Leader of Birmingham.pm [pm.org] and a CPAN author [cpan.org]. Co-organised YAPC::Europe in 2006 and the 2009 QA Hackathon, responsible for the YAPC Conference Surveys [yapc-surveys.org] and the QA Hackathon [qa-hackathon.org] websites. Also the current caretaker for the CPAN Testers websites and data stores.
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In the town hall meeting during the YAPC::NA, a similar question was asked, along with a show of hands as to who was attending a YAPC for the first time. A VERY significant number of hands went up. This I found very encouraging, but alongside getting people along to the conferences, we do need to ensure people get involved and come back again, get inspired and hopefully contact or even create their local Perl Monger group. Similar thoughts and questions get posted both on use.perl, mailing lists and other online forums, so there is obviously interest to keep the momentum going.
I don't know about YAPC::NA, but in the past YAPC::Europe used to make a big deal about a speakers dinner. While the organisers thought they were giving something back to the speakers, in the process they unintentionally created a cabal, where you were only worthy if you were a speaker. Regular attendees were left to fend for themselves. In 2004 there wasn't a speakers dinner and it was more of a free for all, mostly with everyone meeting at the pub or the hotel bar. I liked that. If Birmingham.pm get the bid for 2006 we intend to have an attendees dinner, and I believe Braga are hoping to do the same this year. Toronto.pm had the great idea of arranging both a scavenger hunt and boat cruise for all attendees at this year's YAPC::NA. The social events are a great way for everyone to mix, and have a better chance to welcome in the new perl mongers. They are the events that give everyone a chance to get to know each other, even those that are long standing in the community who have never met, and thus keep people coming back and be more involved in the community. If the newcomers feel they can approach the well known members of the community, then they have an even bigger reason for attending. I know many of us do speak to attendees and encourage them to get involved, or at the very least sign up to use.perl
On reflection there are 3 areas that can be covered. The conference community, the online community and the perl mongers community. Many of us who are in one are involved in the others, but several people only get involved in one. How can we enthuse them enough to get involved in the others? What about those who happen upon one, how do we introduce them to the others? I thought of a few things, and there are probably many others
Organise some attendee evening events. Not all attendees will be there, but if you give them the opportunity to meet people socially, then many will make the effort. Speakers like to meet new people (and get feedback from talks) as much as attendees want to meet the speakers. It doesn't have to involve beer, though judging by virtually every Perl programmer I know, it would be advisable to include it
I'm not sure of the content for a keynote, but at least something that would raise the awareness of the local groups. I would like to encourage at least a BOF session, perhaps with some group leaders to encourage potential new leaders or just a forum to offer and help and advice to existing leaders. It could also to show those who want to know what a Perl Monger is, why it's a worthwhile experience getting involved. The YAPCs are group led, so it makes sense to me to have the YAPCs promote the local groups more. If newcomers are able to get involved at a local level, it may even be motivating enough to see them become a speaker at a future YAPC. At my first OSCON there was a BOF regarding setting up a Perl Monger user group, and it was what inspired me to create Birmingham.pm.
These are only suggestions, but hopefully future organisers might think of them when they arrange future YAPCs. Birmingham.pm are certainly looking for ways to increase the interest for newcomers, and will be looking for what we can do to help them get involved beyond just attending the talks.
While CPAN might be Perl's killer app, I do believe the user community is perhaps it's greatest strength. We just need to advertise it a bit better.
As an addendum to this, there is also something else that I would like to have some established members of the community think about. Particularly those that write books. I've heard conversations and seen threads before now where its been discussed, so it's obviously an ongoing theme. Why don't we advertise the community in all the Perl books available? There are some that do, but there are many many others who don't. There are hundreds of Perl books these days, and only a few seem to advertise the community, whether conferences, perl monger groups or the online communities. If we get people to conferences then at least we have a fair chance of getting them involved, but if they don't know about us, how are we to get them to make a difference. They often don't know about us because they've never thought about being involved in a user group or thought about searching on the net. Some have never even heard of CPAN either. To us it's not hard, we found it, but to many out there, it's not something they've even considered. They do however read books. If you're an author, think about adding something to your book to advertise the community. If you technical review any Perl books, keep an eye out for references to the Perl community. If you don't find any, suggest to the author they include something with a few appropriate links.