Mindstorms – Building Community, Or Not
A little over five years ago I saw a fantastic Lego Mindstorms television commercial on the internet. I was so blown away by the possibilities that I arranged to have the RIS purchased by a friend in the US and then shipped over to me here in Japan. Not only that, I also bought two of the additional sets and was beside myself waiting for them to arrive.
Sadly, the shipment took forever, through no fault of Lego, and by the time the boxes finally arrived I was in the middle of a big, and very emotional breakup with my then significant other. The Mindstorms got put on the shelf, and it was about six months later before I broke open the packages to start experimenting.
Of course, nothing goes as smoothly as we imagine. I quickly discovered that the RIS wouldn't work with the one computer I was left with after my S.O. departed with the newer one back to the States. Everything got boxed back up, and sat on the shelf for another six months.
Finally, after I managed to buy a new desktop system, installed all my other applications, and cleared off my desktop, I was able to break open the Mindstorms boxes again. For a while, probably about six months or so, I had a wonderful time learning all about the Lego approach to robotics. I put together and programmed quite a few different robot configurations, and even succeeded in hacking together several original designs of my own. It was cool - very cool.
Still, I was looking for something more - other people with similar interests that I could chat with, share information with, ask and answer questions - a Mindstorms community. I knew there was a Japanese Mindstorms group, and considered attending some of their events. Yet I felt that my Japanese language ability, while okay for face to face discussion, just wouldn't cut it in an email or online forum. That would have to be in English, at least until my Japanese reading and writing (typing) skill improved quite a bit.
Thankfully, I was able to locate quite a large, geographically dispursed, very active Mindstorms community online - or more specifically, several different forums/message boards. I plan to cover what I found, both positive and negative, in future posts since it's clear that other Mindstorms users face simliar challenges.
My biggest surprise and I have to say disappointment, was when Lego decided to completely reform and renew their online forums. While I didn't check them every day, my notes indicate that they closed the old forums around the middle of April saying that they would only be offline for a month.
A month stretched into monthS, and sometime around September the boards started to come back on line. Actually that isn't quite true, since what came online were complete new boards - apparently, as far as I can tell, without any of the old content and past messages.
It's really too bad, though I certainly understand the technical and implementation problems that have to be dealt with to make a major transition like this. The first place a new customer looks when they want to connect with other users is the manufacturer's website. If the manufacturer goes to the trouble to provide an online forum, but the forum is 'dark' then it makes it appear that the product isn't popular at all.
I'm hoping now that the forums are back up and running that many of the customers, and prospective customers, will come back and start actively using and developing the resource.