It’s Friday, and we’re now in the final three-week stretch of our daily countdown to this year’s Lucene/Solr Revolution conference, and we’ve got one big thing on our minds:  how the Lucene/Solr community has been able to gel so well over the years, and what we are all learning from the experience.  Strikes us that there might be a case study we can abstract from that experience – which would give the learning wider application, outside our immediate community.  But sometimes it’s even more important to reflect on how an experience affects you so that you can keep doing the right things, and, perhaps, avoid doing what’s wrong.  Here are a few things we’ve learned along the way.

Design for the offline experience

This is something that many folks attempting to build community ignore or forget:  if you want to get to know someone, there is nothing like a face-to-face meeting.   We suppose people often ignore or forget this because, in the age of online social networks, we’ve accepted the notion that the virtual meetup suffices in most cases. People may see a virtual gathering as a lot less time consuming and costly.

But in our experience, the costs of going offline are modest given the return (a good ROI), but perhaps the only way to truly discover your community.  The world of political organizing has known and practiced this principle over the last several election cycles.  In fact, a rule appears to be emerging about the relative values between online and offline community:  if you want to create a vibrant online community – and therefore achieve those economies of scale that the world of social networking raves about – you might first want to consider going offline.  It will build the foundation and rapport you need for a real community, and help you figure out the way to stay engaged afterwards.

Design for diversity

When first thinking about planning a community, most organizations make the mistake of imagining that community as a single, monolithic entity.  It’s rare that any group of people could stay together around a single common interest.  Rather, what you see more often is that a group of people stays together because the community serves as an umbrella or platform for many related interests.  In the context of event planning, this principle can be applied in a number of ways.  You can make sure to accommodate for as many conversations and topics as possible.  You can incorporate interactive event formats – ranging from “unconference”-style approaches for the entire event to roundtables at breakouts – to empower attendees to give as much as they take.  Or you can do a combination of the two, as we do at the Lucene/Solr Revolution conference, where we try to provide structure for an increasingly large number of industry conversations while providing enough open space for the meaningful yet serendipitous encounters that participants expect.

Remember your roots

Finally, it’s important to incorporate the philosophical conversational threads that helped bring the community together in the first place.  This is particularly important for communities as they start to grow and begin to find ways that truly enable them to foster diversity in thinking, in content, in style.  Every year we do Revolution, we’re reminded of one of the original threads that continues to bring new people to the event:  open source.  And it’s fitting that we take time to honor open source in this particular blog post.  It was the open source community, in fact, that helped to make offline communities essential in technology markets.  It was the open source community in fact that helped to develop and propagate the use of more open offline meeting formats.  And it’s because of open source that our community has been able and continues to be able to bring so much value to the business community.  There’s a special strength in the bonds that keep us together – forged largely when we meet live and offline each year – and there’s a strength in the diversity that open source encourages.  They both help to accommodate the special use case, the new challenge, or exception to the rule that expands the value and influence of the community.  That’s not only what keeps us together.  It’s also why we are growing.

Come interact with and learn from your fellow community members at this year’s Lucene/Solr Revolution. From networking breaks and interactive sessions during the event to gatherings after-hours, there are ample opportunities to shake hands, share and learn from each other.

Stump the Chump:

Conference Party at the Tipsy Crow:

Interactive Tutorials: