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Starting a Palmtop User Group

Starting a Palmtop User Group

Want a place to meet and exchange ideas about your HP Palmtop? Try a Palmtop user group. If you can't find one, start your own!

By Conrad Cox

The San Francisco Bay Area user group for the Palmtop (S.P.A.M.) started because someone posted a question on CompuServe's HP Handhelds Forum. The question (something like, "Is there a Palmtop user group meeting in the San Francisco Area?") received enough responses to set up a gathering.

That's generally how user groups get started. Someone with an interest posts a message on a local Palmtop message board, or on one of the many Palmtop internet newsgroups. If there is sufficient interest, it happens.

Benefits of a user group

A user group provides a place where "like-minded" people can come together on a regular basis to share knowledge and experiences. Veteran Palmtoppers share tips with newer users. Vendors and users alike demonstrate products and pass copies of software to each other. (Software sharing is limited to shareware and freeware to avoid copyright infringement.) Most of all, the user group is a fun, non-threatening place to learn and share information about our favorite tool.

Before starting your own group

Does joining a user group sound like something you want to do? If so, try to locate a group in your own area. Check The HP Palmtop Paper User Group listings and local computer publications. If you have access to an online service like CompuServe or America Online, post a message asking if anyone knows of a group in your area.

Consider posting inquiries to the following Internet Newsgroups:



(If you have not been reviewing messages from these newsgroups, do so for several days to become familiar with the tone of the newsgroup.)

One more idea. If you see people using a HP Palmtop, strike up a conversation. Ask if they know of a user group in the area. If so, you will already know someone at the meeting. If they do not know of any user group, perhaps you can enlist them to help start a group of your own.

Announcing your user group

There are a number of effective ways to announce the existence of your user group.

  1. 1. In the case of the 100LX/200LX/ OmniGo, you can post messages in comp.sys.palmtops or on CompuServe's HPHAND forum.
  2. 2. Another way to communicate your desire to start a user group is to send a message to Carol de Giere at The HP Palmtop Paper, asking that she list you as a contact for interested Palmtoppers in your area. All she needs is your name and a way for people to reach you (e-mail or postal address, phone number, whatever is good for you). Carol's address is carol_degiere@ thaddeus.com.
  3. 3. I'll list user group contact information on the S.P.A.M. user groups page so people looking for a group will know about you. Point your Net browser to: http://ccnet4 .ccnet.com/~cdcox/
  4. 4. Once you've set up a user group, you should also contact Ahmet G. Ozisik who serves as the keeper of the HP Palmtop Worldwide User Group News. Give him your contact information so he can forward it to users in your area. His addresses: Ahmet G. Ozisik, Soyak Binasi, Buyukdere Cad. 38, Mecidiyekoy, Istanbol 80290, TURKEY; E-mail: ozisika@doruk .com.tr .
  5. 5. You might try posting a notice on campus or on a local computer bulletin board.



Select a meeting place

If there seems to be interest, look for a place to meet. It can be someone's home, a restaurant, or someone's work place. (Most of S.P.A.M.s meetings are held at someone's office after business hours.) Select a time and day that people prefer, and schedule the meeting. Communicate the meeting time and location to all interested parties. Also, post a notice on the appropriate message boards and internet news groups. Initial meetings should focus on organization. At the first few meetings discuss and decide how to structure the meetings. Here are just a few of the questions you might want to consider.

  • Is an agenda needed? An agenda helps focus you and the group on the meeting topics. Ask the members to contribute items for the next meetings agenda. The members will appreciate the opportunity to contribute to their meetings. Whenever practical, distribute the agenda prior to the meeting. Doing so allows the members to think about the topics prior to the meeting. Remember: the agenda serves as a guidebook for the meeting. If the members change the meeting direction, go with the flow.
  • Is the meeting an open forum for questions and answers? Instead of planning every moment of the meeting, you and the membership may decide to hold unstructured meetings. All that is planned are the meeting place and starting time. The meeting takes on the characteristics of a group support session. Questions are asked and answered. Ideas are shared. Software is demonstrated. Multiple conversations are the rule, not the exception. Such a session can provide immense satisfaction because everyone's needs can be addressed.
  • Should vendors be invited to share their products? User groups in a technology rich geographic region should take advantage of any Palmtop or mobile computing related vendors. They usually make themselves available to user groups, demonstrating the products they sell. The demonstrations benefit the user group because the members learn about new products. And the vendor hopes the members will remember the presentation when it comes time to buy.
  • How often should the meetings be? (weekly, monthly, quarterly) When discussing the issue of meeting frequency, be realistic. For a user group to meet weekly, a considerable commitment of time must be invested by everyone. The group may burn out in a matter of months. Quarterly meetings might not be frequently enough. (S.P.A.M. meets monthly, with a month off here or there.) Ask the membership what seems reasonable to them.
  • Should the meetings occur at the same place and time each month, or vary? Instinctively one might think a user group should convene at the same place for each meeting. Doing so certainly makes planning easier. However, if an interest in attending meetings crosses "normal" commutable boundaries, alternating locations allows more people to participate. Again, let the members help decide what is right for the group.
  • Who takes the minutes and who publishes them?
  • How will minutes be distributed? (fax, e-mail, given out at the next meeting)
  • Are minutes really needed at all? (keep your life simple) Minutes serve a number of valuable purposes. Minutes inform members who miss a meeting. They serve as a permanent record of the user groups activities. Minutes can also serve as an example of what occurs at meetings, something a perspective member might find valuable. But someone needs to take and publish them, distribute and maintain them for as long as the group might exist. Whatever the group decides to do, be sure to get volunteers to help out.
  • Should dues be charged? S.P.A.M.s meeting locations cost nothing. Therefore, we do not charge dues. If we decide to expand our services in any way (like a paper newsletter, Palmtop related services or products, etc.) dues could be an option. Your user group should weigh the pros and cons of collecting dues. Collecting dues requires that someone continually manages the funds, like a club treasurer. Periodic audits should be performed by a disinterested party. It may be advantageous to become a not-for-profit corporation. Be sure to enlist the help of a qualified accountant and tax consultant before considering collecting dues.
  • Set aside time at the end of the meeting to set the next meeting date. Also, don't hesitate to ask the people in attendance how the meeting might be improved for next time. Arrange for a way to announce meeting dates.
  • Finally, keep it simple and don't do it all yourself. Involve others to do the minutes, find a location, etc.



Minutes from S.P.A.M.

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