If you are still not having any luck, take a look at the
Linux Counter LUG list,
Linux.org Linux User Group list (a bit dated),
UK Linux User Groups,
Groups of Linux Users Everywhere (GLUE), or
Yahoo LUG list.

When you have found a LUG that you are interested in, you should first email them to find out how to get involved. You will most likely find that the LUG is free to join, and will be pointed to their
mailing list. When you get this information you should subscribe to the list and send a message to introduce yourself.

This introductory message should give a rundown of who you are, what kind of technologies you are interested in, which distro you use, and what you would like to get out of being part of the LUG. This information not only gives the membership an idea of who you are; it also shows them you have the manners to introduce yourself.

When you have send your introductory message, you may want to wait for a few messages to arrive to get an idea of the tone of the group before you join in with conversations. LUGs vary immensely in how they behave and how formal they are. There are many LUGs that have formal proceedings at meetings and a formal membership.

On the other hand there are some LUGs
(like my own, the Wolves
LUG
in Wolverhampton in the UK) that are informal and loose. The first few messages that are delivered to you should give you an idea of the formality and culture of your chosen LUG.

After you have been on the mailing list for a little while, you may want to go to a meeting. This is without a doubt a nerve-racking step and can take a bit of courage to do. It is important to remember however that you have to go through this first meeting only once, and then you will begin to get to know the people face to face that you have been talking to on the mailing list.
Before you
go the meeting however, find out from the group how you will know it is them at the meeting venue. As an example, at Wolves LUG meetings we used to use a big cardboard Tux to indicate where we were in the pub.

Setting up a LUG

Setting up a LUG is a process that requires a little determination and a little patience. Not only should you expect to put in a bit of work, but you should expect it to take a little while before the LUG gets on its feet. But with the right care and feeding, you can create a successful LUG.

The first thing you should do is to ensure that there are no LUGs in your local area that you may be conflicting with. It is also a good idea to have your LUG in a fairly populated area;
if you set up a LUG for your tiny village, you may not attract too many members. You may want to set up a LUG for your approximate area if there are none already; for example, if your county/state is Linuxland,
you may want to set up the West Linuxland LUG.

When you have decided on the location for your LUG, you should set up a Web site and, more importantly, a mailing list. There are a number of resources on the Internet for doing this kind of thing for free, and there may be some specific LUG resources in your area.

As an example, most LUGs in the UK use the fantastic free lug.org.uk resources. If you do not have such a service available, there are many free hosting sites on the Internet and there are some free mailing list servers such as CoolList.

When you set up your Web site you should put some
information there about how to join the mailing
list, where your meetings will be, and how often they will be. You may want not want to schedule the first meeting until you get some members.

In many ways finding members is the most difficult part of the process. You should first post messages on various sites around the Internet and add your LUG to the many lists of LUGs that are available online, some of which I posted above.

Another surefire way of attracting people to your LUG is to make some posters up, possibly with a big Tux on the front, as this is a successful pictorial representation of Linux. If you make posters with the address of your Web site and your LUG name you can put them up in computer shops, computer fairs, and public notice boards.

Conclusion

Joining a LUG is a positive and enjoyable process for most people. Linux users tend to be very sociable due to the operating system's free software heritage and culture, and this social factor is best continued in a LUG setting. Let me know how you get on joining or setting up your own LUGs.

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