A new user group for the new mobile platforms

Before the Internet, Mac and PC user groups provided the how-to information that kept consultants and power users in the know. A new user group hopes to bring people together around "touch computing".
Written by David Morgenstern, Contributor

I recently received an invitation to the premier meeting of the Touch Computer User Group (TCUG). It's pronounced "chug." The meeting will be in Oakland, San Francisco, in mid-February.

It's been six years since Apple introduced iPhone, and today, everyone reading this probably has a powerful touch computer in [their] pocket or purse.

This informal group is intended to help anyone and everyone get the most out of their iPhone, iPod, or iPad. Share your newest favorite app. Ask questions and share answers with others.

I spoke with the organizer, David Schwartz, a long-time Mac consultant in the San Francisco Bay Area. We were both active members back in the days of BMUG, the Berkeley Mac Users Group (I admit to serving a term as chairman of the group's board in the late 1980s and early '90s). The group was one of the world's largest user groups unsupported by a hardware manufacturer or software vendor. It's hard to believe that nowadays, the group had weekly meetings that were attended by 200 to 300 students, business users, consultants, Mac IT techs, and developers.

Schwartz said he wants to get different constituencies of the mobile device community together: consultants like himself, knowledgeable users, app developers and influencers, as well as ordinary users.

"I want to get people to share," Schwartz said. "What killed the user group was the Internet and its virtual communication. But today, people may be longing for face-to-face communication again. At times, just seeing a face [photo] on Facebook just doesn't cut it."

While the meeting will include the usual extensive question-and-answer session and product demos, Schwartz said that the TCUG can't recreate the "glory days" of the Mac User Group experience in the 1980s. It was a different time with a different audience, he told me. Back then, Mac owners who might show up at a user group meeting had spent many thousands of dollars on a new computer, a machine that needed a good deal of effort to understand how it all worked (yes, even the easy-to-use Mac). Back then, there was no Internet to search for reviews and check a technical note, nor was there a Genius Bar at the then-nonexistent Apple Store.

"It was a special time with a special computer, and the people coming to the BMUG meetings were special. Now, there's a different and vastly greater audience--every teenage girl and boy has a smartphone."

Schwartz hopes that the group will attract users of various mobile operating systems. "It will be a forum for people to talk about things that are working and not working. Every meeting will be different."

In addition, he expects that the meetings will offer attendees some information on the societal benefits from mobile technology and apps that can help change the world. He mentioned apps about green energy as one example.

"There has to be a nod that this is worth discussing [in the meeting]. This technology is not just about games and sports scores, although that's a part of it."

Now some might ask why these meetings can't be held within the structure of a BMUG? For example, form an iOS SIG. However, that may not be the best route to success. Here's a bit of history:

When the Mac was introduced in 1984, there were two approaches to the new platform by user groups: the first was by existing Apple User Groups, and the other to establish Mac-only user groups. The AUGs, Apple groups, were well established, some with thousands of members. They printed monthly, or bi-monthly newsletters.

Remember that in 1984, the Apple II was the primary computer at Apple. Mac sales didn't eclipse the Apple platform for a few years.

However, eventually, it was the Mac-only groups that succeeded. They were unencumbered by legacy technology and concerns. There was more than enough information that needed sharing for each platform. The new mobile platforms have their own viewpoint and community, as Schwartz pointed out.

The Touch Computer User Group is a great idea--and about time. I look forward to attending its meetings.

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