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Ask HN: Were you in a computer user group, back in their heyday?
101 points by ohjeez 61 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 74 comments
I'm writing an article about The Golden Era of User Groups, and I'd love your input.

This idea came to me when I mentioned user groups to a young person who'd never heard of them. Oh no! It was such a special time of community support! Let's not permit the memories to go away!

So tell me about your experiences!

The basics: When, where, what type of group, how big it was. Your role, if relevant. (e.g. I was president of one group, VP of another, and on an international board of user groups... you might be "just a member" which is fine!)

Your memories: How involved were you, for how long? What drew you to the user group? What made it special?

Mostly I want to hear stories, anecdotes, and nostalgia. So please share! (And let me know if I can quote you, at least by first name.)

Amsterdam Subversive Center for Information Interchange (ASCII)

It was a group of squatters, hackers, anti authoritarians, non-conformists and anarchists. They proselytised Linux and GNU software. I only visited some of their courses, pretty basic stuff where they would teach about Linux usage, HTML & CSS, some basic programming, etc. The audience was always a motley of social classes and skill sets. The actual members seemed mostly Italian and German (pretty strongly represented in the Amsterdam squatting scene, as I understand it). They were real deal squatters, evac fights with SWAT teams and all. Big fans of XS4ALL (the first dutch consumer ISP, and legendary for its true hacker spirit).

The workshops would always be in these random squats. You'd have to knock on some nondescript reinforced steel door, say a password, walk through 3 floors of rubble, to emerge in a ramshackle room somewhere and learn about memory management in C for 2 hours. It was quite an experience.

I thought these guys were the "real deal" hackers, though looking back it was perhaps a bit form over function. But their dedication to individual agency and resisting authority is something I will never forget.

They shut down in 2006, apparently. RIP.


There was a similar scene in the early 2000s in Madrid. Diverse people, some of them more political, some more technical, some trying to promote free software. I'm not sure why it disbanded, but I got the clear impression that unity was delusional.

Political activists parasyted the free software movement. They contributed nothing, except the wild epic, while they used volunteers' work to publicize their agendas.

I remember leaving a squatted house where Stallman was going to talk, when the girl I dated was utterly disgusted with the hygienic condition of the place and the squatters' children. That was the last straw for me.

I like how you ramble about how the political people contributed nothing without realizing that free software, or at least the GPL, is inherently somewhat political.

There’s nothing wrong with that. The parent is talking about people who only contribute politically (ie activists). There’s nothing wrong with people who contribute free software with political motivations (GNU), but that’s not the people that the parent was talking about.

In the early to mid '90s I was involved in three user groups in the K.C. metro area: the Kansas City UNIX User's Group, MacCORE, and the local LUG (which, according to kclug.org, is still active). MacCORE was the largest and most organized, with dozens of people at each meeting, guest speakers, and promotional items from Apple and other companies in the Mac ecosystem. The KCUUG and KCLUG meetings were more bare-bones and less formal.

I enjoyed the social aspects of each group, but they also had a huge impact on my career. This is particularly true for the KCUUG where I served for a short time as president. One of the attendees saw me speak at a meeting (on managing an NNTP server IIRC) and asked me to do some consulting at a local ISP. They ended up hiring me, but couldn't afford a Sniffer, which led me to start writing a protocol analyzer for Solaris and Linux. That analyzer (Wireshark) now has its own active online community. We don't have any official user groups, but we do have conferences in the U.S. and Europe each year.

Very cool to hear that Wireshark has roots in a user group!

Personally, I was deeply inspired to start thinking about hypertext publishing after visiting a UCSD Mac User Group as a high school student around 1992 and seeing amazing HyperCard stacks driving multimedia on CD ROM.

I was a kid in an Apple ][ pirate user group in Okinawa, Japan in the early 80's. My Dad was a schoolteacher on a military base there.

We'd meet once a week on Sunday afternoons in the High School cafeteria, everyone lugging in their computers and boxes of blank disks. And what did we do? We copied.

The club had massive binders full of hundreds (thousands?) of 5.25" floppies. You'd "check out" a disk by replacing it with your membership card, make a copy, and return the disc. More experienced members could help you get around thorny copy protection, and people left helpful notes of which copy program worked best.

They would also organize bulk purchases of cloned computers. My first computer was referred to as a "Happle", i.e. a clone from Hong Kong. IIRC we got the computer, a green-screen monitor, 2 slim disk drives, joystick, paddles, some games, and a 9-pin dot matrix printer for $1000. At the time, a regular Apple 2 cost that much for the computer alone. Our clone also had helpful modifications like lower-case letters and built-in keyboard shortcuts. E.g. ctrl-6 would turn into "PR#6" which was how you booted from disk.

There's no way my parents could have afforded non-clone prices at that time, let alone purchasing software. So I'm very grateful for that club, and all the amazing software I got to try and learn from. I learned so much programming from Beagle Brother's tools [1] and had my mind completely blown by the Pinball Construction Set, which Steve Wozniak rightly called "the greatest program ever written for an 8-bit machine."

[1] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Beagle_Bros

[2] - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pinball_Construction_Set

In private elementary school in the mid 1980's, I remember LOGO and Oregon Trail on Apple ][e's. For some reason, I recall the power indicator light on the keyboard (an incandescent bulb?) would have a cover that would be missing or burnt away, and hot and sometimes painful to the touch. Oh yeah, I went to summer school once that had Pinball Construction Set.. it was one of the first open-ended, sandbox-type games, a kind of "spiritual predecessor" to The Incredible Machine series that really did UX well.

Both ComputerLand and Radio Shack sponsored computer and robotics groups in Gillette Wyoming from 1979-or-so, but I lived far from town so wasn't able to attend much of it. I did hijack the local 4-H club with Popular Electronics projects and ideas from Byte magazine. Until the IBM PC and Mac, everything was 8-bit. Again, everything was remote, so I ended up getting into Apple-Cat modem tricks (phreaking), running a BBS, and later (1983??) getting a used PDP-11 and running UUCP (email and Usernet), for quite a few accounts for that quadrant of WY for a while (using a Trailblazer 9600 baud modem - I had to mow lawns for 6 months to buy that thing).

I'm sorry that I don't have many UG stories, because everybody was so far flung, it was hard to be intensely (or interactively, at least) social about it!

By the time I got to college (RHIT - Rose-Hulman), it was all men, all engineering, all the time, so there wasn't much need for an independed UG.

I feel as if I was "in the culture", but not "part of the gang" for much of that period. The WELL started about the time I was finishing up high-school, but it was a lot of fun, and made me sad about what I had been missing out on...

Circa 1984 or so in Silicon Valley, I was a member of ModemCycle.

To be a member one had to own a computer and a motorbike.

It was a small group of very diverse folks, really a fun time while it lasted.

The monthly Paul Revere rides were the most fun, we'd meet around 10 PM at a Denny's somewhere and ride all night during the Full Moon, ending at a Denny's somewhere else around 5 or 6 AM, then home to sleep.

Wonder what happened to them all, great folks!

I was the in the "Computer Club" in highschool, in the late 90's early 00's. In retrospect it was quite amazing that we lucked out, because what happened was a guy who had been working in the industry decided he wanted to bring computing to his hometown, and so left the industry and used his contacts to push for a top-notch tech center in the high-school. It was one of the very first high schools to have the Cisco Networking Academy for example, so many of us had our CCNA before we had even left high school. We were issued laptops and cisco routers... which at the time I thought was awesome but it didn't dawn on me till I was older just how much this one person had done for us kids. It was he who encouraged us who ended up always in the tech center to start the computer club, and do things like compete in the VICA (now SkillsUSA competitions) and we regularly dominated.

It was under his tutelage I first installed RedHat linux, and he would have us do things like CTF's with each of our issued routers/laptops to teach us practical security.

Most of our events we organized ended up being basically LAN gaming parties, but back in that day gaming required you to know some basic networking stuff so it was also used to hone those skills. Once a month we would do all friday night lock in's, mostly playing Half-Life, Team-Fortress, Quake, Counter-Strike, or Unreal Tournament, and sometimes Starcraft/Warcraft. Lots of Jolt soda, mountain dew, and Bawls combined with pizza.

Some really good times that I look back on fondly, and I often wonder what all the guys are up to these days. I'm sure almost all of them ended up in some facet of the industry, but it was quite fun to teach me that you can't judge a book by it's cover. We had jocks playing football and the rest of the time in the computer center with us. We had stoners. We had a handful of girls. It was a very diverse group that broke the sterotype and I loved it.

I really am thankful to that man for bringing the future to my high-school so that many of us had a headstart in the industry ourselves.

This kind of donation is an eventual goal of mine. There are so many other often-well-funded focuses (sports and theatre) and myriad other social activities and distractions during high school that many students never have structured avenue to look into programming or CS though the creative/logical/teamwork benefits are hugely diverse for those who get past the entry barrier of learning a language or framework (even apart from career impact).

> I really am thankful to that man for bringing the future to my high-school so that many of us had a headstart in the industry ourselves.

Unless you know that man to be a private person, you should mention his name.

The Tokyo Linux User Group

I have been running the Tokyo Linux User Group for the last 13 years. The club was started in 1994. I was first involved in 2002.

We have an event once a month alternating between technical meetings were we have speakers and Nomikai's[1] (Japanese drinking party).

Its hard to say exactly how big the group is because we have a lot more users lurking on our mailing list then people attending any given event. Our events attract between 10-30 attendees, and they are mostly different people depending on the time and topic being discussed.

Open source software dramatically changed the way a lot of people used computers. A lot of open source software runs on Linux which made TLUG a great meeting place for a diverse group of people.

1. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nomikai

Wow, 10-30 attendees in Tokyo! It really puts things into perspective how one should measure a user group.

Most of our presentations are in English which is a barrier to many.

That said, around 20 attendees is a really nice size. Its small enough that its easy to host technical meeting or book restaurants but large enough that you have a range of different people.

Oh god, I am tearing up a little.

Do ask https://www.facebook.com/csokonaimikroklub/ for stories.

Starting some time in the 80s (1987? or so), in Hungary (this is behind the Iron Curtain, mind you) there were many community centers. One of them in a rather outskirts district have housed a "micro club" every Friday evening. Yes, piracy was very important because getting legal software was near impossible at that time for the 8 bit computers. But it was a community and later when we grew up many of us staying with IT we learned a lot from each other... I believe it stopped in 2005 or so and then rebooted in 2014 as a retro computing weekly meetup.

Please post the article to Hacker News when it's done! Email us at hn@ycombinator.com and we might be able to give you some tips.

Oh heck yeah! Look, I'd post it to HN even if someone else wrote that article and I just found it somewhere.

Though of course, if that were the case I'd be cussing at how much they got wrong. :-)

User groups provided assistance, shared knowledge, and shareware software before there was the Internet.

I attended a PC users group at Stanford during the late 1980's. Mostly product announcements and demos. A lot of I did this, you can do it too! People selling shareware software on 5 1/4 inch floppies for a dollar: text editors, simple databases, games. People were welcoming to newcomers, and helpful. IBM clone PC computers cost over a thousand dollars without hard disks.

I also attended a couple of meetings of the Homebrew Computer Club at SLAC. Mostly ego boasting. I missed Woz showing the Apple I.

Some of the BMUG CD roms and a huge batch of user group newsletters are on archive.org.

If you are in Silicon Valley, there is a Vintage Computer Faire West on August 1-2, 2020 at the Computer History Museum. Lots of personal collections on display, and CHM has lots of unique stuff. Demos of operational DEC-1 (Space War!) and IBM 1401s (card readers, line printers, tape drives from 1959). http://vcfed.org/wp/festivals/vintage-computer-festival-west...

Can quote: Randall

I led PFIG, the Potomac Forth Interest Group, in the early 1980s. Some said the P was silent; others said the F.

We met monthly in a rec center in Arlington, Virginia to present member projects and discuss Forth topics. After the meetings, we would cross the street to continue our conversations at a Pizza Hut. Our roughly 30 members came from Maryland, Virginia, and Washington, DC.

Most of us were running some variation of FIG Forth on Z80- or 6502-based computers. Presenters would lug in their Commodore PET, Apple II, TRS-80, Kaypro II, Atari 800, or other bulky computer and monitor.

Most projects were pure Forth software; some involved hardware connected to serial or parallel ports. I recall several variations of Forth data structures mapped to disk blocks. There was a Prolog implementation in Forth. I have many of the handouts buried in storage somewhere.

On the hardware side, Forth translated English text into allophones and played them through Radio Shack's Archer SPO256 Narrator speech processor chip connected to a small amplifier. The system read Lincoln's Gettysburg address clearly until one of the 8 parallel port wires came loose. Demos!

Washington Apple Pi in the mid 80’s. Had no idea that would be thought of as a ‘heyday’. I was in high school and used it mostly as a group of people to get software from...shareware and... otherwise.

There were also some fun bbs games like TradeWars 2000, of which nothing like that exists today. I remember racing home from school to see if there were still colonists left on Earth to take to my planets.

Back in high school, my friends and I used to use the computer lab with Macintoshes to play Netrek (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Netrek). We weren't supposed to be playing games, so we'd pick the computers furthest from the door. When a teacher or lab assistant walked in, they'd hear N simultaneous dings as the N of us all mashed that reset button on the side of the computer.

Not club related, but I also got a talking to when I printed a 300 page book on the laser printer when printing on a single page was more than 50 cents. And then there was the time I crashed the lab because all of the journalism class students were logged in with the teacher's creds and I decided to see what would happy when I changed her password.

I helped form the NeXT user’s group at BYU in the early 1990’s. I was the NeXT campus consultant. IIRC we hade 15-25 people who met, I want to say weekly. Wednesday evenings I think. I was involved for two years, until I graduated.

The nice thing about our user’s group is that it drew both students and faculties, NeXT building fairly powerful workstations.

My primary role was to be the “crazy NeXT rumors guy” before John Moltz made that an internet thing. I would spend five or ten minutes every meeting providing comedic relief, talking about funny things NeXT would never ever do (warp drive, Bill Gates Terminator drones) plus one thing that I knew fairly certainly that they were actually doing. I would make members guess which rumor was actually true (which wasn’t all that hard).

I'm curious how many NeXT machines were on campus? Where did they end up (which depts)?

Funny, I don’t really remember. We had one prof from the music dept, and I think he had a number of them. I think a few in the “engineering technology” department, a few in graphic design. Kind of scattered. The CS department, in which I was a student, had none. We also drew members from the local community.

My Dad was (I was 6 and would tag along), in 1980-84 or so. It was a group of ~20 other guys, probably the only other Atari 800 owners in a 50-mile radius. They would get together once a month to show off new peripherals, pore over type-it-yourself BASIC programs from magazines, brag about high scores in Centipede, and of course, copy floppies. It was equal parts hobbyists club, amateur mutual tech support society, and den of piracy (though it wasn't called that yet).

Here's my story. There was one guy in the group, George, whose basement was entirely filled with cardboard banker boxes. Some of them were packed with 5 1/4 floppies, and many more were Xeroxed documentation (both for defeating "look up the thing on page X" anti-theft, and just being able to use the software). By '84 I would guess he had 50k-100k disks, which probably accounted for a good percentage of the total software an Atari could run.

The amazing thing about George was, he never actually used any of it. He disliked games, and didn't really need business apps. He would get disks in the mail (he used BBSes to meet other enthusiasts, but mostly traded via USPS), fire them up once to see if they worked, file them away alphabetically, and never touch them again except to make copies for others. He just liked collecting, or maybe hoarding is the right term.

Anyway, it's my private theory that the whole edifice of pre-internet piracy would've collapsed without people like George. Of course, people would've still copied games with each other, but the 'scene' where you could find almost anything, including older and less-popular wares, relied on completionists pirating for the sake of it.

Hi, I was not in on the very early days of User Groups, I joined my User Group, the Oklahoma PC User Group (OKCPCUG), in the early ’80s and I do remember my club having hundreds of members and meeting in an auditorium for our General Sessions. This club was one of the original ones formed that had IBM in its name. It was later changed to OKCPCUG due to a possible lawsuit from IBM. Microsoft, WordPerfect, and Adobe were the headliners. They gave presentations that drew the hundreds and provided wonderful giveaways of full versions of their software. You could always expect the introduction of new versions of their products would be a big event. Much like the way Samsung and Apple launch new hardware today. We had more than a dozen different SIGs that touched on every aspect of computing. Our club offered classes that were always full usually having a waiting list. Bill Gates and Steve Jobs were treated like rock stars. The club is still in existence with a much smaller membership roster. The reason, no freebies and an older and dying members.


In Hack Club (https://hackclub.com), we are helping students start the modern equivalent of user groups in high schools. Hack Clubs are in 2% of US high schools right now across 35 states and is now also in 17 countries, with about 10,000 students attending clubs and hackathons each year.

I started it 6 years ago when I was 16 and reading about early hacker culture and the original user groups, desperate for a community. Hack Club is a nonprofit, donor-funded, and completely free for everyone involved - also nearly everything is open source at https://github.com/hackclub.

I was associated with a capacity planning user Computer Measurement Group (https://cmg.org), also UK CMG and CMG Australia from the early 1990's. CMG and UKCMG are still going strong. A group of CMGA members still meet socially every once in a while.

Once I had done my initial on-the-job training, these groups were an essential way to keep my skill levels up and keep in touch with a group of national and international highly specialised IT professionals who worked across mainfame, mid-range and now cloud environments.

Presenting at user conferences was a great way to share experiences and maintain a profile in the industry.

You can quote me.

I used to be in the "Triangle Linux Users Group" in the early 2000s -- it seems they are still active! https://trilug.org

Back when running Linux on the desktop was a full time job, it was really cool to have an in person network to talk to when your latest kernel compilation bricked your system or whatever. It was also cool since RedHat is based in the Triangle we'd get people from RedHat coming to the user group all the time and could get all the dirt on them.

BMUG (Berkeley Macintosh Users Group) should be on your radar. I was a passive member but it got me into the computing industry working for a well known Mac networking company at the time.

An important Google developer who created a product most of you use was a BMUG member, as was a current Siri developer, a former head of MacOS ... devrel IIRC, and others. BMUG probably deserves some credit for my own 20 year career as a programmer.

BMUG here too. The newsletters (dead-tree encyclopedias) were amazing snapshots of the aspirations of 90s tech, very glad I kept them. There's an article about "creating your own Web pages", from 1995!


I'm familiar with Stanford having a similar group, SMUG, and although I wasn't a member, it looks like they still exist : https://www.pa-smug.org

I started the "Oric User Group" in Perth, WA, in 1983. We met about 6 times, each time mostly spent trading tapes. I had a dual-cassette boombox that was seriously pushed into service, and we also had "type-a-thons" where the more competent keyboardists among us would type in magazine listings, which others read aloud.

Was pretty fun, but soon enough we all started meeting on BBS'es, and moved to other systems, and I got on the Internet and discovered ftp and gopher and usenet. The physical meetings didn't seem relevant at that point.

Then, in the 90's, I got the bug and started a few other user groups, mostly oriented around digital synths and other studio gear. We used mailing lists to keep everyone organised and for a while there were tens of thousands of us, on various lists, discussing all kinds of things. Lists seemed to work better than USENET - not everyone that could set up mail somewhere had the chops for NNTP ..

Some of the folks from these groups still meet up for a jam every few years .. its indeed been a situation that we've all grown up together.

And of course now its all been replaced by social media and the big guns. Some of our members went on to be quite famous and don't quite have the need to cahoot with the riffraff, others have gone on to do other things, and indeed .. some of us have passed away.

I suggest you put some contact information in your profile so that people can get in touch with you outside of HN. People here use aliases because they enjoy anonymity.

Thanks. Done. I actually thought it was there already!

No, but one of the more surprising things I learned this election season was that Beto was in a hacker group.

Didn't strike me as a computer guy but I guess he is/was?

I was the final president of the Panorama Amiga Club, a division of the Commodore Computer Club based in Vancouver, British Columbia. Our last formal meeting was probably around 2009, although I kept going to lunch on Saturdays with three of the group's members until a couple of years ago.

I was never around for the heyday of the club in the 1980s, when they would rent out the giant auditorium at Simon Fraser University, invite distinguished guests like Jay Miner, and run daisy-chained rows of floppy drives multitasking the mass copying of software. Back then I had a PC-XT that had one color (orange) and one sound (beep), and had heard of Amigas and their thousands of colors and multitasking operating systems only in whispers and legends, as if they were inhabiting a parallel universe much more advanced than our own.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s the group would meet for lunch every Saturday at the Royal City Cafe in New Westminster, near the geographic center of the Lower Mainland. That's when I joined them to start writing my series of articles on the history of the Amiga for Ars Technica.

My first user group was Decus. I still have an original "flea circus" (aka field service) leather toolkit but it is missing the tools.

I'd love to include a photo of the toolkit... even just its logo!

I was active in the Ubuntu Massachusetts Local Community (LoCo) Group from ~2007 - 2009. We had occasional meetups in Boston, did some release parties where we handed out some nice Ubuntu swag, had installfests at the MIT Media Lab, and helped maintain some Ubuntu computers for the community in the South End Technology Center in Boston. I don't remember how big we were, I think maybe a dozen or so pretty active members and another few dozen lurkers? I was disappointed that the group faded out a bit by the time I got back to Boston after college.

Here's a link to our old site: https://web.archive.org/web/20110930172321/http://ubuntu-mas...

I was a member of "The Northwest of Us", which was a play on Apple's tagline for the original Mac, "The computer for the rest of us." It was in Chicago's northwest suburbs (Palatine, Arlington Heights, Rolling Meadows area).

This was during the late 90s, early 2000s. At the time it was a great way to introduce less technical users to the Internet and various computer tools they might not know about.

The thing that eventually made it not worth my time was that as time passed, it was more and more newbies, and less and less technical stuff. They eventually spun off a programmer's group and I pretty much stopped attending the main meetings and just attended the developer meetings.

A typical main meeting was about 3 hours long. It would start with anybody from the audience asking questions and the techies would answer them for about 30 minutes. Then it would be followed by an hour or two of guest speakers doing product demoes or sometimes members of the group presenting something they thought would interest the group. It would wrap up with a raffle that usually included a give away of whatever was demoed.

After going to these meetings for a year or so, it just became too much. 3 hours once a month on a Saturday is a lot of time to spend for what ultimately wasn't much reward. I did enjoy meeting the people who attended, as they were a fairly diverse crowd from very young to very old across a spectrum of different lifestyles - high school and junior high-aged kids, moms and dads, small business owners, etc.

In fact, I had my own small business at the time selling graphics software. One guy I met there was a retired motion graphics artist who had worked on news and talk shows in the 70s and 80s before they used computers for that! It was fascinating to hear him talk about the methods they used to use. I do miss making those sorts of connections, but don't miss the hours of boring product demoes.

I lead a 42 year old Mac User Group still going strong. https://www.wap.org/ I have a short video clip of Walt Mossberg waxing wistfully about how his tech journalism career started with early Pi sessions swapping components and software. May I share that with you?

Jonathan Bernstein


It was quite a thing back in its hey day.

Had a shop front, a regular magazine, hosted a BBS, and held regular meetings with door prizes (I think I won a mouse once). When the internet came along they offered isp services and I remember connecting via trumpet winsock and then Netscape navigator.

I was just a kid at the time, but I still remember reading through the magazine when it came, and I think I may have attended some of their training courses as a kid amongst the adults.

I don't know if they were affiliated with the computer fairs (semi regular events held in schools and community halls where everyone came to sell/buy computer and tech parts), but they were another pretty central part of the culture at the time.

I was in an Apple II user group in Brazil, mid 80's. It was called "Clube dos Applemaníacos".

Ha, I was in "Clube do CoCo" for TRS-80 Color in Porto Alegre / Brazil, in mid-80s.

Our main focus was CoCo, but a couple of folks had Apple II, and soon MSX started to show up.

(ps: good to see you here! Hope all is well)

I was in the Boston Computer Society. The one really interesting project was a crazy Harvard professor who was installing Mac computers in Eastern Europe after the revolution.

I went over, met my wife at a university, and have been happily married for almost 30 years.

Also re:BCS to get an idea of what a big deal it was in the day they got Steve Jobs to basically reprise his announcement of NeXT in Boston’s Symphony Hall for BCS members.

I was a member of an Apple user group in the 1980s as a young kid. Things I remember:

- someone remarked how sorry they felt for people who had to type on IBM keyboards.

- someone explained the difference between a serial and parallel bus to me.

- only one or two of the adult members had a clue about programming, others were early adopters of various programs. Guidance on how to learn to program or what to buy/read was minimal and unhelpful.

- The leader of the group had cut is teeth on the Lisa and would mutter comparisons about the Lisa when using the Apple machines.

- The group met at the local Apple authorized retailer.

- The early Apple enthusiasts were (in hindsight) pretty cynical about Tandy, TI, etc. In hindsight I really think that was foolish of them.

I’m not old enough to have been around in the day of the original user groups, but I’m pretty active on Meetup these days, finding other developers in my city using similar languages and tools.

Curious to know what the contrasts are of the golden days and modern day.

Yeah same goes for me, I am activr in meetup groups and used to be in a "maker space" for more hardware-oriented stuff. (Toys like drones, 3D printers, Raspberry Pi stuff).

I am curious about the difference as well - my guess is that now it's pretty mainstream so there's no real "group / niche" feeling.

Certainly feel that way about some gaming communities I was in in the early 2000s.

That's one reason I want to write this story!

The shortest answer I can give you is that meetups are usually for a niche interest, such as programming. Most of the original user groups were far more general -- anything about microcomputers (my first group, on an island off the coast of Maine, was run by a guy with an Epson QX10 and another guy with an Amiga), or anything about IBM PC or Mac or whatever. So the demos were pretty wide ranging and had more variety. You'd have someone showing a graphics application one month (Arts & Letters) and a software utility the next (Norton Computing).

Anybody in a modern user group? I know of Homebrew Website Clubs - https://indieweb.org/Homebrew_Website_Club

I guess robotics clubs are still going strong.

Boston Linux and UNIX Users -- blu.org.

Back in the eighties I was the founder (and president for several years) of a Danish user group for BBC/Acorn computers (called Quercus). We included all computers from Acorn ranging from the Atom and the various versions of the BBC and Master up to the new RISC based Archimedes computers. This was before the internet, but we established a BBS and had a lot of fun. We had a reunion a few years back where people could play with a BBC model B and a Raspberry Pi.

I was in two MSX user groups in 1984 and onward in the Netherlands. One was for all kinds of usage and one was for ‘hackers’. I was teaching people at both and learning at the hacker one. It was great fun dragging computers, eprom programmers, boxes with diskettes and sometimes boxes with electronics (like memory chips and soldering irons) to the crappy community house to have a sunday of fun.

I was fairly active in the mid-1990s with a Bay Area group called the Software Entrepreneurs' Forum (SEF, later called the Software Forum, and still later the Software Developers' Forum).

Alan Cooper [1] was running the group at the time, and two of their events stand out in my mind.

Bill Gates spoke at a dinner meeting. Fran Finnegan [2] and Alan and I sat at a front table. In the question and answer period, Fran started heckling Bill about undocumented APIs that Microsoft used in their own apps. Bill said "there are no undocumented APIs in DOS or Windows, and if there were, there's this thing called the publishing industry that would find them and write about them."

I was a regular contributor to Microsoft Systems Journal at the time, so as we were walking to the buffet line after the talk, I introduced myself to Bill. He said, "Michael Geary? I read all your articles!"

Will Hearst [3] spoke at another meeting about marketing your product and company. As part of his talk he showed some TV commercials and commented on them. The most memorable was "Points of View" from The Guardian:


Besides being part of a newspaper publishing family, Will is also a mathematician and at the time was an AWK programmer. (I don't know if he's kept with it, but it wouldn't surprise me.)

Will's interest in math and programming was fairly well known in the SEF community. After the meeting I overheard someone say, "I thought he was going to talk about technical stuff, but it was just marketing." After all, why would you want to hear about marketing in a Software Entrepreneurs' Forum meeting?

[1] https://web.archive.org/web/20190507180438/http://www.cooper...

[2] http://www.secinfo.com/

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/William_Randolph_Hearst_III

I really wanted to go to my local 2600 meetup after talking to them on IRC but my introversion/social-anxiety got the better of me.

Friend of mine introduced me to his friend's step-dad who was a unix guru and I started attending the everett linux user's group for a few years. We had some fun over the years and made some fun projects happen. The most interesting of which was a computer with 3 motherboards and one power supply, and 2 of the nodes would netboot from the first.

My parents were apart the Atari club in Eugene Oregon, US. I grew up with the 16bit, 32bit, the STE and the Mega STE ataris before stopped making them in the early 90s. My parents still have them around. My earliest memories were loading games off of a cassette tape

Claris Works users group was awesome. They published a newsletter with a lot of great content on both the software and desktop publishing in general.

It’s still around in a way: https://www.awug.org/

I joined a Perl user group for a very short time. I live in a rural area and drove a couple hours to attend a meeting. It wasn't at all what I expected. It was basically a Larry Wall fan club.

I have no problem with Larry or fan clubs. They're just not my thing.

FWIW, I think you've touched on a problem with longer existing user groups: they turn into meetings of long-time friends that like each other's company, but have little to do with the original reason of coming together.

3 of us started the Kalamazoo Linux User's Group (KLUG) back in 1998 in Kalamazoo, Michigan. Still going strong today: https://kalamazoolinux.org/

What made you decide to do so? How did you go about it... posting flyers in computer stores, or what?

exactly that actually, we posted a flyer in a computer store, I think it was called "Cybertech" and had a couple ppl show up the first night, then a few more, then a few more. We started having a table at computer shows helping people install linux on their desktops, and finally we ended up taking over a cybercafe and converted all of the desktops to linux. You could run a web browser, play doom, it was fun.

Do you mean something like these: https://wiki.python.org/moin/LocalUserGroups ?

I'm not looking for a list of user groups. I'm looking for people's experiences with them.

My high school (Leland HS) didn't have a named group, so much as what would be called now an extended hackerspace / "AP computer class" around the mid-/late-90's. It was full of random PS/2 25 and 30, PC jrs and random donations and casts-off. A lot of students were working on VGA/audio demos, code, trading wares and writing joke viruses.

Fond memories of pointless techno-factoids:

0. It's possible to instantly lock-up a system by trying to copy any file to one of the special IBM DOS reserved file names like CLOCK$ or some-such. COPY CON CLOCK$ or COPY CON > CLOCK$ ?

1. The giant capacitors of the linear PSUs held enough charge so you could flip a machine's power switch on-and-off fast enough without it resetting.

2. It was awesome to code on systems with actual IBM VGA adapters, and more challenging to code towards 286's lacking FPUs rather than 486's.

3. Floppy disks were terrible: slow and prone to developing errors if you looked at them disapprovingly. If you wanted something, you better make two copies because looking at a disk wrong would lead to corrupted sectors. Wares was a slow business back then.

4. 10Base2 was awesome so long as no one disconnected the line between nodes or either terminator.

5. There wasn't much open source back then. In fact, the prevailing paradigm led to pointless code hoarding for things that weren't ever going to be products. And, so much was lost and less exchange of knowledge occurred because of it.

6. There were some really artistic coders in the bunch who combined mod tracking and VGA tricks into awesome demos.

7. Oh and we had a "satanist" who I think was trying to troll society as much as possible.

8. I remember writing my own "rawrite" floppy image saver that could copy 5¼" and 3½" disks including DMF disks too.

9. At home, I was probably the only kid with my own computer on a UPS and networked access to an HP LaserJet 4. I remember there was a class where a final (test) could have one (1) 3" x 5" (7 x 15 cm) notecard worth of notes, and so I used WordPerfect and a 0.5 pt font to print out over 50 lines per size and 4 columns of text on each size. Thank you 600 dpi and youthful better than 20/20 vision! I don't think many word-processors (except a publishing system like InDesign or LaTeX) allow text in decimal fractions < 1.0 pt.

Without Dr. Thaw letting kids do their own thing for the most part, I don't think it would've been as cool.

IIRC, Nolan Bushnell visited my AP Physics class, although I didn't understand his significance to tech until later in life.

PS: I was about 6 and was taken with my family to see this random house under construction in the hills that had a castle theme. More enticing that whatever it was about, the steepness of the grade of the street in front of it seemed like a good place to launch a skateboard or see how fast my bicycle would go. :D Years later, I found out it was Woz's house. |-d :-B


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These groups are quite common in some places, actually. They can definitely have some real technical prowess to them, but the "anti-authoritarian and anarchist" image is like catnip for posers and entryists. I think you mostly see these groups in places outside the Anglosphere where the usual norms of civil society are not that well developed, or even understood by most people. So the very idea of average folks meeting together in pursuit of some do-it-yourself education or entertainment becomes endowed with this deeply weird, 'subversive' tinge.

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