An IBM user group's final message: 'pwrdwnsys *immed'

A US-based user group says it's been pushed offline by the Internet

The note that Andy Gladys sent out to the Application Systems User Group of Greater Cleveland this week could not have been more straightforward or painful.

After nearly three decades, the IBM systems user group that Gladys formed and was president of, has closed. Monthly meeting attendance had fallen to such a point that its board decided not to continue.

It was an emotional decision for Gladys. The user group was important in his life. It was a source of friendships and professional help.

In the note to members, signed by Gladys and other board members, they wrote that the user group "is a victim of its own success. Our philosophy of education and information exchange has been carried on to the World Wide Web."

In short, blogs, chat rooms and Web sites, replaced the once-a-month meetings.

In 1981, Gladys was an IT manager for North Coast Services, a US trucking company. (North Coast Services is now called Bestway Trucking.) The company had installed an IBM System/38, one of a long line of IBM midrange systems that later included the AS/400 and today's IBM System i.

Gladys had prior experience with IBM systems and organized a group of fellow users in Cleveland. Four or five people would meet at his trucking firm to share pizza and experiences.

Over time, the user group grew. It moved its meetings to local hotels and at times drew as many as 120 people. IBM even sent over officials from the large facility where its midrange line is produced, to provide presentations.

But about five years ago, attendance began declining, making it harder to get speakers to travel. To accommodate out-of-town speakers, the user group set up remote WebEx (acquired by Cisco Systems in 2007) presentations, which were displayed on a screen in a hotel meeting room.

"People don't need the face-to-face contact anymore," said Gladys, adding that he believes users groups in general have been suffering from the same problem. "User groups have been progressively going down in attendance."

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