Web Communities: For the People

I’m a believer in the power of communities. I’ve had some first-hand experience of the positive effect of communities through my involvement in Mobile Monday. A set of loosely connected (and highly diverse) free mobile industry events, it grew into a global phenomenon, created lasting relationships, spin-off events and meet-ups. Through Mobile Monday, I got to understand the value of connecting local communities of practice, of acting locally but thinking globally.

That’s one reason I was very honoured to be able to participate, along with uve and Peter from Team Samsung Internet, in an event that brought together some of the web communities and meet-ups from across the UK and Ireland (organised and hosted by Google’s Rupert Whitehead).

We were joined there by developer relations representatives from Chrome, Mozilla and Microsoft, but much more importantly by the organisers of over 30 web technology communities and meet-ups. These meet-ups are most often free or very-low-cost to attend and are not run for the profit of the organisers, but because the organisers are passionate about community and passionate about the web. The word “passionate” is often over-used in this industry but you honestly do have to have some sincere passion for a topic to put your own time (often evening and weekend time) and energy into running community meet-ups.

The focus for the day was on getting to know one another so it was appropriate that we spent the whole morning engaged in one-to-one discussions in a kind of “speed dating” format orchestrated by the inimitable Alex Lakatos. We got to meet people leading these communities and they got to know each-other.

When it came to hear from browser dev rel teams, the themes were no surprise: Progressive Web Apps, web performance, use of emerging APIs and general promotion of the open web.

Another highlight for me was hearing what is going on with technical communities in the UK government from my friend at Government Digital Service Jane O’Loughlin and her colleague Jenny Duckett. Jenny also channelled the wise words of Anna Shipman for us, so that we don’t forget the overlapping set of concerns around community and open source (especially important for the web, which is made up of open standards and relies on open source implementation).

How to engender and build diverse and inclusive communities was another key topic that came up again and again throughout the day. We are on record with our approach to encouraging greater diversity at tech events. That post, and our current policy, was based on a similar policy put in place at GDS whilst I was working there. GDS has gone on to announce a new initiative this month to encourage a new generation of tech speakers to come forward with a special focus on diversity. They are taking a kind of boot camp approach to getting people comfortable with public speaking and giving them the skills and tools they need. Codebar, presented at last week’s event by Jo Franchetti, is a network of tech meetups that also tries to address diversity and inclusion by encouraging people from under-represented groups to learn programming.

So at the end of the day, what did we end up with? Quite a lot, actually. Out of this initiative, we now have a Slack channel, a GitHub organization and a very active set of conversations. And most importantly, we have a web page, which is currently hosted at webcommunityukie.github.io but may get its own domain soon (and which is a progressive web app, thanks to the efforts of uve). In short, we have the beginnings of a community.

Thanks to Rupert for organising and hosting us at Google and thanks to all the community leaders who made it down to London for the day. We learned a lot and we look forward to working with web community organisers as we all keep building the web together.