I’ve been pretty quite since the PASS Summit and with good reason. Every year we have a chapter leader meeting. Every year, there is a laundry list of things that chapters would like PASS HQ to do for them. Time and again I’ve watched other people in the community step up and build something to fill a void in the PASS structure. In the early days SQLServerCentral.com hosted websites for chapters until PASS HQ got the infrastructure in place. We lean on other tools like Google groups or meetup.com to get other things done as well but aren’t controlled by PASS or PASS HQ. It always strikes me as odd that infrastructure related items are always on the list and are always backlogged. We are a professional organization of technology people and deal with stuff like this every single day.

So, I have decided to help out. I’m staring up SQLMeetings.com. The goals are pretty simple to start with.

Provide an easy way to email your user group.
Provide an easy way for your users to RSVP.
Provide an easy way for group leaders to manage lists.
Provide an easy way for group leaders to track RSVP’s.

Provide an easy way to email your user group.
Sounds pretty straight forward. Just fire up outlook and BCC your group the email field. For a long time that is basically what I did. It was a pain to manage email changes, RSVP’s and bounced email. That led me to setup an email list server setup and moved that list there as a read only list. That was better, it provided bounce management but it was still hard to get people on to the list. Luckily, it used a SQL Server back end and I wrote an integration point with our then DotNetNuke website. If you singed up via DNN it automatically added you to the email list. If your email ever bounced you were deactivated from the list. You couldn’t change your email though, or RSVP easily ether. Now that we have moved off DNN I’ve lost the signup integration point and have fallen back to telling people to subscribe using cactuss_meetings@wesworld.net again.

Provide and easy way for users to RSVP.
I got nothing on this one. I’ve tried using meetup.com but it pushes your users to another website from your own and another barrier for them to easily RSVP. Basically, I get emails from people saying they will be there I pad the numbers and add some fudge in and order the food.

Provide an easy way from group leaders to manage lists.
If you have ever used a traditional list server everything is done via email with commands embedded in the body of the mail. It isn’t the slickest of user experiences. I was just editing the list server tables by hand, being a SQL Server expert and all.

Provide an easy way for group leaders to track RSVP’s.
Over time, you like to see how your RSVP’s stack up to actual attendance and watch the growth of your group over time. Again, I did this with a high tech piece of kit, pen and paper.

This is my goal for “1.0” feature sets.
user groups can have a personalized email.
lists are <email>@sqlmeetings.com. For example my local UG would be cactuss@sqlmeetings.com. This account is used to receive, process, and send all emails.
List owners are the only people allowed to email the list for distribution. You can have multiple list owners so one person isn’t stuck sending out the email.
List management is handled two ways. If you want to subscribe via email you send an email with subscribe in the subject to cactuss@sqlmeetings.com and it handles the rest. If you are a list owner you can manage the list via the web. Things like adding users, marking users as list owners and deactivating users is done via web.
To RSVP the only thing you have to do is hit the reply button. The list server tracks what users have replied to what email. As a list owner you can look at response rate via the web site.

The list server part is done. I wrote a windows service that handles processing the emails. The web UI will be done by the end of the week(Keep your fingers crossed). I am horrible at web stuff and have asked a couple of other folks to help out. This first iteration is beta stuff to flesh out functionality.

This is where you come in. Do you need something like this? If you want to use it just drop me an email admin (at) wesworld (dot) net or hit me up on twitter @WesBrownSQL. I need some folks to test out the base functions and start suggesting things for the 2.0 like twitter integration and post to posterous.

Oh, did I mention this is free? It is something I needed for my UG and figured others would like it too.