Sitecore User Groups have been a commonly used way of offline knowledge sharing and socializing for long years and we all love them. However, there are some drawbacks and things that on my opinion could be improved.
As I know, there are many of participants willing to present, but typically in most cases one presentation is taken by people from sponsor, yet one more - by Sitecore employees and whatever remains - by some MVP, while there are only 3, maximum 4 speeches available. Those lucky who manage to get presented have to artificially adjust to ~40 minutes format extending their speech time frames, while in fact the core sense of most presentations can be fit into 15 minutes. In addition, user groups are the rare event, occurring once per quarter.
Another thing is that attendants are socialising only little time during breaks between the presentations, while I know few people are attending only just because of networking. At the same time some of attendees are "switched off". I suggest making user groups more interactive with participants interacting with each other apart from just socializing. Limiting presentation with shorter time frames will allow speakers to better structure their thoughts and allocate time for a bigger number of people to participate.
To address these calls, I am going to introduce and run events of a new format, called Sitecore Discussion Clubs, starting in London and that will run on monthly basis (ex. first Tuesday of each month) and in parallel to existing Sitecore User Groups, not as a replacement. This document describes what is Discussion Club and some basic rules and thoughts, however it may be subject to changes.
What is Discussion Club
Sitecore Discussion Club will be held on a monthly basis and consists of four blocks
1. Light Talks
Each of participants can present anything of his / her recent experience or some interesting aspects of work with Sitecore, that may be useful and interested to the community. We currently tend to limit these talks with 5 minutes, having up to 10 talks during the event. It serves as sort of warmup before major part - Discussion Club. Speech registration opens 48 hours before the event via Discussion Club website, with 10 slots open (first come - first spoken principle), where new participants have priority as they are obliged to present. Every new member of the club must present on first visit the club, that speech actually "opens" (or initiates) the membership.
2. Discussion Club
This is the most important part of the event. Each of participants may suggest a problem he / she currently has for a collective-mindset to challenge, but it's not limited with day-to-day issues. One would probably like to discuss new Sitecore features or whatsoever, if it is interesting to other members to discuss (ex. "can someone please tell in which cases SXA is perfect for greenfield projects and how do I 'sell' it to my client?" etc.). All suggestions are registered at the website, and upon the beginning when the organizer goes along this list - each one has 30 -60 seconds to briefly explain the problem and what is he looking from the discussion to get solved. once finished, every participant votes for topics that seems to be interested (that is done using mobile phone). Then an actual discussions start, from most to least voted suggestions on from agenda list. Each discussion limits to 10 minutes, there is also a mechanism of 5 minutes extension (if majority insist, 80% or more clicking "extend" button on their mobile phones next to current discussion).
3. What If
Is the funniest part of the event, but brings huge value. It is also a collective-mind discussion of unusual, weird or even craziest ideas we can do with our beloved platform. As a good example, I want to share few ideas that came into my head and the one I was trying to implement. The first, is a LunchPad with the live icons showing a progress or any dynamically changeable information, pulled from a Sitecore instance (or behind it), for example showing a progress of a long-running scheduled task, and clicking this live icon brings you to corresponding SPEAK app. I expect, that should be implemented with SignalR or similar technology, but very willing to discuss it in more details and potential traps. Another example is a module I have implemented in 2017, that changes item ID from a context menu - it is a great area for discussion what needs to be taken into account and things to keep in mind, such as child items, changing references to this items, reindexing, links database, etc.). These ideas unlock attendees' creativity and serve as an important source of inspiration and will be shared with Sitecore for considering and potential implementation. This is similar way how Dynamic Placeholder, Buckets and Language Fallback became part of the platform. Who knows what valuable inspiration our enthusiasts will create? Also, I am be seeking a sponsorship from Sitecore for awarding 3 most valuable of "What If" ideas, where award can be anything like free certification on choice, or free SugCon / Symposium entrance of whatsoever Sitecore decides.
4. Hiring, not Recruiting
Is the final simple block. Each member of the club can briefly say what Sitecore vacancies do they have open at the moment or in if looking for a new opportunity - make a brief self-introduction. 3-5 minutes for everything would be enough, I assume. Quick, direct, and no recruiters.
Entrance and attendance
The very first event welcomes everyone who is willing to attend - they all will be allowed and receive Discussion Club membership (but please see "First Event" section below). Then an event registration will be done via website similar to MeetUp, running with minor overbooking, just in case few people are not coming. When event bуcomes mature - new members can join the club by invites from existing member (and they still must present light talk upon first visit). Existing MVPs can attend without any limitations, cannot be denied or dismissed from the club. They also have priority for Light talks (but after newbies of course). Sponsors have another "priority lane" for Discussion Club, however not more than on 3 consecutive events, than they have "chill out" event. However sponsor can suggest a topiс on common grounds to be evaluated and voted.
Venue and sponsorship
The event will take part at sponsor's venue in central London, in 3-5 minutes of walking distance from Angel station (map: https://goo.gl/5p8v7D). Sponsor is also proving the necessary equipment, food and drinks, as normal. Dare agency is currently sponsoring the event, I am currently contracted with them building an advanced platform with Helix and Sitecore 9, they are highly interested in absorbing any of the latest Sitecore knowledge.
Discussion Club unites the most enthusiastic members of the Sitecore scene from London and area, offering them all sharing the experience. Unlike as on the User Groups, we discuss real-life scenarios, and actual day-to-day problems, as we vote for most preferred topic from agenda. We are more engaged, communicate and discuss directly and collectively. All that enables us sharing our experience in interactive, friendly manner at unprecedented level, that becomes sort of Sitecore Community 2.0