Beer-o'clock and sadness..

In my minor quest to visit as many of the UK Linux User Groups as I can, tonight is beer with Lonix - London Linux User Group.

I’ve visited a few LUGs now, including one LUG in the USA, and it never ceases to amaze me how much LUGs differ.

It’s the characters that make up the LUG that heavily influence them of course. Some LUGs have people who are passionate about open source, others are ardent fans of the “bring a box” meet, where others are just big on curry and booze. I’m looking forward to seeing what Lonix will be like.

The great asset and the big problem with LUGs is the membership! People make the LUG, without them it whithers and dies. Mailing lists go quiet, websites are no longer updated, and people don’t meet up. Linux still moves on of course without the LUG. There are individuals who manage to use Linux and Open Source Software quite fine without ever attending a LUG or even mailing their lists.

But with LUGs things can be better. People can share experience, help friends and strangers to make things work and foster a better understanding of Linux. In fact Linux User Groups have helped thousands of people around the world who have never joined or visited any LUG at all. One of the greatest assets most LUGs have is a mailing list. They don’t all have them, but many do. Most of the UK ones do, and they’re often very active.

I’m joined to pretty much every UK LUG mailing list so I see the problems people have all around the country. I also see the solutions that are provided by the members. Time after time I see novice Linux users being told comprehensive solutions to their problems, with years of expertise at their fingertips, there’s the real possibility that they can make Linux work for them.

So how does this help others who aren’t members of the LUGs? Archives is the answer. Most mailing list systems have the ability to archive off the mails sent to the list (and the replies) and make those mails available in HTML format, accessible on the web.

Time and time again I search for the answers to problems using Google and the results frequently contain links to Linux User Groups, more specifically to the mailing list archives of LUGs. I’ve searched for drivers, application configuration assistance, help with crashing applications, solutions to hardware compatibility issues and over and over again I come up with results from real people. Real users who’ve seen the problem I have and have solved it with the help of their LUG.

There’s a problem though. Some Linux User Groups choose to make their mailing lists private. They configure their mailing list so that only members of the list can access the fabulous resource that is the discussions of the members.

One of the most active communities of Linux users in the UK - my local LUG - Hampshire Linux User Group - has a closed mailing list. So much has been discussed in the past and will be discussed in the future which will never be indexed by google, nobody will ever find the nuggets of gold buried in our mailing list. I find the idea that a community of people who thrive on the skills of others won’t let that valuable resource be used by others, immensely selfish. Other LUGs do it, why can’t we.

It’s worth noting (before anyone comments) that I know it’s trivial to sign up to a closed mailing list such as Hampshire LUG, and then trawl through the archives, but the fact is those archives are not available through search engines, and as we all know, google reigns supreme when it comes to searching for answers.

It’s also worth noting that the LUG I mention have a closed list, and a constitution which makes it difficult to open up the archives. However there is nothing stopping them (in my opinion) opening future mails up. It’s incredible that the years of mails that I can see in my browser are inacessible to the potential millions of Linux users out there but that’s the way it is. How sad.