Traditionally, TidBITS publishes a "superlatives" article covering things at Macworld Expo that we find compelling or, at the very least, amusing. Although we can't resist offering a few superlatives (see next week's issue), we found our impressions from this show centering more on existing and emerging trends in the Macintosh ecosystem than on specific products. Read on for more trends in this issue and the next.
One of the first trends worth mentioning involves Macintosh user groups, the Mac community at the grass roots level (or would that be the "massively parallel organic processing" level?). I was fascinated to see that despite the challenges presented by the Internet as an information source, a number of user groups have survived and continue to thrive to the point where they even had booths at Macworld Expo. Most user groups are of course focused on a specific geographical area, but that's not true of the International HyperCard Users Group (iHUG), who were showing off a few HyperCard-built applications (including one that mimicked much of the Mac OS X dock's functionality). Apple certainly hasn't done anything to support HyperCard in ages, though the HyperCard Web page at Apple is still up and it recently re-appeared in the Apple Store.
Also, on the first night of the show, Bob LeVitus and I helped hand out awards at the 2001 User Group Soiree awards ceremony (pictures on the page below). Representatives of numerous groups were present, many of whom Bob and I have met over the years while doing presentations to their groups. A dinner conversation afterwards with Dan Sailers, Executive Director of the User Group Academy, revealed an interesting agenda: he's trying to help user groups focus their efforts outward rather than inward. It makes sense - Macs have become sufficiently common, inexpensive, and supported that those of us who own them are no longer the people who can most benefit from Macintosh-based assistance.
To help refocus the power of user groups, the User Group Academy has made several $5,000 grants to groups that submitted proposals for public school outreach projects (check out last year's winning projects at the link below). This approach would undoubtedly involve a major change for many user groups, but given that many of the original reasons for user groups to exist have become less relevant over the years, it could be a great way to put that tremendous volunteer energy to work improving society - and to do so with Macintosh flair. I'd encourage representatives from all user groups to have a chat with Dan, Fred Showker, and the other User Group Academy folks about the User Group Academy Grant program.