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Help from Actuate

H: How has Actuate's community manager helped?

PB: I first met Ray Gans (Actuate's community manager) after starting BirtReporting.com. He contacted me because he had seen what I was up to and was interested in finding out more and it was between Ray and myself that we first came up with the idea of starting a user group. In fact there is a recording of an interview between Ray and myself available for download in the members section of BirtReporting.com. Ray has been instrumental in helping to rally support and resources within Actuate to help us in the areas we needed. For example, he managed to have their designers create a really cool logo for the group and has been blogging like crazy about the first meeting!

H: I believe the London BUG is the first BIRT user group; are there plans for more?

Ray Gans: Yes, one is starting in Paris and another in Southern California. I’ve (just) started a Wiki page on BIRT Exchange which I plan to expand during the next few weeks to help new BUGs get started and to host resources and ideas for meetings. See the BirtExchange user groups page for more details.

H: What's the plus side for Actuate of physical groups rather than virtual communities online?

RG: Physical user groups provide a good mix of business and social interaction. I believe they are much more conducive for building relationships and drawing folks into the action (i.e., one has more difficulty “lurking” in a face-to-face meeting). The benefit for Actuate and BIRT is that people are likely to become more interested/confident in sharing ideas, providing feedback and contributing because of their group affiliation – not only within the BUG, but also within the BIRT Exchange community.

H: BUG came together in only a few months... what was most important in keeping the time scales short?

RG: In Paul’s & Ben’s case it didn’t matter so much because they are very motivated to make their BUG work. In other situations, however, a volunteer interested in leading a user group may not wait too long before something else comes up to attract his or her time and interest. It is better to move quickly and get something established while the potential leader is enthusiastic about it.

H: Do you see a difference between user groups and developer communities and how do you see as your role in creating these communities?

RG: I’d say a user group typically has a larger social aspect. I act primarily as a facilitator to provide support with logistics, arrange speakers, and to promote BUG membership drives and meeting attendance through Actuate’s marketing channels. In time I hope to make BIRT Exchange a clearing house for BUG ideas, resources and inter-BUG collaboration. The end goal, of course, is to make these BUGs self-sustaining over time and to establish strong friendly relationships with them.

H: Although the library itself is in numerous applications, its not the kind of thing people get together to talk about... Is it harder to bring people together to talk about BIRT?

RG: It doesn’t seem to be as difficult to get people’s interest as one might think. In many Web 2.0 rich information applications, presentation of data is key and BIRT provides an incredibly rich set of data visualisation and reporting components that make it very attractive to developers – plus it’s free and open source. Given BIRT’s relative ease of use and its integration with the popular Eclipse IDE, crafting the same functionality from scratch for one’s application generally just doesn’t make sense. Developers like to do “cool things” with their code and exploit the tools they use to the max. The relaxed setting of a user group meeting can be a great place to discuss tips and tricks or to gain knowledge about BIRT and related technologies.

H: A cynical person would say "But this is just Actuate promotion" - How do you respond to that?

RG: I guess I look at it as Actuate promoting BIRT through the establishment of BUGs. While it’s true that Actuate has a strong business interest in its products and services built around BIRT, BIRT is bigger than Actuate. Many ISVs, consultants, systems integrators and trainers are using BIRT today as part of their own products and services, and like Actuate, want to connect with BIRT developers and see BIRT flourish. I’ve already been approached by a couple of these companies who’ve asked for help to host a BUG and I expect more to follow.

H: What's in the pipeline for Actuate's community building in the future?

RG: We’re in the middle of upgrading the infrastructure on the BIRT Exchange community site to better support feedback we receive from the developer community. Going forward we plan to make improvements to the forums as well as reorganise and augment the content found on the site. Our member recognition functionality is being revamped and we’re adding new features such as a blog aggregator, event calendar and social networking feeds as well. I expect things to start rolling out within the next few weeks.

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