I recently decided it would be nice to have an organized get together of grad students in the math department here at UVA. Being summer, I figured plenty of people wouldn't be around, and I also figured not everybody would be interested. Even moreso, I knew that I didn't want to be in charge of organizing such a thing. But if I didn't, I wasn't sure anybody else would.
To overcome this gap, I decided to try to make it self-organizing. I set up a spreadsheet on Google Docs and set it so that anybody could edit it. This was intended to be a repository of information about the outing: who was going, how they were getting there, what (if any) food they planned on bringing, and what sorts of activities they hoped to do while out and about. After entering my info, and having a friend in the department make sure he could edit it as well, I sent out an email to the math graduate students. In the email I emphasized that I didn't want to be in charge, and pointed everybody to the spreadsheet. I figured we're all supposedly smart (enough) people, we could certainly organize ourselves.
It didn't quite work out as I had envisioned. With little more than a week to go before the outing, only 1 more person had added to the spreadsheet. I had also gotten a couple of emails from people saying they would be out of town. But no word from plenty of people who I thought would be interested and around. One day I ran across one of the visiting instructors, who was teaching some of the summer classes UVA offers for incoming and rising second year grad students (it's an awesome feature of the department). Apparently he'd been thinking about having a group picnic or so for his class, and asked if he could just merge with my little experiment. I figured this was fine, and that many of the attendees would be from that class anyway (even if they weren't on the spreadsheet). I sent him a link to the spreadsheet, but apparently there were some technical troubles using it - he indicated that Google had required a login, which I hadn't expected.
So anyway, the day came, and plenty of people turned out. The majority of them were from the summer class, or probably had spoken directly with them. We had a good time sitting around talking and eating munchies, then playing some frisbee golf. It's quite fun to watch 10ish people all coming your way throwing frisbees, by the way.
But I'm still a little confused about the apparent failure of the online organizational aspect of the outing. I thought having one specific place where anybody could go to see about the day, and add their 2 cents, would be helpful. It could organize rides, and appropriate amounts of food. I wonder if perhaps a Facebook group would have had more traction with the other students, as most of them were not much more than a year out of undergrad. Perhaps such outings really do better with an overseeing individual, a role which may, this time, have been played by the other instructor. I still think a wiki-style organized outing would work. Maybe I'll try again sometime. I expect I'll be around for another summer...