User Groups Survey 2010

27 Sep 2010

We at gathers.us are really passionate about user groups. So we set out to create a product that would make the experience for getting together a group of fervent users be as painless and cost effective as possible.

We want to grow in ways that keep to this this mantra in mind. So we look to you, attendee/organizer of user groups, to tell us what would make gathers.us the best user group focused management application experience yet. Your answers will help shape the future development of gathers.us!

All questions are optional.

http://gathers.us/survey2010

Thanks!

@ryanbriones, @ethangunderson and @jimbreen

New Feature: Event Locations

24 Aug 2010

Yesterday we released the most voted for feature in our User Voice forum, event locations. Event organizers can now put in the address of the event, with an optional name for the location. The address shows under a new 'Location' section on the event page, along with an automatically generated link to Google Maps. It's a simple feature, but one we plan on building upon in the near future.

Till next time,
Ethan

PS - This is a new style of blogging that we're going to be trying out. A short, yet informative, blog post on new features that we roll out. If you want to stay in the loop, make sure to subscribe!

New Features and a Look Towards the Future

09 Aug 2010

Oh, hello there user group organizers and attendees. I didn't see you there! It's good that you're here. It's been a while since we've updated you on what's going on in the gathers.us factory and we've got a lot going on.

We've tried hard to listen to what you guys really want from gathers.us, so we've been pulling a lot of new functionality (and fixing stuff too) using our public forums at User Voice.

Well, don't just stand there! Come on in and have a look!

Redesigned Front Page

So immediately going to gathers.us, you'll notice that we've updated the front page. We've kept the easy to follow instruction on how to get your own gathers.us event going, but we've also added a listing of a few upcoming events. From there you can click the "Find More" button that will take you to our events listing page, a view of all upcoming gathers.us events happening. This is the first of many steps to help gathers.us fans to find events that might be of interest to them.

Permalinks (1)

This is probably the most requested feature from our users; to have user readable (read: rememberable) URLs for their events. We really wanted this too, so we got right on it. For now we generate a slug based on the title of your event. In the unlikely event that your gathering's title is the same as another, we'll just tack on a few random characters on the end to make it unique.

Change My RSVP (2)

Since we do not require users to register with gathers.us in order to RSVP for an event (or create an event for that matter), we had to think a little bit on how to let users choose to change their RSVP for an event. What we settled on is giving attendees the ability to input the email address they provided with their RSVP, and with the click of a link from a confirmation email, the attendee can choose remove their RSVP from an event. Attendees can also contact their event organizer who has the ability to change event RSVPs as well.

Export to Calendar (3)

This feature was one that was personally meaningful to us, along with being part of a requested feature. Having an event on our calendars to help coordinate with significant others the user groups we attend is important. Also getting an iCalendar file that we can download with all the information about any event and import into our iCalendar-compatible calendar is extremely helpful. We were able to make light work of this using the iCalendar ruby gem and beauty of how Rails allows you to configure mime-types and renderers.

Limiting RSVPS for an Event (4)

The impetus for gathers.us was for organizing the ChicagoDB users group and limiting RSVPs is a feature that ChicagoDB needed very early on to help cull the group and make the best use of the space that is available to us. In Chicago, space for user groups is very limited so this seemed like an important feature to get done up front. Also, as a workaround, event organizers are able to "close off" the ability to RSVP by making their RSVP limit be equal to the number of current RSVPs. Very useful.

Remember my Information (5)

Lastly, pulled from our User Voice suggestions, since gathers.us "lacks" a true user account, users wanted the ability for gathers.us to remember information about themselves, so that future RSVPs and event creation would require just a "click" of the RSVP button. At the same time we pulled in the use of a CAPTCHA (using reCAPTCHA) to make sure that we limited the amount of spam on our users' event pages. We wanted to make this as unobtrusive as possible, so after a few iterations we've moved the CAPTCHA into an inline popup window (modal) to verify one's "humanity." After that users should never see the window again as we trust you to be a human and be nice to our events.

The Future

The future holds some interesting things for gathers.us. Our focus is on the idea of user group events, and making the process of organizing and attending as simple as possible. With that in mind, we're currently working on the "groups" portion of that. As we continue to focus on user group events, like ChicagoDB which has monthly events, we want to give attendees and organizers a single point to manage information and subscriptions. Soon after, we will be focusing on giving our users a full-fledged API to make use of gathers.us group and event information on their own sites and applications.

We're really excited about the future of gathers.us and we hope you are too! If you have an suggestion on how gathers.us could be made better for you, please drop us a line on User Voice. We'd love to hear from you.

-- The gathers.us team

gathers.us: Why, How and the What

18 May 2010

Today we're releasing the initial version of gathers.us! It's not much. I've been calling it an "experiment of experiments." I want to take a moment to talk a little about what we're doing here, explain a little bit why we're doing what we're doing and how we plan to move forward with gathers.us.

Why

Our problem arose as fellow Obtivian, Ethan Gunderson, and I decided to start up our own user group in Chicago on the topic of database tools and practices. User groups in the software development community generally start out as small get togethers of like-minded folk trying to reach a shared goal of understanding whatever they are talking about and learning from others. There are usually no membership fees, and the only reason one even needs RSVPs is to try to plan how much pizza to buy or get a list of attendees to building security for entry. Discussion is usually held via email, using something simple (and free) like Google Groups. Unfortunately for us, the products that are out there cost money and are, in our opinion, extremely bloated for what we need.

Me, being the way I am, expressed this pain outwardly while at work in the Obtiva main office. "We should build our own event management site," I said part joking the Ethan. But Ethan, being the straight shooter he is, replied, "Let's do it then. Put some ideas down in Pivotal Tracker and start coding." Another officemate, Jim Breen, caught wind of my whining as well. Turns out he's been looking for something similar to help manage another local user group. Jim joined the team and we were ready to start pushing forward on this project.

How

At Obtiva we have be talking about lean startups, and how we could experiment with our processes to make us better consultants to entrepreneurs. This was our chance to give some of those ideas a shot. We sat down for lunch later that week to flesh out the minimum viable product of what was to be gathers.us. Peeling and stripping away all the initially wasteful features from our product, we tried to strike at what was the essence of gathers.us; the smallest feature set that we could build and verify with our potential customers.

We've even taken our experimentation to the technical side of the project. We're all building our first Rails 3 application using Rails 3 beta 3 and Bundler. For data persistence we're using MongoDB through MongoHQ and, for now, we're rolling our own object-persistence layer using the mongo-ruby-driver and a little help from Rails 3's ActiveModel. Last we're trying something a bit heretical: we've decided to forgo unit testing and focus on testing at the integration/acceptance level with Cucumber/Capybara. We're going to try to keep it that way as long as possible without introducing significant bugs or sacrificing decent design. Don't worry, we'll blog about this later.

What

The idea of gathers.us means a couple things for us. First, gathers.us is simple. It should offer the simplest way to get your event started, spread the word, and enable you to connect with like-minded people. We'll add more features in the future as we feel the pull from our customers. For now, you don't need a user account to create events on gathers.us. Just some information about you, the organizer, and your event. Your attendees need no account either.

Second, gathers.us is community-driven and focused. We're taking a cue from a really cool startup called Github: if your event is completely public and is not charging for attendance, it will be free to create your event on gathers.us. Local user groups are near to our hearts, so helping foster these kinds of communities is important to us. We'll also be listening closely to what features are important to user groups, and try to find ways to continue to make it simple and cheap to organize events.

Gather!

Getting to the point of being releasable has been very rewarding. Slimming down our MVP, we are able to give you what we have today in less than 15 hrs worth of developer time. Really, most of that time has been spent reviving my web designer skills. Yet we're able to give you a product that we're proud of and represents the start of what we hope will be come a rich experience for community-driven event management. Very exciting.

That's it. Kick the tires and light the fires! Create a new event and tell us what you think. We'd love to hear from you. We hope you love hearing from us too, because we plan to keep you posted here with new developments about features, as well as our experimentations in process and technology. Go forth and meet!

Ryan Briones - @ryanbriones