INETA: Big Growth, Big Help
By Elden Nelson
If you're a .NET developer, you've probably at least heard of INETA - the International .NET Association. What you may not know, however, is how large it's become (469 user groups, with more than 131,000 members as I write this). You also may not know how quickly it's grown - INETA is celebrating its second birthday this month. And, most importantly, you may not know what INETA is doing or why it's seeing such great success. I caught up with Brian Loesgen, President of INETA, to find out what INETA's doing for user groups around the world.
Why would a local user group want to join INETA?
We provide them with a lot of resources. Perhaps the greatest of these benefits is the Speakers' Bureau. We have a star-studded roster of approximately forty speakers (in North America), where INETA picks up the cost to fly these well-known speakers to user group meetings. We pay their travel expenses and an honorarium, and provide pizza for the user group meeting.
We also act as a useful conduit to third parties. A good example of this is the "Winter Warmup" we've done a couple times. Vendors send us materials they want to get into the hands of user group leaders - books, software, and such. INETA then contracts with a fulfillment house, bundling and shipping these products to user group leaders to raffle off, thus drawing members to meetings and building the community. It's a great way for vendors to raise awareness of their products, and for user group members to get some cool free stuff. It's been wildly successful; we plan to continue that program.
Brian Loesgen: President, International .NET Association (INETA)
We also leveraged our third-party connections when we built a page on the site any INETA member can go to get discounts on software products, training, books, magazines, hosting, and so forth (http://www.ineta.org/DesktopDefault.aspx?tabindex=2&tabid=15).
Another program we launched in the first year was the user group leader conference. The idea behind that was to bring a bunch of user group leaders and volunteers together for a peer knowledge exchange. They can talk about how they run their groups - what works, what doesn't work - and how to make their user groups more successful.
In the early history of INETA, it seems most user groups were based in North America. Is that changing?
In our first year, we were just getting started. We were laying the foundation, designing and executing the programs we wanted to do. It was in the second year that we really started putting the "I" - the international - in INETA. We had things running well in North America, and were starting to get pleas to do the same thing internationally. I expect to see a real up tick in the number of international groups in the months ahead.
I've also been involved personally with the Asia-Pacific region, and I believe that's going to be one of our next major areas of growth. In fact, we're starting to see it now.
In which countries or areas is INETA seeing rapid growth?
Interestingly, rapid INETA growth in an area doesn't necessarily map to rapid adoption of the .NET platform in that area. That's because we're volunteer-driven. So if we have an exceptional core of volunteers in an area, INETA sees strong growth in that area, regardless of how .NET is doing in that country. So outside the US, INETA's two most mature geographies right now are Europe and Latin America. INETA in Latin America just started in 2003, but is already growing very rapidly.
It's a lot of fun to see how differently user group meetings happen in different countries. In one country, they tend to hold most of their meetings online, instead of in person. In Latin America and India, they tend to have very large meetings - they'll have a thousand people at a meeting, which is unheard of here in North America.
Suppose I'm a local user group leader, interested in joining INETA. What do I do?
You'd fill out a request form on the site (http://www.ineta.org/DesktopDefault.aspx?tabindex=0&tabid=19), then somebody from User Group Relations would contact you and help you get started. That's really about all there is to it, then we can start funneling resources your way.
Does INETA do anything to support smaller user groups?
That's actually one of the good things about INETA - we don't really differentiate. Whether you're in the San Diego user group with more than 100 members per meeting or in a small group in a small town, we still send top-name speakers. An interesting example of that was a while back in New Orleans, where the local user group was meeting during Tech Ed. We had arranged to send a speaker there. The six members of the INETA board decided to drop in ... effectively doubling the attendance.
What's on the horizon for INETA in 2004?
A new Web site - this won't be just a new design, we'll be providing lots of new functionality to the community via the Web site. I can't go into specifics yet, but there are some very interesting ideas being batted around on how we can better engage with the community, how we can be a better resource for developers. Also, we expect huge international growth.
The whole reason behind the success we're having is the dedication and efforts of our volunteers. We have some very hard-working, devoted people who contribute a lot of their scarce free time to making INETA a success. We just wouldn't be here without our volunteers and all their contributions. It's a great group of people to work with, and we're having a lot of fun supporting the community.
Brian Loesgen is a co-founder and President of the International .NET Association (http://www.ineta.org). He co-leads the San Diego .NET user group, and leads the San Diego Software Industry Council Web Services SIG. Brian is a Principal Consultant with Neudesic, a firm that specializes in .NET development and Microsoft server integration. He is a co-author of Professional XML, Professional ASP/XML, Professional Windows DNA, Professional ASP.NET Web Services, and Professional VB.NET Web Services from Wrox, and is currently working on the BizTalk Server 2004 Developer's Guide, due in 2004. Brian can be reached at mailto:[email protected].
Elden Nelson is editor-in-chief of asp.netPRO and its companion e-newsletter, asp.netNOW. Reach him at [email protected].