The Minneapolis-St. Paul WordPress User Group first met on July 30, 2009. Founded by Toby Cryns and Gillian Reynolds, the group averages 20-40 WordPress enthusiasts each month. They’re able to hold a free event with free food provided by their host and sponsor, The Nerdery, a local tech company employing more than 400 self-proclaimed nerds. After dropping by a meeting we connected with Toby to learn more about the group. Toby has been doing WordPress design and development at The Mighty Mo! Design Co. for six years. Previously he was in politics and sports writing in Chicago and also has two indie rock albums on iTunes.
Q. How did you get involved in organizing the Twin Cities group?
Toby: Gillian and I were singing at Tech Karaoke one night a few years back, and we both had the same idea: “Let’s start a local WordPress user group.” We both share a passion for people as well as an interest in organizing people around common interests.
We got together for beers and black bean burgers over at Acadia Cafe not long after that to sketch out the foundations for the group. From there, we promoted the group through our respective geek networks.
Q. What kind of turnout do you normally get?
Toby: We usually have between 20-40 enthusiasts show up to our monthly gathering. Turnout generally depends on how good of a job we do with promotions. For our initial meeting, we had around 80 people show up, but we promoted the hell out of that one.
Q.WordPress is officially pushing Meetup.com, but you haven’t started using it until just recently. What kind of organizational tools have worked best for you?
Toby: A tool is a tool. Our Google Group does a great job for us.
The Automattic folks are pushing Meetup.com but have not offered us any financial support. I filled out an application in that regard a while back but never heard back. [Editor’s Note: WordPress has been slow to respond to these applications and as of this writing it appears that they’re in the process of getting organized to officially support individual meetups.]
My company has sponsored our recent entry into the Meetup.com world. It is highly unlikely that we will switch to Meetup.com for our discussions, because there are some big logistical questions involved with shifting 400 or so users over to a new (and different) proprietary platform that will require a different login. Most people already have Google logins, but very few have Meetup.com logins.
Q. Do you have any tips for finding speakers?
Toby: We try to leverage our Google Group to find session leaders and experts to share their knowledge and experiences both on the Google Group and beyond. The Google Group is a huge asset for the local WordPress community.
Passionate people have found ways to get involved in the group; we don’t twist arms. From time-to-time, I will put out a personal ask if I know someone who is doing something neat.
Q. Your Google Group seems pretty valuable. Have you had any challenges to overcome with it?
Toby: We regularly have discussions on the Google Group about email list etiquette—things like posting affiliate links and job postings.
As the group’s moderator, I regularly apply my best judgment to what is allowed through to the Google Group. There’s a lot of gray area in managing a community.
Q. You guys have a sweet location with The Nerdery—how did that come together?
The Nerdery was in the user group business before MSP WordPress existed. Gillian is a long-time Nerdery employee. Hosting our first gathering at The Nerdery was a no-brainer, since Gillian had the “in” there, and it has grown into a wonderful partnership. We have entertained some offers to host our gatherings at other venues, but when it comes down to it, The Nerdery has been a great partner. So long as they continue to be a great partner, it is highly unlikely that we will migrate to a new venue.
Q. What do you get out of organizing the group? Why do you do it?
Toby: Our goal with MSP WordPress has always been to facilitate eye-to-eye interactions in the physical world. I believe strongly that digital interactions are not a good way to build lasting friendships and partnerships. It can be part of the equation, but it isn’t the core of how relationships are built. The most valuable part of the whole MSP WordPress operation is the 20 minutes following our gatherings, where everybody stands around and talks. Chatting with people eye-to-eye after our meetings creates better connections than all of the support I have given and received on the Google Group.
I am passionate about people. I like meeting new folks, and I like discussing WordPress. Also, the group has become a great way for me to build relationships with other people who are sharing similar professional rewards and struggles.