I've been a "friend of" Indy Hall for a while, back in the Strawberry Street days. I remember the sweaty afternoon soon after the space opened spent helping Alex assemble the tables with a screwdriver and set them around the floor. There were a couple of movie nights with beer, and quite a few stop-ins before/after a client meeting in the city. But because the Hall is so deep in the city (which is a perfect place for them, no doubt), it was never someplace I could get to regularly or justify paying for every month. So after my first year of membership, I allowed it to lapse; now occasionally paying for a drop-in day when I have business in the city and it's convenient to have a place to work.
One of the major things I missed out on by not being at Indy Hall on most days was the camaraderie that makes the place so special. When I go there now, I feel like a complete outsider, which - I admit - is not helped by my introvert personality. The bonds that I see on those rare drop in days are something I envy, because I feel like I don't have it and I can't have it because I missed the boat. Ultimately, I realize that this will forever be the case because of my needs in regard to what Indy Hall can offer me. But if only it was closer...
I think it was via Twitter that I learned of ReworkWC. I actually don't remember exactly how I came across it. Initially I asked some inane questions about parking, because I wasn't sure exactly where it was located. It is right in the heart of West Chester. This is good because it's central to West Chester, which is a very cool suburban Philly town. I've always thought that it would be best to have a regional coworking spot in Malvern or even Downingtown, because the location would be close to the train for people coming from the city. But having been there now, I think West Chester could be a good spot for it.
I wasn't sure what to expect, really. After I parked (in a nearby garage - which ultimately turned out not to charge me for parking, even though I arrived during the day), I visited the building, which looked closed upon initial inspection. But Brad was there and showed me around the space, which is certainly not as big as Indy Hall (or even the spot on Strawberry Street), but is big enough to have plenty of space for the tenants currently occupying the spot, plus some more.
There was the general set up of desks, a big screen TV. Downstairs, which I didn't realize was there from the outside, has a few workstations and two conference areas. The only thing that was missing was ubiquitous power strips - something easily fixed. The wireless network was reliable and reasonably speedy.
I met a handful of folks that were working there. I was apparently the only web developer (as in "coder") in the joint that day, although there was at least one designer. I can see the opportunity for partnerships, which is something I missed by not being full-time at Indy Hall back in the day.
I spent the afternoon working on some client work, and I enjoyed the experience. The subscription plans they offer are quite reasonable, and although I might not want to work there every day (my home office and desktop is too nice and too ingrained to even want to avoid every day), the advantage of getting out of the house and being near other working humans and making those networking connections may be worth the value.
It had been a while since I had been to a WordPress meetup. I went to a couple in Philly after Brad and Doug took over the group, and those were fine, but just like Indy Hall, it's a trek to get into and out of the city, and you pay for travel, and you pay for food, and even though the content is mostly good, it can occasionally bomb. And to be completely frank about it, sometimes you just don't want to interact with WordPress fanatics. Mind you, that's not all the time, and mostly because - as I said - of my introverted nature. But if you've traveled so far and invested so much, you feel obligated. I'm probably not explaining this well, but I suspect that there are others that understand what I'm talking about.
So that's the first thing that a suburban meetup allows - no sense of obligation. When it's done well, it's casual but topical. There isn't a lot of pressure. And this meetup was done well.
Liam did a great job introducing the meetup, the concept/format, and the speakers. The speakers all did very well with their chosen topics. Liam spoke about the changes in WP 3.4. Mary spoke about useful backup plugins. Dave spoke about performance and scaling. And as Liam said at the onset, these presentations weren't meant to give complete coverage to the concepts, but provide some topics to Google later and for discussion over drinks after the presentations had concluded.
I think the format is a good one. A few minutes are given at the beginning for welcoming people to the meetup, then each of two speakers gets five minutes to present a topic with no Q&A period. Then a third speaker gets 15 minutes to present a topic with Q&A that is intended to lead to open discussion. The only thing I'd say was awkward about the format was that people didn't seem to want to fall back into casual conversation after the last speaker. I'm not sure how I'd address it, or even if it needs addressing. Maybe as the group evolves, it'll become natural to drop back into inter-table discussion at that point.
One of the neat things about visiting ReworkWC and the WordPress meetup yesterday is that it brought back memories of how this all started in Philly. I remember Alex coming to a few of the WP/Blogger meetups and talking to people about coworking, and how that all started. Now that I see this happening even at this small scale out here in the suburbs, I'm pleased to hope that we'll see a kind of renaissance of developers coming out of their suburban 9-to-5 shells, meeting in places and sharing knowledge and opportunity. It's something that I'd been hoping to have locally for years, but haven't put in the effort to make happen on my own. I'm glad it seems to be happening without me, and I'm darn sure I'm not going to let it pass me by this time.