Meet a Joomla User Group: JUG London
Sadly this will be the last Joomla User Group interview in this series. But we have one of the most popular JUGs for last! I came across JUG London myself somewhere in 2022 I think, they were doing online meetings and why not join it from abroad? Lot's of other volunteers I know (at least their name) from the Joomla Project also attend the meetings online.
Where is your User Group located?
The Group started life at the University College London, It then moved to the south bank thanks to the kind support of one of JUGLs members, Sean Cottrell, who let us use their business offices and associated infrastructure.
Then when COVID hit we moved to be totally online.
For how long has this User Group been organising events?
It all started in December 2007, and I wrote an article about it in January 2008, which you can still see at our site.
I registered the domain name on the 21st of October 2008.
We set up a poll to ask what date was the best for users and it turned out to be the 3rd Tuesday of every month at 7 pm
I forgot to switch the poll off and, years later revisited it and found the people's choice had shifted to Friday at 9 pm! But we are sticking with Third Tuesday at 7 pm.
I estimate we had around 185 meetings during that time. One the venue was shut, so we did it in the pub opposite, we skipped one month due to sheer work pressures, and I missed one due to illness, Gary valliently taking the lead.
How many people are involved in organising and how many visitors are joining your meetings?
It started back in 2008 with my business partner Joe Palmer and me.
Joe stopped going when he moved jobs.
Sadiq, who also attended the PHP London meetings, also helped out in the early days before moving away.
Then, after Joomla Day UK in Maidstone in March 2009 Gary Barclay and Eion Oliver became part of the team, and now it's Gary and myself who keep the show going.
As for attendance, when at UCL, we could get as many as 30 but as few as 5.
Now we are online, we have never slipped below about 25 but have reached 80 when it coincided with a Joomla release party. As it is all online, we get a much larger international audience.
Are your meetings in person, online or hybrid?
From 2008 to 2019, they were all in person but we always had an online element with international guests demoing live using Skype.
Then COVID hit, and we went fully online.
This has meant a lot more international speakers, and I think a better range of topics.
Back in the days of in-person meetings, we would often just show up and wing it, working the group of people who arrived for topics, and we would do more site fixing in the enclosed meetings.
How did your JUG evolve over the years?
It has grown in topics and reputation. We find more and more people have heard of the JUGL and the excellent library of video recordings that Gary puts so much effort into and is growing in views.
Before COVID we would meet after the meeting in a pub across the road. That was the social time and would often be where most of the business and detailed work would be done.
That aspect is missing from fully online, although if the meeting does end on time, I can sometimes make it down to my local for a swift half.
Gary: It’s always been a fairly relaxed affair with a fair bit of rib tickling to keep things light hearted. Before the shift online, we paid a lot of attention to guest’s issues to resolve. This often took us down interesting avenues of discovery. George was our secret weapon, often pointing out issues with Joomla, setup or hosting…smart chap.
We used to have one guy that came almost every month for a while and every time asked us whether you could use Joomla to create a dating site…became a bit of a meme for us for several years, with new visitors often wondering what we were all giggling about when it was troped out..
The online version of the JUGL needs a lot more prep and during the event requires a bit more input to keep things going, while we get a lot of participants from all over the world, they’re all a little filtered by the meetup tech…normal I guess for online meetups.
What topics are usually/mostly being presented at your meetings?
That has changed over the years, and it has become more focused on developers and extensions.
When we started, it was more basic in its instructions, although we were blessed with George Wilson being a regular at the events, so he could do some deep dives into Joomla 4 as it was developing.
I also like to do a roundup of any Joomla news and events that are on the horizon.
In recent years, I have seen a shift in popularity away from the more chatty meetings and into much more structured and informative meetings.
We try to be reactive, so if there is an extension or topic making waves, we will try to get those people involved online and in front of the JUGL audience.
We also feature upcoming core features often with the developer/Google Summer of Code (GSoC) student involved.
I think that’s what makes the events good is that often we’ll start with something totally unrelated to Joomla, there’s usually a lot of participation in some of those free flowing chats…
We usually follow the format of Talk or presentation about Joomla centric topics, often to do with a release or some Joomla event and then follow up with workshop style demo of an extension or new technology like the new AI stuff that’s hit the deck recently. Works pretty well, then everyone goes for a break while Phil reads the news and then we all reconvene for drinks at the end. Pretty informal and good fun.
What difficulties do you face organising your JUG?
The biggest issue I have is nailing down speakers to say yes and stick to the topic they first suggested! Some do like to change or shift their appearance month after the publicity has been produced, and that can cause some issues.
Obviously, COVID has made a lot of changes necessary but it has been some of the odd events that stick in my mind, such as the day we turned up to use the room, it was full of computer equipment designed for 3d mapping, we had to get another room.
We also had a fire alarm halfway through a meeting, which did make for an early departure and extra time in the local pub.
I remember Joe turning up with a robot one month… Pretty slick, didn’t have much to do with Joomla but was an interesting evening.
We’ve had many great nights lead by many great presenters, Peter from Regular labs one sticks out to me as I missed that month for the first time in about 8 years. By all accounts, the presentation by Peter on what his components could do when you compounded them together, was off the charts… everyone reminded me how good it was for months after that.
What is your most precious meeting?
That's a hard one, but I do remember a few very interesting ones.
One of the first fully online meetings was porn bombed when we gave out the meeting details on social media. That was a lesson learned, and why we don't give the meeting details out on social media anymore.
We had one where the developer who had agreed to do a talk arrived in the UK in person from Brazil! Then, when chatting before the meeting, I found out it was his honeymoon, and he had left his bride for a Joomla Meeting!!
We have had some great meetings where we have been able to fix sites, restore sites and even un-hack sites.
I think for me it was one of the first few that I attended. I couldn’t get over how helpful and friendly everyone was and I remember being struck that everyone was “up to something” helped by this amazing software. That stuck with me, so I stayed for a bit.
Do you need extra volunteers or help?
It would be great if any extension developers or Joomla users who have a topic they want to share would message me, and I can add them to our events calendar and set them up to do a session.
I must thank Gary for all the help and encouragement he gives and SD for her help correcting and putting the events in the official Joomla calendar when I forget.
So please do mark your diary for 7 pm on the third Tuesday of every month in London(online). I hope to see you there.
As always, we’re happy for contributors to participate, there’s a lot to do, especially on the social and promotional side. Where will be trying to improve is in the follow ups to the meetings and presentations to help keep the conversations going. Phil’s been waxing lyrical about improved comms through Mattermost, hopefully that will start filtering through.