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Silicon Valley Linux User Group: Editorials

"Who's the Largest LUG in the World?"

by Ian Kluft, SVLUG Member
January 30, 1999
San Jose, California

See the January 31 update of this editorial. The content of this editorial has been withdrawn but is left here for historical reference, so people looking into this story can see how the discussion started and progressed.

There are two groups who have competing claims to be the largest LUG (Linux user group) in the world. They are the Silicon Valley Linux User Group (SVLUG) in San Jose (Silicon Valley), California and the Skåne Sjælland Linux User Group (SSLUG), which spans across Sweden and Denmark.

Before I sort out these claims, let me say that this kind of competition is basically a good thing for the Linux community. It's probably inevitable in a time of rapid growth, such as Linux is experiencing right now. Above the competing claims, these two groups like all other LUGs are basically on the same side as they help Linux users and promote Linux within the areas they serve.

So let's go look at the numbers...

SSLUG's Claim

If we were to simply compare every group that puts the term "Linux User Group" in its name, then SSLUG makes the largest claim, with 2200 members. SSLUG makes this claim based on the number of subscribers on its e-mail list.

SSLUG is a conglomeration of the local Linux User Groups in Denmark and part of Sweden. At the "SSLUG" level, they can only meet 4 times per year because of the vast distances people are from each other. By the definitions of every other LUG in the world, SSLUG would be considered a national association of LUGs. Their local affiliate groups are more comparable with other LUGs.

SVLUG's Claim

Founded in 1988 as a PC-Unix group about two years before Linux was created, SVLUG is uncontested as the oldest LUG in the world. Some members of the group started using Linux as soon as Linus Torvalds posted the first versions on the Net from the University of Helsinki in 1991. Linux gradually overtook use of all other Unixes within the group during the next few years.

SVLUG's membership of almost 1000 comes from counting the subscribers to its mail lists. It is like most LUGs in that it primarily covers a contiguous metropolitan area. Or in this case it's a fraction of a large metropolitan area, in the southern portion of the San Francisco Bay Area. Other LUGs in the Bay Area are primary occupants in other parts, such as the Bay Area Linux User Group (BALUG) in San Francisco and the northern peninsula, the North Bay Linux User Group (NBLUG) in the North Bay counties, and several others on college campuses at Berkeley, Stanford and San Francisco. Also like most LUGs, all of the LUGs in the Bay Area cover areas small enough to have monthly meetings and/or installfests.

Comparing the Claims

SSLUG claims 2200 members. SVLUG claims almost 1000 members. Both count by their mail list subscriptions. But these numbers are comparing apples and oranges.

With the exception of SSLUG, every group in the world that calls itself a Linux User Group is formed around a metropolitan area or similarly-sized region, within an area small enough that monthly meetings or activities are possible.

In contrast with the local-area focus of most LUGs, SSLUG covers a vast amount of territory. They only meet 4 times per year, at a great distance from their outlying areas. For background information on Sweden and Denmark, I'll refer to the CIA World FactBook chapters.
Country Population Land Area
Denmark 5.3 million 42,394 sq km, about twice the size of Massachusetts
Sweden 8.9 million 410,928 sq km, slightly larger than California

That's a huge area for one LUG. In comparison...
Region Population Land Area Number of LUGs
California 33.5 million 155,523 sq mi
402,802 sq km
14+ (SVLUG, BALUG, CalLUG, CCSF LUG, LUGS, SFPCUG Linux SIG, NBLUG, CABAL, SCLUG, DeltaLUG, LINUS (UCLA), OCLUG, SGVLUG, KPLUG)
Bay Area 5.5 million 6540 sq mi
16,938 sq km
8+ (SVLUG, BALUG, CalLUG, CCSF LUG, LUGS, SFPCUG Linux SIG,NBLUG, CABAL, SCLUG)
Santa Clara County 1.6 million 1,312 sq mi
3398 sq km
1 (SVLUG)

Comparing by area makes a strong point about how many local-area groups can fit over such distances from each other. Although the comparison is a little muddied by California's much denser population, which as the most populous state contains 1/8 of the population of the United States.

Agreeing to Disagree...

We can understand that having a common language within Denmark and part of Sweden gives SSLUG a reason to associate on that level. Since most of the Internet speaks English, they provide a useful forum for speakers of the Danish language. So, ever since SSLUG's first claim in late 1998 to be the largest LUG in the world, SVLUG has been willing to acknowledge that SSLUG has a competing claim - depending on the criteria.

There's no rule anywhere that says what size of organization can call itself a LUG. So no one can (or would) challenge SSLUG's validity as an organization or their right to use their name. But since they have made such a different use of the term than every other LUG in the world, it doesn't make sense for them to simply compare numbers for their two-country LUG against every other local area LUG, just because they chose a similar name.

It has been somewhat frustrating that SSLUG goes on claiming to be the largest LUG in the world, without reciprocating to SVLUG the acknowledgements we give to them. Though we believe that the level of activity in SVLUG and the number of times we get stories in the news (and 4 times up on Slashdot) will make the real difference over time. But now we see that the BBC has simply parroted SSLUG's claim. So it's time to respond and set the record straight. That's why I wrote this after discussion with other SVLUG members - to bring SSLUG's lofty claims back down to Earth. They have a competitor whether they admit it or not.

Since each of the two groups claims to be largest based on completely different criteria, the only resolution would be to categorize them differently, as local-area and national LUGs. SVLUG is the largest local-area LUG. And SSLUG is the largest national LUG. It would be fair to acknowledge each other in that way.

We look forward to a response from SSLUG.

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