During Thursday's commute I read a Martin Fowler blog post - a great piece on the maturity of REST implementations (Richardson Maturity Model). It took about half an hour to read, re-read and digest. The information in it could have been a candidate for one of the presentations making up Martin's pick and mix selection from Wednesday. I could easily find 2 other blog posts of his which could be similarly described. So if I can read a few well written blog posts on an interesting subject why should we go through the hassle of organising a night, getting a speaker to travel 'oop North and having 100 people spend some of their valuable social life at a geek night?
For me the value of evenings such as Wednesday is only partly about the content. Equally important is the sense of event it generates and, in particular, the atmosphere of discussion and enquiry it fosters. It was a shame we had a tight deadline to keep to which meant that the time for questions was limited but even so the buzz both beforehand and afterwards was palpable. The presentations by Martin on Wednesday were great seed topics for the resulting discussions which occurred during the evening and will have continued for some days afterwards. As a case in point, I have just had a conversation about it with a non-technical friend who stopped by this afternoon.
I think it is true that developers - and by that I mean people who spend a large part of their working week turning user stories into delivered features - as a whole do not blog. They may document the solution to a problem they have found or throw out some observational/controversial stuff in the run up to redundancy or contract renewal, but the number who blog as reflection is small. For a profession which has a reputation as being "socially awkward" I have found that the preferred communication medium of good developers is a good ol' face to face discussion. This is odd in that some of the discussions around the topic of Martin's final segment (gender skewing in development teams) invoked the "autism" argument. This is that on an autistic spectrum there is evidence that males have a higher incidence than females (http://www.nas.org.uk/) and since there are more male developers than female developers then, ergo, autistic tendencies must be required to be a developer. I think this an example of a converse error).
The irony of observing the intense social interactions between developers arguing passionately and empathetically about the subject of where they lie on an autism scale was not lost on me. We were still discussing the subject matter the following day and I expect the themes will keep re-occurring.
So are social events like Agile Yorkshire events necessary or could we have achieved the same outcome by other means; comments on a blog post, VOIP meeting, a video link presentation? Asides from the importance of an influential figure like Martin acknowledging grass-roots community groups by presenting to them I think that a physical meet-up is important. This is because of the quality and effectiveness of the communication it encourages and in the end a developer who can not communicate effectively is not a good developer.