LOCAL WEB GROUP PROSPERS

Vicky Vickers

A little over two years ago a new computer users group was formed in Victoria for persons interested in Internet technology. Called Web Enthusiasts Association of Victoria (or WEAV for short) when first conceived it was an instant success! Meeting on the first Wednesday of each month at Camosun College Lansdowne, WEAV currently has over 80 members. With six special interest groups (SIGs), there is something for everybody, including an active Novice SIG for those just starting out in website design. The other SIGs are: Advanced HTML, Business, Web Server, Content Editing and Graphics.

In the Beginning. . .
At the beginning of December 1995, while driving home from work, I had one of those lucky ideas that sometimes pop into people's heads. I was thinking about how difficult it was to keep up with rapidly expanding Internet technology, especially in the area of website creation and design when a little voice in my head said, "Why not start a users group for website designers?" At the time I had been a VMUG (Victoria Macintosh Users Group) member for eleven years and its President for the previous year and a half, so it was a fairly natural idea for me to have. I had visions of 8-10 people sitting around my living room discussing the latest techniques. Boy was I surprised! I mentioned the idea to a few acquaintances of mine who were also involved in website design and they were interested. So I started promoting the idea seriously.

I made up a suggested plan for the new group (purpose, format, fee schedule, etc.) and invented a name for it, Victoria Organization of Web Designers, or VOWD for short. Then I posted messages regarding the group to both the VMUG member's listserv and the Island Net member's newsgroups. Again there was a lot of interest, so I contacted Stu Lang, the editor of the weekly "Tech" page in the Times Colonist newspaper and faxed him some information on the group. After the Times Colonist printed a short (two inch, one column) item about the new group on Wednesday, December 13th, the idea really took off. I came home from work to find a lot of messages on my answering machine and a bunch of e-messages from people interested in the proposed group. In the one month period from the conception of the idea to the organizing meeting, I had over 150 requests for information - and that was in a month when most people are more interested in thinking about Christmas, New Years, holidays and family.

Just over 100 people attended first meeting on Wednesday, January 3, 1996. The proposed plan was passed by those people attending except for the name. Other names where suggested and WEAV won the vote. A slate of directors was elected, most of whom had volunteered before the meeting to run for office. And a committee was struck to work on a constitution and bylaws. Most important, over 30 people signed up for membership that night!

Monthly Meetings
WEAV meets on the first Wednesday of each month at Camosun College Lansdowne campus (check WEAV's website for the location of the meeting room, as Camosun keeps moving them around). Doors open at 7 pm for networking with the meeting starting at 7:30 pm. Guest fee is $5.00.

The monthly meetings tend to focus on the broader issues regarding Internet technology, as well as what is new or upcoming in the field. Over the past two years we have had three panel discussions, explored web software such as PageMill and Netscape, learned a little about JavaScript, tables, frame pages and using databases on the Web, looked at CD ROM use in conjunction with the web, a web TV product, the WAVE (now Shaw at Home) and the Linux operating system, and much, much more.

Of course, like most groups of this kind, the opportunity of networking one-to-one with other members, both before and after the meeting and during the break is often more valuable than the content of the meeting itself. A lot can be learned in these informal situations.

Special Interest Groups (SIGs)
WEAVs main strength is in its many SIGs. This is where the members really learn a lot about website design from the beginning basics to writing scripts to perform special functions. All SIGs meet monthly except for December, July and August.

Novice SIG: As well as its monthly meetings, this SIG provides tutorials for members to learn HTML (HyperText Markup Language - the language of the web) coding of web sites. It starts with the very basics and works its way up to and including, "frames". Along the way members learn how to use "tables" and "forms" effectively. The tutorials are all on-line in a password protected area exclusively for WEAV members.

Advanced HTML SIG: This SIG takes off where the Novice SIG ends. It concentrates it's efforts on what is the latest useful trend for web sites and will include all client side aspects such as style sheets, layers, JavaScript, etc.

Web Server SIG: This SIG focuses on server side scripting such as CGI (Common Gateway Interface) using computer languages such as PHP, Perl and C++. Its members learn how to produce CGI scripts and will also encompass Java and possibly even JavaScript (although JavaScript may be covered by the Advanced HTML SIG since it is not a server side include program). Space on-line is made available to members wishing to try out scripts that they have produced.

Graphics SIG: The Graphics SIG looks at what can be accomplished effectively with graphics on the Web including how best to utilize graphics and how to keep graphics at an acceptable size without lowering the quality. It also discusses such up-to-date technology as palettes, and animated GIFs (repeating graphics).

Business SIG: The business SIG devotes its energies to the discussion of effective ways to promote a business over the Internet. This includes all aspects of marketing on-line as well as designing web sites to be "consumer friendly" It also discusses e-commerce, and anything else that has to do with the business aspect of the Internet including the role of the web designer.

Content Editing SIG: It is said that on the Internet, Content is King. This SIG discusses the effective use of quality content on a web site, the importance of accurate spelling, proper use of grammar and the difference between writing for print media and the Web.

Listservs
WEAV is listserv rich. Not only is there a closed member's listserv, but each SIG has its own private listserv. Fortunately, all the listservs are fairly quiet (sometimes too quiet) so the members are not overwhelmed with large amounts of e-mail. However, they are always there ready help both novice and expert with website design problems they run into.

Membership
WEAV welcomes members with all (or no) levels of experience (novice, beginner and expert) using all and any operating systems (Macintosh, Windows, DOS, Unix, Linux, Amiga, etc.). The annual membership fees for WEAV are quite reasonable and even includes a reduced fee for students ($20). Regular membership is $30, families pay $40 and organizations, $50 per year. WEAV is also looking for corporate sponsors at $500 per year. Corporate sponsors are given a banner ad on the WEAV web site, corporate membership and a sign to be displayed at all general meetings, and they can display literature at all meetings and at the WEAV booth at the computer show.

Contact Information
If you would like more information on WEAV, you can visit their website at www.weav.bc.ca or write to them at weav@weav.bc.ca. Information on upcoming monthly and SIG meetings are also availble on WEAV's website. WEAV's quarterly newsletter is on-line and can be reached from their homepage.

What Members Like About WEAV
The following are anonymous comments from WEAV members. I asked for 2-3 sentence comments, but some WEAVers enthusiasm carried them much beyond that. I have included all comments here mostly unedited as I feel it's all valuable information to anyone considering a membership in WEAV.

"For me, WEAV has become an excellent resource for meeting like minded people. I have done business with quite a few members and have learned a tremendous amount from the variety of people who make up WEAV. BW (Before WEAV), I spent quite a bit of time on the local newsgroup posting and reading messages. Now, it's nice to finally put a face to all the newsgroup posters. It's really opened up the Internet for me and brought me many new friends."

"When I tackle a Web site technique that's new to me, I am reassured that when I get stuck on some obscure detail or concept there is always some local expert advice available. Web site building is a lot like the Web itself -- it's impossible to know everything you need to know, but it's possible to build a good network of sources."

"Sometimes its not what you know but who you know that's helpful. Web weaving is my avocation, not my main source of income so I don't have the time to learn everything I would like to know. Through my membership in WEAV, I have met people who are knowledgeable in areas in which I am not. A while ago, I had a free-lance client who needed to be able to export webpages from his database. Fortunately, although I didn't know how to do this, I knew a WEAV member who did. We were able to work together on the project and the client was happy with the result."

"I am a professional Internet Technologist, currently responsible for maintaining the corporate Web site of a local research and development company. I joined WEAV so that I could keep up with the rapid changes in Internet technology, and also so I could meet other professionals in the industry. WEAV has broadened my understanding of the diverse set of technologies collectively known as "the Net". I find the members to be friendly and knowledgeable. Our discussions very from programming techniques, to powerful, impactual applications of technology, to moral, ethical and social issues. I'm very glad I joined WEAV, and figure that I will probably be a lifetime member."

"WEAV provides a wide range of information with regard to the WWW. I especially like the Special Interest Groups: Business, Content-Editing and Graphics. The networking between members of similar interests has proven valuable in my business of web page design. The general meetings have covered a wide range of topics from novice to highly technical and they all have been informative and interesting. The majority have been within my grasp technically and the speakers both from within the group and outside have been excellent."

"WEAV is a low-cost opportunity to network with people in the Web industry, to pick up new ideas about our fast-paced industry and to forge cooperative working relationships."

"I have spent most of my life in the computer industry and used the internet since the late eighties. My use was quite specific mostly looking for information or software related to computers and of course e-mail. Christmas 1995 I bought a refurbished Apple Power Mac 7100 over the internet so that amongst other things I could talk to my son-in-law, who is shall we say `heavily orientated towards Apple products'. I spent most of 1996 trying to figure out how the thing worked and in shock at how often it crashed with type 11 errors, (whatever they are) Somehow I discovered Weav and after years of dull boring meetings came away from my first Weav meeting enthusiastic at making contact with so many people pumped about computer stuff and the internet. Since then it seems that every few weeks a new SIG forms and another body of knowledge that I know little about is available to me. I continue to not make all the Weav SIG meetings I would like, but enjoy those that I do get to. We just had meetings (monthly and SIGs) about Web TV, what to look for in your internet provider, graphics on the web, tutorials and critiquing HTML and the difference between a good and bad web page. We need more Mac members to keep the EE at bay so come and try a meeting. Oh last year I replaced my 7100 with a refurbished 7600/132 (OS8) bought over the internet which doesn't crash, maybe its a hidden benefit of membership in Weav."

"WEAV is an opportunity to keep up on what's happening with the web on many levels and areas of interest and expertise. As a beginner and non-programming sort of enthusiast, I always find something of interest at the meetings, even if they're over my head sometimes. The presentations are always good and the members are easy to talk to, and from every walk of life. We have everyone from the real pros to folks that just want to learn to do a home page. Particularly, the NOVICE SIG has been a great aid in learning html at your own pace - and you can easily get advice if you have a problem. Although I don't make a living by anything related to the web, like many of WEAV's members, I find the meetings are an opportunity to gather information easily - the incredible amount of new information is distilled for even a lay person like myself."

"I first joined the WEAV group out of a desire to learn more about the Internet. My expectations were well met. For a modest sum, I could access personally presented information, on topics ranging from e-mail to web browsers to Internet Service Providers (ISP's). The range of subjects covered is both broad, and interesting. I also make good use of the half dozen Special Interest Groups ( SIGs ) which exist within WEAV. These smaller groups go into greater detail on their subject areas, and constitute a further valuable resource. I am very satisfied with my decision to join WEAV."

Acknowledgements
This article was published in the April 1998 issue of the Victoria Macintosh Users Group's monthly newsletter "MACtalk" in Vicky's monthly article "VMUG On-Line".

A special thanks to Murray Fallen, President (1998) of WEAV (www.weav.bc.ca/) and owner of CVC Productions West Ltd. (cvcprod.ca/west/ ) for his assistance in writing this article. Most of the information on each of the SIGs was written by him, plus he gave me other valuable information for the article. Thanks also to the WEAV members who took the time to answer my last minute call for comments.

Vicky Vickers is the owner of Word Crunchers, Etc. which specializes in website design and HTML training. She is a past-president (1994-6) and former webmaster (1995-8) of Victoria Macintosh Users Group (VMUG). She also founded and was the first president (1996) of the Web Enthusiasts Association of Victoria (WEAV).

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Call me today at 250-595-6593 to discuss your website design
or e-mail me at vicky@crunchers.bc.ca

Vicky Vickers, Word Crunchers, Etc.
3290 Shelley Street, Victoria, BC, V8P 4A5
Fax: 250-595-7384 (call first)


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