Which brings us onto our next target – your LUG's online presence. This is going to be the first port of call for most prospective members, yet the average LUG's web page (if they have one), is usually months or years out of date, full of unfulfilled promises and poor design. In the age of blogging and micro- blogging, it's difficult to consider a LUG where there hasn't been an update since the last "Welcome to 2006!" message. This situation is even more absurd when you consider the amount of computing skill and knowledge that must lurk in the attendees of the average Linux user group.
An active web page is absolutely essential to the well-being and growth of your LUG, and can be used for almost anything, from news updates to hosting archives of previous meetings, photographs and maybe even audio and video files from presentations. The website is your launchpad, and you need to have a member or two dedicated to maintaining it.
In the UK, you don't have any excuse not to have an active website and online paraphernalia like a mailing list and file server. That's because it's all available for free through lugs.org.uk. This is a portal to all things LUG in the United Kingdom, offering domain registration, PHP and CGI-enabled web hosting (with MySQL), a mailing lists and email. You even have the option of redirecting requests to your own server so that your URL is aligned to other LUGs, but we'd recommend the fully managed service if you don't already have an established web presence.
The vast majority of UK LUGs are already hosted at lugs.org.uk, and this is a great advantage over independent hosting because news and announcements are aggregated on to the mail site. The general news page on the main site is a rolling list of news bulletins posted on the various LUGs throughout the country.
This is a brilliant way to build a sense of community and gain valuable exposure, as other LUGs can see what their neighbours are up to in an instant. Many LUGs like to create their own forums, or starts an IRC instant chat channel. You could also use a service such as Google Groups for LUG chat and information.
Finally, there's no reason why your LUG can't embrace the social networking revolution, and create a community on one of the many social networking sites. This has the advantage of being more media rich than traditional communication channels, and is usually more pervasive and immediate, with people keeping in touch on their mobile phones, for instance.
This is worth looking at if the average age of your membership is on the lower side, as older folks seem to have an in-built cynicism towards the benefits of social networking. But whichever strategies you do take, the most important part about being online is that the website is kept up to date. Without that, it's worthless.
Don't forget that you must also consider people without an internet connection. There are still Linux users out in the wilderness who don't have the opportunity to spend the day Googling random images, and these same people are more likely to turn to the local LUG for help.
We take quite a few telephone calls from people like this, as they often have no other recourse than to pick up the phone to ask for further information, but they're usually itching to get more involved in their local Linux community for help and support. What would really help us, and those people trying to contact local enthusiasts, is a clearly labelled contact for each LUG, as well as a telephone number if that's possible. Sometimes, speaking to someone is the easiest way to get the information you need.