Peter Laudati asks a very interesting question... Why do you or don't you attend a user group? It's all about the SWAG! You know the goodies they give out at user group meetings... software, tee-shirts, and pizza...
Actually this is a really great question to ponder as I am trying to start a new user group (NJUX) myself. Why... why go through the trouble of setting up a meeting place, scheduling speakers and coordinating with other user groups.
Well as Paul Kimmel so eloquently states a lot of it has to do with being around like minded people. There are just certain things you can't talk about to people outside of the industry. And being a consultant, sometimes that is a huge void that needs to be filled both socially and professionally. I think a user group provides a great place to get that kind of interaction. Something you can't get from a web-cast. So yes I am tired after a long day of work and I may even need to boot up after a meeting and burn the midnight oil. But for a couple of hours per month I get the social and professional interaction I need to feel a little less isolated.
And then there are the speakers. Yeah sure you can see them on a web cast or read their blogs/white papers, but how amazing is it to talk to somebody that helped invent SQL Server, WPF, Vista... etc. Being able to interact with somebody so overwhelmingly smart that they aren't working on the current technology, they are developing the next two generations of that technology is mind blowing. Live presentations are by far superior to watching a video or reading an article. It is the difference between TV and HDTV!
So to expand upon Peter's question, why am I trying to start the New Jersey User eXperience (NJUX) group? Well for one thing I think people are less likely to go to a user group meeting if they have to travel too far from their job or home to get there. So I am trying to fill a geographical void for myself as well as others. Secondly, User Experience is so critical to most everything we do and yet it has been given so little emphasis until recently. Let's face it; we can build the most brilliant software that does the most amazing things, but if people are not drawn to using it for its simplicity and beauty it will fail. Presentation matters.
I hope you go to a user group near you. If you don't I hope you think about doing it. Your time is a small price to pay for so many benefits.