I’m a firm believer in the value of user groups. I think that they are most valuable when the user community has enough energy to manage them independently from the software publisher. This is rare and getting rarer in the composition software industry.

In the absence of an independent user group, and not to be confused with same, many vendors sponsor User Conferences, which are great opportunities to mingle with other users and see presentations on “real life product implementations” albeit under the watchful eye of the vendor.

A number of vendors have their 2006 user conferences coming up in the Autumn:

Today and tomorrow GMC Software Technology will be hosting its 1st Annual International User Conference in Prague, the Czech Republic. No word yet on plans for another US based user conference. (Prague is gorgeous this time of year – wish I could go!)

Isis Papyrus will hold their Users Conference on October 2 and 3 in Dallas. (I’ll actually be presenting at that event on some of the latest trends in composition tools that are of interest to the print service bureau market. Look me up if you’re there)

On October 16 – 18 in San Diego Document Sciences will hold their annual conference, now dubbed “xCelerate North America 2006.”

Exstream Software will hold their Annual User Conference in Lexington Kentucky from October 22 – 25 and is currently blasting the user community with printed and electronic invitations to attend. I think I could paper the cafeteria with the invitations my firm has received! (Yes, we’re registered – please stop!) They will also be holding a User Group meeting during the event.

If you are aware of any other upcoming user conferences, please post.

If you are currently evaluating composition tools, user conferences are a great way of getting information somewhat independently from the sales rep. If there is an actual user group meeting at the conference, this is a great way of gauging customer satisfaction and vendor responsiveness. I highly recommend attending user conferences when shopping for products.

If you don’t have the opportunity to join a user group or attend a conference, some other good resources are the various product communities on Yahoo Groups as well as the always “infotaining” UK based site run by Mike Gatiss.

In all of these forums please let people know what you REALLY think about the products you use. If you don’t air the problems, the vendors don’t fix them and the next guy gets sold the same problems. Some firms are hesitant to publicly reference any shortcomings in the products they purchase, as if the problems reflected on them instead of the vendor. Every product has room for improvement and every software user can probably learn something new about the products they own.

Connect! Share! Learn! ‘Tis the season.

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