When I first became a community admin for Meld, a community specifically for embedded Linux developers, I had no idea what I was getting into. Now, four months later, I thought I had some idea—I have been co-managing a burgeoning community, blogging for several months, giving talks at conferences, and even learning to tweet. But after a day at the Community Leadership Summit I realize I am only an egg.

I learned about this conference at a previous one. In April, at the Linux Collaboration Summit in San Francisco, I listened to a fantastic talk by Jono Bacon, Ubuntu community manager, in which he discussed “belonging”, that feeling one gets when one is a part of a larger community. (Jono should know, his book on community just came out). Another friend and community manager, Karsten Wade, made sure that I knew about the upcoming Community Leadership Summit, and I jumped at the chance to join a few other like-minded people to swap community management stories and give me some insight into how to manage Meld more effectively.

CLS is way, way beyond whatever expectation I had at the time. Set aside the fact that this Summit is packed with experts on social media, the leaders of several many prominent and successfucommunityl online communities, and luminaries from many disparate worlds, including open-source software, publishing, and marketing. This is a level playing field—the topic of the day is community and we are all equals. We are all experts, as humans are social creatures and we thrive on community, yet we are all beginners in terms of organizing that primal sense of belonging into something tangible and coherent and useful. Community is a slippery concept, and the goal of this summit is to gain some traction on it.

I attended sessions on:

  • Free software marketing
  • Community “crossovers”, where the circles of influence intersect
  • Architecting communities
  • Using video to enhance conversations
  • Letting go of leadership, dynamically sharing the organizational load

In every single one of these—and in the conversations in the hall, and in Jono’s plenary sessions, and at lunch and dinner and socializing in the bar—I learned something I hadn’t thought of before about community and its governance. The informal, egalitarian unconference style made me feel truly like a participant in each session rather than a student. It was the difference between seeing a musician in concert vs. trading the guitar with them around a campfire. The dichotomy between wizard and neophyte is simply gone, and we are all humans learning together.

In fact, that was the magic of the event, not that I hung out with luminaries, and not that I learned a ton of stuff I wouldn’t have otherwise. The magic was in the new community that formed before my eyes. It isn’t just me against the world any more. Now I know over 100 really smart people who are in the same boat. They want to learn the same stuff I want to learn, and they are willing to share what they do know and to listen to what I know. I may not know them all by face or name nor could I possibly keep up with all of them in the future (although with social media, I might!), but for this Summit, we’re all in it together.

And this was just the first day.