User groups are web-based forums where users of a specific type of technology gather to discuss their experiences, get technical support, and share resources. User groups are often organized around a specific brand of operating systems and software, such as Clipper, Microsoft Windows and Linux; or hardware, such as Macintosh or IBM. Although less common, there are also user groups centered around outdated or obsolete technologies. The first computer user group, SHARE, was designed in 1955 for corporate members of the aerospace industry using IBM mainframe computers. Prior to the proliferation of the Internet in homes and offices during the late 1990s, user groups were mainly created by and for computer programmers and hardware/software developers.
User groups typically consist of both content exclusive to members and content available to the general public. While members of the general public may occasionally seek troubleshooting tips, members of user groups are most often interested in networking and influencing product development. To facilitate this type of networking and product development, user groups will often organize committees and host periodic meetings and conferences, both online and in-person. Many user groups also distribute newsletters to keep their members up-to-date on group development and distribute various discounts on products and services. Member groups also host media libraries related to the technology, and software archives.
From the standpoint of companies that create the technologies, user groups offer a number of incentives. They allow developers to identify trends in the users’ various purposes for using the product, as well as recurring glitches or trouble areas. User groups also provide unsolicited feedback from the technology’s users, which is crucial to future product development. For these reasons, companies such as Apple, which has over 700 such groups around the world, often support and promote their user groups, despite not leading or owning them.
Some user groups charge annual membership fees, typically at a rate of $10-$60 US Dollars(USD) per year. In addition to individuals and corporate organizations, certain user groups also have specially-designated memberships for companies which develop products or services that are complementary to the main technology and applications.