Top 10 Online Communities for Technologists

To understand how deeply social media has become engrained into the heart of modern Web and even world culture, you only have to imagine the world in the year 1999 where there was no MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, or Meetup, and the only social spaces online were creepy Craigslist encounters.

The few communities that existed were mostly open source development projects and loosely organized Craigslist groups full of skeptical and suspicious characters. Funny enough, Craigslist’s reputation has not changed. Everyone knows that the best way to meet crazy people is to create a Craigslist posting. We began seeing semblances of social networks and communities only in approximately 2002 when LinkedIn officially launched. While it is impossible to list all the communities, in this post we’ll cover 10 of the best.

LinkedIn

This was the first site that allowed people to keep a professional rolodex to help users foster their own professional network. It was one of the pioneers in social and community web, and it maintained a rapid growth. One of its great strengths is that a person’s identity is validated by their connections. This has resulted in comparatively very few mal-uses of the site and is a very forward-looking concept.

Over time LinkedIn has also fostered the growth of its own internal communities centered around technologies or business domains. Yet while it is all social, LinkedIn is generally for professional use and people needed something a little more social and fun in nature.

Facebook

Part of the collapse of MySpace was the superb user experience of Facebook. The ads were small, interface clean and intuitive, and most importantly people had more privacy options. It added a trust and comfort factor, and likely forged the way for Meetup.com.

Meetup

This was the first social site that facilitated an atmosphere for people to still communicate online, but also get together offline and form small communities typically around a common interest, technology, business initiative, or just to learn something new. There are many great meetup groups but I can only talk about a few of note.

TechAviv

New York and San Francisco have great meetups with thousands of members who come together to network, see great presentations from new companies, and sometimes forge relationships and begin working together on new venture as partners. There is one incredible example of an entrepreneur meetup that has transcended location and become global. It is called TechAviv and was started in New York a few years ago by Yaron Samid who is a successful entrepreneur, and has grown to be a global community of investors, entrepreneurs, and executives to help new American and Israeli start-up technology companies. While working on my MilderWilder venture this meetup has been the single best place to get connected with high-level executives.

Java Groups

Whether in New York in San Francisco, there are two outstanding groups — the Java programmer group and the Semantic Web groups.

The Java groups are great for all engineers. They are free and sponsored by great companies who even provide pizza and drinks. It is a great place where people can meet monthly, learn from each other’s projects and forge long-term relationships.

Semantic Web Groups

The Semantic Web groups are also a great place for engineers and people interested in new technology. Because it is such a niche and complex space they tend to be most closely knit groups with members often going out together after the events, brainstorming projects and helping each other however they can.

In a way, meetup.com has become the new happy hour where people can get together after work and discuss topics they like and meet others with similar interests. In fact, your humble writer’s company Semantic Valley was founded by the members of the semantic meetup.

Blogs

Some people still ask, “What is the point of blogging? Is it just to write my own opinion?” Funny enough the answer is a kind of a yes, although blogging is just not about talking. It is about engaging others and entering into conversations and also listening. And through consistent engagement, a community is formed. Blogging has been around for almost ten years now and it has been growing in popularity reasonably well, yet the advent of Twitter really propelled blogging into a whole new level of recognition and popularity.Of the zillions of blogs, check out this one: @garyvee has a great video blog where he teaches people how to taste wines and makes it very fun. http://tv.winelibrary.com/

Twitter

Twitter burst to the scene in about 2007 and became the center for micro-blogging. While many people just Twittered on their own, others began creating little communities. There are now major communities around business, entrepreneurship, social media, and technology. It has been fascinating to follow many incredible people on Twitter and observe the conversations that go on between others. For some it’s the ultimate gossip center. For others Twitter has become the place to learn from, and even interact with amazing people like Bill Gates, Google CEO Eric Shmidt, or Jack Welch, the former CEO of General Electric.

(Disclaimer: None of them have so far returned my tweets.)

Twitter has become a great place for investors, entrepreneurs, marketeres, technologists and those who have always dreamt of participating in those circles, to come together into one jumble. While traditional elitist investor manner has not disappeared, the playing field has been somewhat leveled and if one plays his cards right, he can regularly DM (direct and private message) with some of the biggest fish out there. The current hierarchy looks like this: on top are some of the big and highly respected business people like @fredwilson, @jeffpulver @sacca @sgblank and even the “outspoken” @davemcclure. Around them are successful entrepreneurs like @garyvee @cdixon and @kevinrose just to name a few. Of course, there are also the writers and major bloggers/publications like @TechCrunch @arrington @marshallk and @readwriteweb.

There are also the celebs who have someone else tweet for them, spammers who call themselves marketers, and the social media experts. Everyone else who does not belong in the above groups making up the bottom of the pyramid and just enjoys listening in, and on some days chiming in. It is definitely the most uncontrolled, fun and full-of-possibilities community out there.

#140conf

This is a meetup that has become global, taking place in New York, Los Angeles, Boston, Philadelphia, Israel, and a few other places. Its purpose is for entrepreneurs, technologists, bloggers and others involved in social media to come together and finally meet off-line after working being in contact online. It brings together people from different walk of life. While some know each other because of the proximity professional involvement, others meet people they would have never met otherwise.

The meetups are always full of great speakers who are CEOs or other types of leaders within their field. They typically discuss how social media has benefited them. Stories have ranged from people finding communities to get support while struggling with a job search, helping created philanthropic projects, or simply promote their business or creative works. They are always lively, inspiring and educational. In fact, Jeff Pulver commonly refers to the discussions on Twitter as representing the “state of now” when taken as a whole.

MySpace

Sure, MySpace is a rapidly fading site, ruined by Newscorp, a deluge of ads, and an unorganized user interface. But it is important to recognize them for their leadership. They helped most of us find the old friends (with whom we now keep in touch with via Facebook), see their vacation pictures (a popular MySpace pastime). For most people it was the first place to gather all their friends in one place and keep in touch. Unfortunately, after their acquisition by Newscorp, they things began to go down hill.

2010 and Beyond

Our identities are becoming so defined by the communities we belong to that the ability to be anonymous on the web almost no longer exists. You are always identified by your screen name or email and our online community personas are joining our offline personas in that everyone is responsible for their offline actions as much as they are in their everyday offline life. The consensus is that this will improve the Internet and help it evolve into a place where we are a true global community where everyone treats its members kindly.

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