Ben Langhinrichs

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Genii Weblog

Mixed feelings about LotusUserGroup.org

Thu 29 Dec 2005, 11:03 AM



by Ben Langhinrichs
I have not paid a lot of attention to LotusUserGroup.org,  but it has generally seemed like a "good thing".  People I know and respect seem to like it, and have participated in webcasts and forums and such surrounding the organization, so I have had a generally favorable impression.  But today I got a phone call from Scott Treggiari of LotusUserGroup.org  the that I found fairly disturbing.

On the phone call, Scott told me that LotusUserGroup.org was working fairly closely with IBM at Lotusphere and would be doing live broadcasting from on-site.  No problem there, sounds cool.  He also said that they would be putting up a Virtual Showcase with additional exposure for the people with pedestals.  Again, sounds good, and not far off of what we are doing with the Sessions database.  But then he said that by default, you just got your company name and pedestal listed, and if you wanted to buy an upgrade package, your company name could become a URL and you could also have a chance to provide a link to download sales materials.

Buy an upgrade package?  Still, I thought maybe they would charge a nominal amount.  No chance.  It is $750 US to buy the basic upgrade, or for $1000 US you can get a taped interview accessible from your that same Virtual Showcase.  There was no explanation of who this would benefit, and he was fairly vague when asked.  I had him send along a package, and this is just the beginning. There are $2500 packages for "Ask a Guru" podcasts and other sponsorship deals.  The $750 US is only if you buy by Jan. 2, after which it is $1000 US.

I have to say, I am pretty uncomfortable with this.  I have worked hard, and am happy to provide a whole lot of information in our annual sessions database for free.  I have tried, unsuccessfully, to get IBM to simply provide a list of pedestal numbers along with company names so we could put up a Virtual Showcase, for which we would charge... nothing.  I still plan on providing this service, but it is frustrating to find that IBM would rather provide access to LotusUserGroup.org so that they can charge yet another fee to provide information, when we would be happy to provide this and more for free.  I understand that LotusUserGroup.org has a need to raise some money for its activities, but this sounds outrageous.  Also stupid, since the main Lotusphere site has the URLs for free.  This just doesn't seem to fit the spirit of the user group mission to me.  Anybody else have any thoughts?

Copyright 2005 Genii Software Ltd.

What has been said:


412.1. Rob McDonagh
(12/29/2005 11:17 AM)

Wow. That's crazy. I understand that they need to come up with some money, but both the specific service they're charging for and the fee itself seem like bad choices to me. I can't imagine many sponsors will pay that much money to turn their name into a link, when this is a conference full of computer geeks who know perfectly well that Google Is Your Friend if you're trying to find a company's website. Frankly, any company that pays that fee is going to lose quite a bit of respect in my eyes, 'cause it's just plain dumb.


412.2. Ed Brill
(12/29/2005 11:41 AM)

interesting. As part of the Lotusphere core team as well as an advisory board member for LotusUserGroup.org, I'm checking into this...


412.3. Christopher Byrne
(12/29/2005 12:22 PM)

A few years ago, the Athens Area Chamber of Commerce tried a similar approach, asking me to "pay" to include a link to our web site on their web site. Not only did I say no, but hell no! And I would say the same thing here.

I do not see an added value here that would justify the cost. Heck, if one person brought a scanner down to Lotusphere, we as a team could crank out the same thing over Saturday afternoon drinks at the ESPNZone and offer it as a contribution to the community.

Did you notice I said "contribution"? That is because that is what I thought lotususergroup.org was supposed to be, and that it was not supposed to have any revenue ties to "The View". On its face, it looks like this may not be true and I hope that it is not.

It will be interesting to see how this turns out...


412.4. Nathan T. Freeman
(12/29/2005 11:57 PM)

That's just sad.

They've done a good job of getting noteworthy people to participate as moderators on their forums, but the traffic there has been pretty much nothing. After hearing this, it's going to officially be one less.


412.5. Libby Ingrassia
(12/30/2005 01:00 PM)

Hi folks,

Sorry for not chiming in here sooner -- holiday time and all that and I had actually (gasp!) taken some days offline.

Okay, Libby wearing her official LotusUserGroup.org hat here.

First of all, glad to know that you guys have thoughts and opinions about this -- would love to have/hear all of those, both on this topic and going forward. I'd love for you to all feel that you can contact me directly about your ideas and concerns, also. As with anything, I can't always put your suggestions into place, but I'm always interested to hear them.

Second, I'm sorry that this has frustrated/angered some of you. I promise that it was not our intention, as your (the community's) goodwill matters more to us than almost anything -- it's part of our mission!

Let me see if I can set the record a little straighter and earn back our respect from those of you who are upset.

LotusUserGroup.org was started through some of the people who work at WIS Pubs, aka, the publishers of The VIEW. When e-Pro still existed, the idea was to try to get all the media outlets involved (eP, the VIEW, Advisor, searchD, DominoPower, etc) for content, support, etc, but as you know, eP went away and so the folks at WIS were generous enough to provide majority of the financial and personnel and content support up to this point. LotusUserGroup.org is not currently an official non-profit organization, partly because the requirements and paperwork were a little overwhelming. So, we are currently "owned by" or part of WIS -- . We also have the intention to be primarily not-for-profit, meaning that the sponsorships we are charging for (for various things, including the Live From Lotusphere opportunities, e-mail newsletters, Virtual User Group meetings, and other events) pay for our past, current, and future operating and development costs, which include my hourly rate, the hosting for our Web site, costs for Webcasts, other equipment, and other overhead for the time and materials WIS lets us use. (Although I will say that "profit" is not anything to be ashamed of, folks, as you know -- and when we get to the point where we are actually paying for our costs, we may decide to make a profit -- I don't know although it's not the current plan.)

I promise you that while these fees may seem fairly high (and they may be too high -- in which case, you are of course free to negotiate or not participate), they are not going to anything other than trying to recoup the investment WIS has made over the last year and continues to make in this venture. WIS continues to put much more money into this offering than they are (or expect to be) getting out of it.

I'd like to draw an analogy to some other things that media and other companies do around Lotusphere. Last year, for example, e-Pro created the Unofficial Guide to Lotusphere. They sold ads and sponsorships for the printed version of the "magazine" including the "reorganized" showcase listing, which listed everyone who responded to our email, but included enhanced information for those who chose to pay for it. Some companies thought that it offered a value and an opportunity to reach some people in our market, so they chose to sponsor it. Some companies thought it didn't provide a good enough value or opportunity for the cost, so they chose not to sponsor it. That's the way it goes. Each company or business partner has to decide where and how they want to do their marketing/advertising and who they want to support with their marketing/advertising dollars (and their time and effort).

Fair enough. You don't feel as though this audio/video/podcasting "Live From Lotusphere" package meets your marketing/advertising needs. (There are some other companies in our community who do think so, and have purchased these, on the other hand.)

I'm sorry, though, that you don't feel we meet your needs, because I do want your contributions -- time, money, energy, goodwill, and otherwise -- because I think that what we're trying to do is for the good of the community. The organization wants to provide support and help to existing regional user groups, new groups trying to form, and to individuals who live in an area without an active group that meets their needs by offering educational opportunities, chances for us all to get to know each other a little better, time and place for networking -- in short, we want to be a good, active member of the Lotus technology community.

As with anything, however, these offerings cost money -- (hey, let's be honest -- I cost money!) Our sponsors and partners up to this point -- WIS, Connectria, RIM/Blackberry, GSX, TLCC, CertFX, Lotus Certification, Pearson Education, to name a few, are organizations who think that we offer a good service to the community and have a good group of members that they're interested in reaching. And they have found ways of contributing: money, gifts, time, discounts, etc. Here's hoping that you think so, too. Whether that means that you contribute as individuals or companies, or that you find ways to offer discounts to our members or time to moderate a forum, or whether it means you purchase a sponsorship of some kind -- we hope that we offer value to the community and to you.

Thanks for the chance to present our side. Our Live From Lotusphere pages will go up on the site soon, and will include a request for "gurus" to participate in our podcasts -- we hope to contact many of you as participants.

Cheers,

Libby


412.6. Norseman
(01/07/2006 11:25 AM)

While most other IT folks don't tend to subscribe to conservative political and economics views, I'd suspect the market will bear this out. If participation is overpriced, the content will be incomplete and will have lesser interest to consumers, which reduces the value of participation -- a spiral which sooner or later leads to change or demise.

On the other hand, the consistent high value of the Genii Sessions DBleads to it's broad use. I'm sure many other potential customers of development and consulting services have, as I do, Ben and Genii near the top of their list of potential vendors.