iOS Dev Weekly’s Dave Verwer on engaging a community

In 2008, Dave Verwer was just beginning to explore iOS development. For those who receive his wildly popular iOS Dev Weekly newsletter, it’ll come as no surprise that one of his first forays was an app that fostered community.

The app was called “Balloons,” a virtual version of one of his favourite childhood pastimes, where users would write a note on a balloon, attach a picture and send it up into the sky.

Dave Verwer, curator of iOS Dev Weekly

“In the app, your virtual balloon would travel around the world being caught by other users,” says Verwer. “Once caught, users could read your message, add their own, and send your balloon back up. You could track your balloon’s progress around the globe, and connect with other users along the way.”

Today, Verwer casts weekly messages, through iOS Dev Weekly, to developers and iOS hobbyists around the world. What started as a mailing list has evolved into a publication that reaches more than 45,000 developers (and counting!) every week.

In this interview, Verwer discusses what he’s learned about growing and managing communities and how the foundation of any online community is authenticity and a shared passion. Here, he shares critical insights into choosing content that fosters organic readership and builds community.

Start with a gut check: make sure your community has a passion-based shared interest

Simply put, Verwer created iOS Dev Weekly because he, himself, needed it. “I subscribed to a handful of other newsletters and they were basically community hubs for web developers,” says Verwer. “When I started building iOS apps, there was nothing like that for iOS developers.”

He launched iOS Dev Weekly in 2011 to fill that void. From the start, the community grew fast and hasn’t stopped. It’s clear that there’s an iOS community with a desire for approachable content.

For the people who spend their time developing iOS apps, there’s an insatiable hunger for learning new ways to build better apps, faster. It’s this passion that attracts subscribers to the newsletter and keeps them engaged week after week, he says.

“You must have this foundation for any community,” says Verwer. Strong communities are built around their members’ common interests. Regardless of your product, identifying and catering to users’ shared interests is key. This will drive growth and determine the success of the community surrounding your product.

Be your own community member

For Verwer, it’s easy to be both a community member and moderator. “Maintaining your identity as an active member of the community you’re building is paramount,” says Verwer.

In addition to creating the newsletter, Verwer keeps up-to-date in the iOS ecosystem by running his own dev shop. Verwer and his team are always on the lookout for ways to streamline their development process. “I keep tabs on any new developer tools that pop up,” says Verwer. “I often include links to resources that I’ve found useful, or that my coworkers and friends have found useful. Obviously, I haven’t used everything that I link to in the newsletter — there’s just way too much stuff. But it’s important for any developer to be aware of new products and listen to the community when something compelling comes up.”

When choosing content to share, pick what’s interesting to you

Shared content is at the center of any online community. And when choosing content, the most important thing to consider is that you can’t please everyone.

“If I tried to choose what other people found interesting, I’d just get it wrong,” says Verwer. “So I share the articles and content that resonate with me.”

“The newsletter comes from me, because the content is gathered from a personal point of view. And I’ve deliberately branded the newsletter to reflect that.”

That authenticity comes across to newsletter readers. With this perspective, he gathers content from a meticulously maintained set of RSS feeds (that provide him with at least 250 new articles every week).

Automate where you can

Maintaining a weekly newsletter means Verwer is always under a deadline, so he says it’s important to make use of any tools that help him scale his productivity.

As far as actually compiling the newsletter itself, Verwer identified a product opportunity after years of manually sourcing and gathering content, formatting, publishing and sending.

His new service was built out of necessity, and was originally intended for Verwer to be the sole user. It was built by Verwer and his team to automate the process of compiling their weekly newsletter. Although, Verwer says “I definitely wondered if this might be useful for other people”. So, after a few months of using it internally, he opened it up all those in the business of creating newsletters.

Also know what you must do manually

While automating helps his workflow, there are other parts of Verwer’s process that must always be manual.

First, sourcing content must always be a manual process. Creating meaningful content is the driving factor for growing and sustaining community. A trend Verwer’s seen first hand with iOS Dev Weekly and now with many of the newsletters people build using curated.

Having published 319 issues of iOS Dev Weekly, Verwer has gotten very good at skimming headlines and articles to find content. But this process will always be manual because a human is generally going to be better than an algorithm at quickly sensing whether a post is interesting.

“Dynamic content drives communities. And the only way to foster organic readership is to deliver genuine and relevant resources,” says Verwer.

Verwer’s team have integrated a huge amount of readers’ suggestions into both the newsletter and the platform. Every bit of feedback is important to Verwer and his team, and every piece is carefully thought over. More than anything, suggestions from the community fortify Verwer’s already clear product vision, helping his newsletter stay vital.

Stay relevant by constantly exploring topics that matter to your community

Verwer attributes the success of his newsletter to it remaining relevant, which he ensures by constantly iterating on his sources. “It’s definitely something I have to pay attention to, so I’m always tweaking both my set of RSS feeds and who I follow on Twitter,” says Verwer.

“iOS development is a constantly evolving, and new voices emerge all the time,” he says. “It’s important to change the set of people you’re linking to, to make sure you’re evolving as well. I’m constantly following new people and just listening to the community.”

At the end of the day, says Verwer, online communities are microcosms of society, with unique characteristics and lots of dynamic attributes. He says staying on top of relevant trends is a key part of maintaining any community. That takes work, and constant iterations, but it’s also deeply rewarding.

Just like any other shared interest, iOS development is something that lots of people love to do. For Verwer, it’s a great privilege to bring like-minded people together and help build the community.

To join the 45,000+ iOS developers who receive a hand-picked round up of the best iOS development links every week, subscribe to iOS Dev Weekly here.

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