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The State of the Online ColdFusion Meetup

Note: This blog post is from 2014. Some content may be outdated--though not necessarily. Same with links and subsequent comments from myself or others. Corrections are welcome, in the comments. And I may revise the content as necessary.
As a follow-up to my previous blog entry today, on news of the CFHour podcast show ending this week, some have wondered (publicly) whether perhaps the Online ColdFusion Meetup, which I host, might help "fill the void" here.

I don't hold that out as a real possibility, for a couple of reasons, and I'd like to discuss them here.

Indeed, it's a good time to share a "State of the Online ColdFusion Meetup", to discuss what you might (and might not) expect to see in the future, and what you can perhaps do to help.

CFMeetup has been a place for online presentations

So first, about the Online CFMeetup as a possible place to "take up the slack" if CFHour is indeed defunct, it's important to note that the Meetup (like most meetups and user group meetings) has been a place where folks can make presentations, like they would in fact at a user group meeting.

An advantage is that the CFMeetup is online, so folks who don't even have local user group, or can't get certain topics or speakers to come, could join in to see the talks online.

Real challenge in recent months getting speakers

That said, I have to admit that it's been like pulling teeth the past several months (really, about the last couple of years) to get presenters. I don't see that as a reflection on the CF community in particular (though surely some will).

Rather I see it as just part of a change in the broader IT landscape (and culture). User groups have struggled, and not just CF ones, as have conferences of various stripes. Even some long-form podcasts. Sure, there are some standouts in every niche, but there's clearly a sea change.

It just seems that many people want their information in different ways than had been traditional. They seem to especially want it in briefer chunks (more on what I want to do about that in a moment.)

I'm certainly still open to hosting presenters

So the meetup has gone quiet for some months. It's not dead, or dying. Let's say it's just resting. :-) And I'm simply waiting for speakers to express interest.

I've made pleas to specific groups, like the speaker lists of various conferences, and to specific folks when I may see a talk that I was myself interested to see online, or thought most would appreciate. There just have been few or no responses.

Thankfully, other folks do think to mention the CFMeetup to speakers they may be interested to see present to our group, and I sincerely appreciate that. This is your group after all, and with still 2700+ members, it would seem still to be of interest to all those who have remained members.

And it's of course also a great way to get some topic to such a wide audience.

Now, don't let it scare you, as a prospective presenter. You're never speaking to more than a few to several dozen folks live. But certainly hundreds watch the recordings (every show is recorded), and all 2700 members get an email telling them about the topic.

And a couple of folks have expressed interest in perhaps presenting after cfObjective or the other conferences or upcoming user groups, so we'll see. As always, the door is open for any topic that's on or related to CF/CFML.

CFMeetup as a discussion forum: not feasible

Finally, some have wondered whether the Online CF Meetup could be opened up to be less (or less often) about presentations and more of an open forum, whether as a roundtable with multiple guests, or perhaps letting several presenters offer shorter topics, or in letting attendees chime in. All that sounds great, and we've even tried them all at one time or another.

The biggest challenge is that because the meetup is VOIP-based (and the version of Connect we use does not allow phone calls, and other phone-based webinar solutions are not inexpensive), there is work required to set things up (in advance) for each person who may speak.

As with when there's just one presenter, I have to make sure they have audio on their computer, and that it works. And there are settings on both the OS (the mic must be the default mic before Connect is opened) and in Connect (or even Flash) that may need to be done. And then there are possible issues with volume, echo, etc.

Then there's the real chance that the speaker may sound fine in testing but then have problems once online, perhaps due to issues with their network connection, or something else running on their machine (or network), and so on. Or they may get setup with one machine and then be on another when it comes time to present, perhaps unexpectedly.

Again, I deal with all those issues and challenges with each presenter before they come online, or as they would arise (pretty rarely) during the session.

It's just not feasible to do that with a number of people in one session (and it's pretty much unrealistic to support at all for general audience members to randomly be given the mic.)

It just doesn't work well to contemplate opening the CFMeetup to serve a wider purpose, as tempting as that may be for some.

Now, some have wondered "what about a Google+ hangout?" but I really don't think it's an issue of Connect versus other technologies. Indeed, others have tried to organize various efforts to have many people on at once. Each (that I've seen) has run into challenges and tended not to go on for long beyond the first attempts.

The CFMeetup is not a podcast. That's a real opportunity for someone

Bottom line, really, a podcast is the right place for group discussion, and especially if it won't involve screen-sharing. And certainly someone could have a podcast that was more truly an open forum, perhaps allowing callers, whether by phone or VOIP.

And as I mentioned in the entry on the CFHour ending, if indeed the show really is done (and if not, it really was an excellent April Fool's prank), then maybe someone else might step in to fill the void by creating another podcast.

What about me? And is there really anything more to talk about?

I had mentioned in my last entry that I've toyed with the idea of creating a podcast myself, but that if I did it would be focused solely on CF server troubleshooting, which has been my area of interest the past 7 years. If I did such a show, I would not see it being about "what's new in the CF community", nor would I want to see it having a lot of banter or talk of "current events". Indeed, I'd want to keep the focus very much on CF server troubleshooting.

I know such "narrowness" flies in the face of the assumptions many have, that anything "specific to CF" is hopelessly myopic and that CF conferences (and perhaps podcasts and blogs) and certainly CF developers/admins simply must broaden their attention beyond CF in order to stay relevant/profitable/productive.

To be honest, I disagree. For one thing, all I do is CF server troubleshooting, day in and day out, and I'm "busier than a one-armed paper hanger" as the saying goes. I get new clients about every day. There clearly is a very large market of CF shops, and CF devs and admins in need of assistance.

And if most of my engagements are an accurate measure, the average CF dev/admin operates on having very little understanding of some pretty fundamental things about how CF/web servers/database servers work, how to most effectively solve problems, where to find good resources.

So as I mentioned in that last entry I see LOTs that could still be discussed and shared in the CFML community, for the benefit of the entire community (as folks go on to help each other), and it needn't only be "what's new and shiny".

My latest venture: a series of Youtube videos on certain CF topics

To that end, I also mentioned in that last entry that I have already started to create (last week, before seeing this news about CFHour) what I plan to be a very long series of Youtube videos, of just a few to several minutes each, just within the narrow space of topics relevant to CF server troubleshooting. I'm calling them "CArehart Quick Tips".

While the focus ultimately is on CF server troubleshooting, there are many topics I've done and plan to do that are of generic interest to any CFers and even those not using it.

I want to say more to introduce that series, but I'll do that in a subsequent entry here.

The CFMeetup: moving forward, and how you can help

So back to the state of the Online CFMeetup. It's still very much alive, if indeed "resting" at the moment.

Really, it's your group. Whether you're a presenter who can come on, or an attendee who can remind speakers of the opportunity, you can help control the vitality of the group. (You can point them to a a bit of a FAQ I prepared for prospective speakers some years ago.)

Again, there are still 2700+ members who clearly are waiting to consider watching any topics that may be offered.

I've always been torn about just stepping up and presenting often myself. I could, but I didn't want it to become "the Charlie show", and indeed that's one more motivation for my branching off separately and additionally into the Youtube videos.

But I'm happy to continue to organize the events, just as I pay for the Meetup.com hosting (it ain't free) and for the coldfusionmeetup.com domain, as well as spend the time in coordinating the meetings. I see it as a service to the community, and I'm happy to help. I'd welcome assistance in finding more presenters.

And I do want to thank the few folks who have so kindly made small contributions to the group. That and occasional encouragement at conferences and such is a motivator to keep going. I can appreciate how the CFHour guys and anyone doing a labor of love in the community can sometimes feel a bit discouraged, if it feels like lots of work with little direct reward.

We're all in this together.

Again, look for the next installment with more info on my new videos, as one more way to help spread knowledge within the community.

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Must be some scope for new meetups on CF11 features. CFMobile for a start.
# Posted By me | 4/5/14 6:38 PM
@me, the entry wasn't asking for topic ideas. There are surely many possible ones (as in fact I stated later in the entry). The challenge, again, is finding speakers.
Honestly, I am surprised that Adobe (or Railo) themselves do not "seed" the Meetups with more and regular presenters... if nothing else it's a zero-cost, positive marketing opportunity for them. If my company had the opportunity to get in front of several thousand customers to show off everything new and shiny about our product, we'd rock it as often as possible.
# Posted By Andy K | 4/5/14 10:27 PM
@Andy, fair enough. Let's talk first about Adobe. You can bet I've made the offer to them many times, and they've taken the opportunity a few times.

But in fact they do already have a medium for reaching their own vast audience, in that they run their own webinars, and they can and do send news about that to their own large number of known contacts. So I haven't been too surprised that they've left the meetup to be mostly for the community's presenters.

As for Railo, I have indeed had them on. I do have to walk a bit of a line there, in that the CFMeetup is an official Adobe CF user group (and there are certain expectations they have in return for what they offer to UG managers, specifically with respect to having too many competitor presentations). Further, given that we (currently) use Adobe's kind offer of a free Connect account to hold both the meetings AND the recordings, there's an additional sensitivity to having too many talks from Railo, which is a direct competitor. Like I said, I have to walk a line there.

To be honest, though, I'm more surprised that most presenters (in the community) don't want to offer their talks here. Even if they might prefer to wait until after they present a talk at a conference (or user group meeting), at least doing so would then record their session for posterity, and benefit all those who couldn't see them live.

That said, I can lead the horses to water but I can't make 'em drink. :-)
@Andy, to expand on Charlie's comment about Railo on the CFMeetup... When I worked for Railo (five years ago!), CFUGs were allowed to have me present on the condition that the Railo-specific talks were not recorded. The general policy conveyed to me (at the time, it may well have changed, as Adobe's attitude toward Railo seems to have softened recently), was that Adobe would not allow their resources (free Connect accounts and hosting) to be used to promote Railo in any way. I would expect most people to consider that a very sensible position to take.
@Sean, thanks for sharing your mutual experience.

I should have been more clear, though, when I referred to my needing to be sensitive/walk the line. Generally, I had been told to try to avoid having more than a couple of sessions on any one competitors, which back then could have been Railo or BlueDragon. As you say, it was fair enough, since Adobe was giving us the forum to hold the meetings.

I can say that they never precluded me recording them, but there was a time I was asked to not post the recording and serve it from the Adobe site, but they were ok with us downloading the recording and posting it elsewhere (in that case, the Railo site).

Now, all this said, I want to also note that all this was over the past several years. We've had changes in CF product mgt since then, as well as in Adobe community mgt. Things could be different now, whether more or less restrictive.

But for now, with the CFMeetup being in name (and general expectation) the *CF* Meetup, and since it is indeed offered under the auspices of Adobe, I don't really want to poke the bear in asking for clarification on the above.

I'm happy to continue under my current understanding and have up to a couple of sessions per year on competitor tools, and let the chips fall where it may.

But Andy's comment was more about wondering if/why the vendors wouldn't do more videos/presentations themselves. I'm saying that Adobe does (and just posted news of 4 this month on Splendor, http://blogs.coldfus...). I'm sure Railo does as well.

But the discussion in this entry was about the CFMeetup itself, and again the general expectation that it's a place for folks in the community to present. If over time it continues to be that there just are no such speakers interested, then indeed it may be time to let the meetup skip quietly into that good night.

But for now, there's no reason to shutter it, and I hold out hope that over time some presenters will come around. Again, there are lots of CFUGs (and UGs in general) struggling to find speakers, so I don't see this as unique to the meeetup or to CF/CFML. Just a reflection of the changing nature of how people want to learn, I think.

I could be wrong, of course. :-) Either way, we shall see.
You were perfectly clear. My comment was just intended to be another insight into why CFMeetup might not be the right venue for Railo (or BlueDragon / OpenBD) to "show off everything new and shiny".

As for the struggle to find speakers, yes, that seems to be a general problem for CFUGs the world over these days and was always the hardest part of being a CFUG manager for me (in my two separate stints running BACFUG - and actually in my time running a Clojure meetup, so this is not just a CFML community issue these days!).

What I've seen happening with many CFUGs is that they've reincarnated themselves as general Web Dev UGs and diversified their content (getting much higher attendance for JavaScript-related topics). Not sure whether that's realistic for CFMeetup but, as you say, it's really driven by the community: what they want to present on...

It's been an awesome resource over the years, with a huge archive of great recordings, but it sure would be nice to see more people volunteering to speak.
@Sean, thanks, again for further confirmation of the state of things, and beyond CF.

(And about my feeling I had lacked clarity, thanks if you thought it was fine as is. But I think you and I have some perspective that other readers may have lacked, so I thought it helpful to add. I had indeed meant to add that point--about what I was or was not specifically allowed--and had just forgotten as I was writing, so I was glad to have the chance to add the clarification, and the acknowledgement that their stance could change.)

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