That question is a seemingly easy question to answer for someone who has been with the group since the beginning, not so obvious to others so I will try to clarify who and what we are.
First off let’s take a look at the ASPInsiders public website:
“The ASPInsiders is a select group of international professionals who have demonstrated expertise in ASP.NET technologies and who provide valuable, early feedback on related developing technologies and publications to their peers, the Microsoft ASP.NET team and others.”
That statement about sums up what we are about. We are not any sort of elitist group; we do not make any silly statements about how we are going to rule the world; all of us have day jobs... We are just a bunch of *trusted* individuals who all share the same passion for ASP.NET technologies.
Overall, the group has three primary online assets. The first is the public web site (http://www.aspinsiders.com). This is the primary site which the world has access to. It could be considered as the “marketing” side of the group. Where we as a group can show face and publically list our members.
Internally we have a Wiki. All group organization is done via the wiki. Membership lists, travel and accommodation organization, early-access programs, memberships, new member voting, etc.. is all done there. I, along with a few others, are currently “maintaining” the wiki with respect to the logins (new member approval, password resets, etc..), and overall maintenance/health of the application.
Lastly there is a set of email mailing lists provided by ASPAdvice.com. Probably the most important list is the list which is shared with many members of the ASP.NET Team directly. This list is one of the primary avenues for feedback (to and from the ASP.NET Team).
With the help of this wiki and a few of these mailing lists we have managed to be a completely self organizing and managed group.
Our current membership structure is quite flat. There is simply no hierarchy in the group at all. Each and every member of the ASPInsiders are seen as peers.
Side Note: We do have this idea of people in volunteer positions that are “maintaining” or are “tasked” with certain duties within the organization. Some examples of these are Wiki access (see above), NDA tracking, mailing list maintenance, Public web site maintenance, etc.. The interesting thing about these volunteers is that in order to become a volunteer (or to back out) you just need to update the wiki page relevant to each task item. All of us have a vested interest in keeping the group alive and many of us will see a deficit in any one task item and step up to help out.
You see, with a group such as ours, most of our member’s go through spurts in our lives where we have time to commit. As time goes on, that commitment dwindles and sometimes just fades right out. In order to mitigate that issue we use the wiki which is excessively easily to maintain and change. Probably one of the largest points we have learnt over the many years is that since we are essentially a “volunteer” based community group each individual should never bite of more than they can chew. We don’t need excessively feature rich tools to maintain the group. Simplicity is key.
Now, there are many members which do nothing other than chime in every so often. They never participate in helping the group as a whole or provide any resources to the group itself. This is quite acceptable. As long as you can provide valuable and constructive input you are welcome. In fact, recently I have had a few conversations with various members who feel that since they do not contribute they might get kicked out. This is simply not the case. All of us go through times when we can contribute and when we just can’t touch the group for months at a time. This is quite normal and you will not get kicked out of the group.
If you honestly feel that your life has moved on, and will never offer any more value to the group all you need to do is send an email to the group and we can simply disable the appropriate accounts.
So how do I become a member? That’s easy. Get noticed.
You can do many things to get noticed, one of which is to simply find your local ASPInsider and send them an email. Or, feel free to use the comments form below and let me know, just be sure to send a copy of your “portfolio” or “credentials” (technical, community, etc..). I will review your details and pass them on to the group.
Our membership process is quite simple (of course!). Once you do get noticed, and convince that person to nominate you, your name with a list of your credentials are posted on the Wiki. It is up to that person to spread the word to the other members (via emails, msn, twitter, whatever). If others feel that you qualify (again, based on your credentials and personal experience) they will add their names to your list. Once we get 10 votes for you we send it off to Microsoft for final “veto”. That step is in place mostly for legal reasons. Microsoft wants to make sure they can trust our group as a whole -a great sanity check, IMHO.
So now that you have been voted in and Microsoft approved you will be contacted by someone in the group (Wally, Steve, or someone else) with the paperwork, mostly it’s the standard Microsoft NDA. Once we receive that NDA you sign up on the ASPAdvice mailing lists and the Wiki and you’re officially an ASPInsider!
Side Note: Notice that the membership is dictated by other members, we vote for you. This is the key difference between the MVP Program and Microsoft. Microsoft owns the MVP program where the ASPInsiders is owned by the group itself. Microsoft can only veto out potential members. We receive no money or any other formal compensation from the team. We are in it to grow the technology because we are passionate about the future.
[EDIT] Site Note: There is one big caveat to the membership process, given that our group has such a strong tie with the ASP.NET Team at Microsoft. We have enabled them to essentially side track our membership process and vote people they feel should be included. This was obviously a pretty big debate point within the group itself but in the end it was accepted (I'm told last October it was accepted - thanks Steve Smith).
The last bit I want to discuss is our sort-of Annual Summit. This is probably the second most valuable offering our group has (aside from the mailing lists). Essentially our group pesters ScottGu and his team to let us come to Redmond for a few days to get a sneak preview of what the team has cooking. Scott and his team dive into some excessive detail on new features, tools, methodologies, etc.. that they are seeing a need for in the industry.
The ASPInsiders and the ASP.NET Team all gather in a room in Building 20 and have open, honest, and constructive conversations. Typically Microsoft will set the baseline schedule with some flexibility on content and timing of content. For example, this year there was a higher need for silverlight content so the team got together and shifted the schedule around to accommodate us. Usually it is classroom style with either a PM or Dev doing the show-and-tell thing and opening the floor up to Q&A and discussions.
This year was, by far, the most successful Summit I think I have even been to with respect to number of participants, quality of feedback, Microsoft buy in, etc.. I wonder if it has anything to do with ScottGu’s new promotion! J
As some of you have noticed there is a fair amount of networking/socializing that goes on around the summit. There are many opportunities to interact with your peers and the Microsoft team, usually good, sometimes it goes off on a tangent or two. (Spang!). Overall it is a very positive time for our group. Many people share rooms and rides to the event. Some real great conversations and relationships are built. I wonder how much Rob Howard's company "Telligent" has to do with the ASPInsiders?
In conclusion, I hope this helps to clarify some of the intent of our little group. Again, if you feel that joining our group would be a benefit to you and your career feel free to drop my a line and I can work with you to get the ball rolling!