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Use of Web spells end for Cleveland IBM user group

After holding meetings for nearly three decades, a local IBM user group in Cleveland disbanded last week -- the victim, its board members said, of dwindling attendance driven by the use of the Web to gather and share information.

"People don't need the face-to-face contact anymore," said Andy Gladys, who was the president of the Application Systems Users Group of Greater Cleveland.

In a note to members about the shutdown, Gladys and the two other board members wrote that blogs, chat rooms and informational Web sites have taken over the role previously held by groups such as theirs.

Gladys, a retired IT manager who does consulting work, organized the user group in 1981, after the trucking company where he then worked installed an IBM System/38 midrange computer. The group later focused on the System/38's successor, the AS/400, which evolved into the iSeries and the System i.

In the early days, four or five people would meet at the trucking company to share pizza, beer and their experiences, Gladys said. Over time, the user group grew and moved its meetings to local hotels, at times drawing as many as 120 people per month. IBM sent employees from its midrange facility in Rochester, Minn., to give presentations.

But about five years ago, attendance began declining, making it harder to get out-of-town speakers. To accommodate them, the group used webconferencing technology. Turnout had fallen to such a low level, though, that the board decided to stop holding the meetings, Gladys said.

The Cleveland group was part of Common, a global user group that focuses on IBM's midrange offerings. Randy Dufault, an IT consultant who is Common's president, said the Chicago-based organization continues to include some very large and strong regional user groups. But the total number of local groups is down a bit, he said.

Common is increasing its scope to include IBM's AIX version of Unix and the Power Systems servers that the vendor announced in April to unify its System i and System p lines from a hardware standpoint.

Dufault said that although online communities have sprung up, users still need the training and advocacy that Common offers.

By Patrick Thibodeau

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