by Joseph Rickert
R user groups are thriving. By our count of events listed on Revolution Analytics' Community Calendar, there were about 441 face-to-face R meetups worldwide in 2013; up 41% from 312 in 2012. The plot below indicates what the activity looks like on a monthly basis.
My take is that user group meetings are doing well because they fulfill basic social and educational needs. I have come to believe that people attend R user group meetings for four main reasons:
- to enjoy themselves socializing with people who have a common and maybe a bit esoteric interest
- to learn something new about R that they mitght not otherwise encounter in their everyday work environment
- to talk about technical ideas in statistics, machine learning and programing that they find exciting
- to feel like they are connected in the R world
This last reason illustrates a curious aspect of in person meetings: no matter how much effort you may put into being connected with email, blogs and social media, in a room full of people who share a common interest you are bound to learn something new.
Looking forward to 2014, what can we do to make next year’s meetups even better? If you are an organizer here are a few ideas that you may find helpful:
- Apply for a Revolution Analytics 2014 user group grant. Even a modest vector level grant can help with building cohesion for a new group.
- Schedule your meetings at regular intervals. The Bay Area User Group (BARUG) tries to meet regularly on the 2nd Tuesday of the month. We are not rigorous about this but keeping pretty close to this schedule helps members keep the next meeting date "in the back of their minds".
- If you don’t already, try varying the format of the presentations. At BARUG we tend to have to have two formats 45 minute long talks and 12 to 15 minute lightning talks. Most meetings have on long talk and one or two lightning talks. However, the most popular format seems to be an evening of several lightning talks. This kind of event can be time consuming to organize, and difficult to run smoothly but members always respond positively.
- Go for as much variety in the content of the presentations as possible It is probably the case that everyone who works with R on a regular basis, even very knowledgeable people, tend to use the same libraries and functions. It is delightful to learn something completely new or to see the familiar in some new setting.
- Vary the level of sophistication of the presentations. R Rock Stars do draw big crowds, however some of the most widely enjoyed meetings have been essentially tutorials. Meetings geared to beginners are essential for growth.
- If you would like to have a speaker from Revolution Analytics please write to us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We can’t make any promises, but if you are close to places where we have offices in the US, Singapore or the UK there is a good chance that we can make some arrangements with enough notice.
If you enjoy attending R User Group meetings then, please consider giving a talk at your local R user group in 2014. Even if you are an absolute R beginner, what better professionally related New Year’s resolution could you aspire to than working towards a short R talk? My guess is that you will find your fellow group members to be very supportive.