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One of my favorite things about working in online communities is that you can spend nearly all your time with someone online but have no idea what they look like. I went out to dinner with a friend that I've known for ages from the DevOps community, and he went up to order and put it on the tab I had open—and he couldn't remember what my real name was. He came back to the table and we had a good laugh about it—how we've known each other for some time, we're good friends, but there's some things that you just miss out on.
The face-to-face meetings are really important because you get to know why someone reacts a certain way to ideas that are proposed—in person. It's really hard to hug it out over video chat, even though you can indicate a lot in email, in chat, and mailing lists.
What the face-to-face meetings get you, as a community, is a deeper connection to each other. Because you've spent time with each other, you know more about how they see the world. You'll know where you differ, and where you agree on things. You know why another person might not have the same opinion that you do—and how to be able to work with that.
A tagline for a project that I used to be heavily involved in is 'Come for the code, stay for the community' —and I think it's a tagline that was really successful. It let new people know that there was a community of developers, project managers, designers and businesses and it reminded everyone that we were working on a bigger goal. It reminded everyone that the community was the goal, and it was our job as part of the community to make it move forward.
Most open source projects are working towards a bigger goal, and how you create community around this matters. You might not always be the project that has the most meetups, but people want to get together and talk about how they're using the project, what they're working on, or what they think the next step is. Having really big events can be fun, but they're not always the best showcase for the work the communities are doing.
In the future, I'd love to see more virtual events in communities—the really big events take a lot of time, effort and aren't accessible for people who can't travel. We don't do as many telesummits, but I'd love to hear about projects that are making this a focus and making these successful to grow their communities.