Brian Shaler

Occasionally Interesting

Gravity is for chumps

Posts Tagged ‘Community’

Community: Quality > Quantity

I hate being asked how to increase a number of followers, readers, etc. Whether it’s a marketer asking me how they can get more followers on Twitter or Tim Ferriss asking me how to get 50,000 new RSS subscribers overnight, it’s a request I simply don’t want to accommodate.

You need to engage and embrace the community you have and let it grow organically. Getting thousands of people to give you a sliver of their attention and none of their support does you little to no good.

You need to focus on blowing people away, turning casual observers into rabid supporters.

That is how you build a valuable community.

Twitter: A Catalyst for Change

Continuing the conversation on the Phoenix technology community, I wanted to describe what has been happening in the last year here in Phoenix.

More meet-ups are taking place around the Valley (of the Sun) and more people are attending them. Refresh Phoenix has been my favorite tech-related meet-up during the last two years and often draws the most people. Anywhere from 20-40 people from as far as 60 miles away would come out every month on the first Tuesday of the month.

This year, there has been a trend of increased attendance at Refresh Phoenix and other local gatherings. Refresh Phoenix seems to be maintaining an average of 40-50, jumping up to about 80 in February on Demo Night. There were about 47 people at last week’s Social Media Club Phoenix meeting, which was great to see.

Every Friday for the last few months, anywhere from 4-10 people have been meeting up at various local independent coffee shops. The meetings are casual, open, and planned in an ad-hoc style by whoever feels like showing up. They are organized on Twitter, sometimes as late as Thursday.

Meet-ups seem to be benefiting greatly from Twitter’s communication mechanism. It’s easier for people to hear about events taking place in their area, as long as they’re connected with enough people in their area.

Twitter is a catalyst for Phoenix. Phoenix has no shortage of talented and interesting folks. The problem is the network. People don’t know there are thousands of others in the city who share their interests. Twitter allows people to connect with a broader network and, most importantly, be subjected to conversations between people inside their circle with people outside their circle. This simple trait of an open communication platform does wonders for introducing people with similar interests to each other.

Thanks to Twitter, people are connecting — at least digitally — with more people. This means they have the opportunity to hear about more events going on in their area, thus increasing their likelihood of attending.

Geographic Micro-Communities

Continuing on my discussion about the Phoenix Tech Community, I wanted to describe some fascinating patterns I have seen while building my personal network in the Phoenix area. This applies to any large group of people, but it is very apparent in the loose and spread out Phoenix tech community.


When people only attend hyper-local social gatherings and don’t attend city-wide conferences, they tend to see only those who are also hyper-local. This causes circles of friends to be formed in physical areas as well as in interests (often very focused interests, like Linux desktop application developers, for example). Once a circle is formed, members of the circle may begin to think that the reach of the circle is more broad than it really is.

You don’t know what (and who) you don’t know.

These micro-communities can contain anywhere from 5-100 people and there are many of them throughout Phoenix. The trick to building and tightening the Phoenix tech community is to hunt down these small groups and plug their members into other groups.

The Phoenix Tech Community

Much of the technology industry’s history lies in Silicon Valley. Some other areas recognized for their technology communities include the Greater New York area, Los Angeles, Boston, Seattle, Raleigh-Durham, Pittsburgh, etc.

[Wired Magazine: 10 Top Tech Towns]

Phoenix rarely receives a second of thought when people list technology cities. Many people think or say “Nothing is going on in Phoenix.” The frightening part is hearing people in Phoenix say that.

Reasons why Phoenix has a weak tech community

The Phoenix metropolitan area is very spread out. It is difficult for people to get by without a car. It is difficult for those who have cars to go out and meet people. How many people do you meet in your car on your one hour commute each way to and from work? None.

It is difficult to meet and stay in touch (in person) with many people in Phoenix, so most people in Phoenix seem to have fewer close friends (compared to cities like San Francisco or New York City). You have to go out of your way to attend group meet-ups. Usually way out of your way. How many people are willing to drive an extra hour after a long work day to stay out late with other geeks, then drive another hour to get home? Not many.

The internet makes it easy for people to communicate, but it is difficult to communicate with people you don’t know exist.

Why it is getting better

I have only lived in Phoenix for a few years, so it is difficult to compare current trends with those in the past. However, in the last 1-2 years, I have noticed much change for the better in the tech community.

For those who don’t know, Phoenix is the 5th most-populated city in the United States[1] with 1,512,986 residents. The Phoenix metropolitan area is the 13th most-populated MSA in the United States[2] with 4,179,427 residents. The Phoenix metropolitan area contains a number of other highly-populated cities, such as Mesa (#38 most-populated city, with 447,541 residents), Glendale (#72, 246,531), Chandler (#76, 240,595), Scottsdale (#79, 231,127), Gilbert (#115, 191,517), Tempe (#134, 169,712), and Peoria (#168, 142,024).

My favorite statistic is regarding the Phoenix metropolitan area’s growth rate during the last 7 years: 28.52%. That is a much higher growth rates than most of the other large metropolitan areas in the country.

[1 – Wikipedia: List of United States cities by population]
[2 – Wikipedia: List of United States metropolitan areas]

How many Phoenix-based bloggers do you know? Most people would answer that with a very low number. As I mentioned above, many Phoenicians are unaware of all the things going on in Phoenix., a site maintained by Erica Lucci, currently contains links to 136 Phoenix-based blogs. The number is growing and efforts like ReadPhoenix should help connect people within the Phoenix community.

Meeting attendance seems to be gradually growing at groups like Refresh/Refactor/Refocus Phoenix, Social Media Club, etc. The number of meet-ups taking place around the valley seems to be increasing as well. It is still difficult for people active in the community and willing to attend events to find out where and when they are. In an effort to connect with more people in the Phoenix area and share with them the events I find out about, I have been searching for and connecting with Twitter users who have Phoenix-area cities listed in their Twitter profiles.

There are also quite a few conferences being organized in the area. If you haven’t heard of these, check them out: PodCampAZ, BarCamp Phoenix, Desert Code Camp, AZ Entrepreneurship Conference, etc.

Right now, Phoenix has a large, but spread-out and loose, technology community. The goal needs to be connecting all the separate threads. It’s essentially a marketing problem. We need to reach and mobilize people who are probably willing to meet up, but have no good ways of hearing about local events.

ReadPhoenix: Top Blog Posts of the Week #1

Before jumping in, I should explain what is going on here and why.

A Series?

By the “#1” in the title, you can tell that this is intended to be something I will try to do regularly. I will try to remember to take note of my favorite blog posts during the week and do a quick write-up on Friday.


In race car terms, the Phoenix tech community is a sleeper. There are a lot of ideas, developers, designers, companies, and potential, but most people don’t realize it. One recent movement to draw attention to the fact that there is activity in this desert valley is, a web page maintained by Erica Lucci of Integrum Technologies. At, you can find a list of Phoenix-based bloggers with links to their respective blogs. I have met many of the people on that list and thus read most of the blogs listed. There are currently 55 RSS feeds marked “Phoenix” in my feed reader.

Weekly Highlights

The goal is to help introduce people to new blogs that provide interesting content. With the most active Phoenix blogs I’m subscribed to posting just under a once-per-day average, I figure I should be able to pick and choose from over 50 blogs (and 100+ posts in the last 7 days) to find at least two or three posts worth sharing.


There are a few reasons why I think I should do this. Most importantly, I want to give exposure to content producers in the Phoenix tech community. With any luck, some of the lesser-known authors will get a few more subscribers. Some people have made remarks about my watchful eye on Phoenix blogs — I subscribe, read, click-through, and comment when I can. If I am a person that watches more, I should be able to act as a human filter and help people find the most interesting content in the Phoenix blogosphere. Part of the motivation was from those remarks and another part was from one of the posts I chose to feature this week.

So Without Further Ado…

Blog: Scrollin’ On Dubs
Author: Sean Tierney
Company: JumpBox
Post Title: The best cross-platform RSS feed reader

He had me at “The best cross-platform RSS feed reader is still a smart friend who reads a bunch of feeds and has coffee with you once in awhile.” Sure, it doesn’t have the same ring as the Jerry Maguire quote (“You had me at hello”) but I wanted a fun way of expressing how this quote really made the article stand out and “stick”. The article makes a great point that feed reader applications being great, but nothing can compare with the human mind’s ability to pick out and share only what is valuable and relevant to you.

Now, I started this post off talking about how I keep track of what everyone is doing in the valley. If you want to offer to buy me a coffee, please form a single file line to your right. ;)

Read on about why it is more valuable to YOU to talk to people than it is to subscribe to every RSS feed under the sun. (I don’t subscribe to too many blogs outside of the Valley of the Sun to maintain some sanity)

Blog: ok with failure
Author: Curtis Edmond
Company: Integrum Technologies
Post Title: Flickr makes with the stats

By now, if you think Flickr having stats is interesting, you should already know. People have been talking about it. The reason I wanted to highlight this post is because when it popped up in my RSS feed late Thursday night, I had not yet heard the news. This was great news to me and I am grateful Curtis posted about it so quickly.

Read on about the new stats feature you should know about by now.

Blog: Wurkit Books
Author: Dan Ritzenthaler
Company: Forty Media
Post Title: No Need To Fake It

Dan’s post focuses on this quote:
In spite of the drawbacks, companies are lured to initials like moths to a candle. The success of the IBMs of this world seems to be proof that initials are effective. It’s the classic confusion between cause and effect… It’s like trying to become rich and famous by buying limousines and corporate jets. First, you have to become successful in order to have the money to buy the fringe benefits.

My experience in marketing and interest in branding made this blog post resonate with me. It is a great quote from a book on branding and positioning (titled, oddly enough, “Positioning”). Dan compared it to the phrase “Fake it, ’till you make it.” This is true, but I would like to add that companies are diluting their brand and reducing its stickiness while they think they are strengthening their brand image.

Read on about the quote, Dan’s commentary, and the many other Wurkit quotes.

Blog / Author: Josh Huckabee
Company: Integrum Technologies
Post Title: Want an iPhone for Christmas?

Here’s the short and skinny. Donate money to receive one raffle ticket per $1 donated. Next week, a winning raffle ticket will be selected and that individual will get a free, brand new 8GB iPhone.

Read on for more details on the raffle. Give a few bucks to people in need.

Blog: Code, Content, Caffeine
Author: James Britt
Company: Rising Tide Software
Post Title: The Downside of Clever

Quote: “Everyone knows that debugging is twice as hard as writing a program in the first place. So if you’re as clever as you can be when you write it, how will you ever debug it?” — Brian Kernighan

James mentioned the quote at BarCampPhoenix and I asked him to post it. It is a great quote that can be used to promote Test Driven Development and code analysis tools like flog. The less clever you force yourself to be in early development, the less strain you will have to endure to debug it.

Read on about this quote, James’ review, and check out the other valuable Ruby-related content he publishes.

Blog: BrainSpool
Author: Derek Neighbors
Company: Integrum Technologies
Post Title: kthxtees Tech Shirts

On Wednesday, I started thinking about a new idea for a series of t-shirts. What designer (web, print, et al) hasn’t at some point thought about designing t-shirts? There are two types of designers, those that have thought about designing t-shirts and those that have actually made their designs into real shirts. On Thursday, I found out that Integrum is going to join the latter group. They have a few sample designs posted and have vowed to post new designs every week.

Read on to learn more about their t-shirts.


I’ll tell you. That wasn’t easy. I hope to streamline the process a little more by compiling a draft post throughout the week instead of waiting until Friday night to type it all up. I hope you found some or all of this content useful. If so, please leave a comment so I know it wasn’t a waste of time! ;)