User Groups: The Brazilian Java Community

In 2008 James Gosling, creator (“father” ;-) of the Java language, said about Java Users Groups – JUG in Brazil: [01]


The Brazilian developer community is really wonderful. It’s composed of a lot of really smart people, really energetic people, people working in a lot of interesting projects, and one thing I find particularly interesting about the Brazilian community and Brazil itself is that we find people in Brazil doing really interesting things in places that in other countries would be pretty boring, like the the folks in the Brazilian health care system and in the Brazilian tax department.


They’re doing things that normally, (you know) they’re known as bastions of a really boring software development, but in Brazil they’re actually doing really exciting and cool things.


I think that the stuff you’ve all been up to — not just as a set of developers but as a culture – is pretty wonderful. Brazilians are known as being completely crazy (I mean that), in the friendliest and most charming way.


Nice words but, everybody knows that the Brazilian Java Community is very active, dynamic and big but how did it happened? What’s made it behave this way? What are this bunch of crazy and noisy Brazilians doing to create this phenomenon?


To answer this question we need to understand the landscape where all this history happened.


Brazil in a nutshell

Brazil is a continental country that spans three time zones and is the fifth largest country in the world, with a total area of 8 million Km2, that is, smaller than the USA with 9 million Km2 and bigger than Australia with 7 million Km2.


The country has 27 States, a population of 200 millions (June, 2013) [02] that represents 2% of the world population and only one language (Portuguese). Brazil is the seventh largest economy in the world (2012) and is a member of the BRICS block (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South africa). [03]


JUG population

From 1996 to 2013 (17 years) 61 JUG had been created in Brazil. Today 26 are active (42.6%) and 35 have died (57.4%). [04] It’s hard to have a successful JUG in this country, with no money, no sponsorship and only volunteer work (based on passion), the chance of survival is 4 in 6.


The 26 active Brazilian JUG community is composed of 94,679 members, of which 03 groups have less than 100 members (0.1%), 15 groups have between 100 and 1000 members (6.0%), 06 groups have between 1,000 and 2,000 members (8.6%) and 02 have more than 40,000 members (85.3%), which are the two largest world JUG.


Brasil JUG 2013

Map of Brazil with the 61 JUG (Inactive and Active). [05]


The above map shows that many of the Java User Groups are distributed along the Brazilian coast of the Atlantic Ocean, but in fact, this only reflects the distribution of population density of the country, where 80% of the people live at a distance less than 200 Km from the coast. [06] The states of São Paulo, Minas Gerais and Rio de Janeiro in the Southeast are in the richest region of the country, and have the largest amount of inactive and active JUG (19 groups), which is one third of the total (31%).




What is observed here seems to be a chart that represents the phenomenon of the type of viral marketing. [07] In the ’90s there were almost no JUG in Brazil (only 4) and demand was immense. People looked for those few groups because they needed to quickly empower in this new technology. This need has exponentially increased the number of people looking for these JUG, causing them to become large and thus increase their visibility. The greater the number of people taking notice, greater dissemination and also the greater the chance for other developers also to find these groups. This attractiveness is also observed by dozens of programmers from other lusophone countries who joined virtually these big Brazilian JUG, as developers from Angola, Cape Verde, East Timor, Guinea-Bissau, Mozambique, São Tomé and Príncipe and Portugal.


In this same model of viral marketing we have, on a much larger scale, Amazon, Facebook, Netflix, etc… There are good examples of dozens of search engines on the Internet, some even better than Google though, as everyone uses this search tool, more people become aware of its existence and therefore more people use it and so increasing the force of attraction of this software. Academically this phenomenon is known as the Matthew Effect. For to everyone who has, more shall be given, and he will have an abundance; but from the one who does not have, even what he does have shall be taken away (Matthew 25:29). This logic is merciless, because it unfortunately reduces the chance for smaller groups to grow.


The two oldest JUG in Brazil are also the biggest in the world, with more than 40,000 members each and both reflect the economic and political power in the regions where they are located. DFJUG is in the capital of the country (Brasília) followed by SouJava in the richest industrial state (São Paulo). With more than 15 years of activity these two groups are the most organized and became each, in time, non-governmental organizations – NGOs.


What differentiates these two groups is their internal organization. Fulfilling the local legislation with a heavy legal structure (lawyers, accountants, treasurers, etc…) they added social value to their community but on the other hand forced them to became self sustainable, which facilitated their survival over time in relation to smaller groups, which do not have this bureaucratic weight because of their informal organizations. The large number of members gave critical mass which facilitates locating new leaders and these give the organizational momentum that guarantees the continuity of the group, their self sustainability.


National JUG data (table at the end of this text) reveals some curiosities like, for example, there is a concentration of JUG inaugurations between the months of March and April.


Why do so many JUG start their activities in March and April? Brazil is a tropical country and summer (and school) holidays starts in January and finish after Carnival in the beginning of February. Business and other activities like university classes usually return to regular activities in March when people fell energetic and start new projects, like creating a new JUG. As a smart hint we can say never start a Users Group between December and February in Brazil. It’s hard to start a new Users Group during this period, as people in DFJUG learned 15 years ago ;-)


What was learned in the most difficult way was, one must analyze the national calendar choosing the best time and never initiate the activities of a new Users Group before the local summer holidays.




In 2002 almost all of the existing JUG met at Sun Microsystems head office in São Paulo and created the BrasilJUGs a federation of JUG, as a way of having formal representation (as an organized community) in front of big vendors and not as a bunch of scattered and crazy Brazilian groups. BrasilJUGs meet face to face annually in some big Java event. This meta group also meets virtually on as a closed and exclusive association of Brazilian JUG Leaders and their coordinators, which discusses group governance, community projects such as local and national events, forms of regional co-operation and also maximization of common resources.


Virtual Java discussion lists

Taking advantage of the boom of the presence Users Groups six Java Web based discussion lists were created from 2001 to 2004: Java-Br (May / 2001), PortalJava (May / 2002), GUJ – Grupo de Usuários Java (August / 2002), JavaFree (March / 2003) Java-Br Orkut (February / 2004) and Java Brasil (June / 2004).


Some were merged with other larger lists and then sold to publishing groups, which eventually turned them into discussion lists of generic programming languages, losing the original Java identity.


Java-Br, JavaFree and Java Brasil are still active discussion lists that count in all with 74,943 members (August 2013) and PortalJava, GUJ and Java-Br Orkut are now dead lists. According to its leaders, they are only virtual mailing lists with no identity (or activity) as a community, just serving to answer the programming questions of their members.


It is very hard to declare if a virtual discussion list is (or not) a Users Group, because there is no formal definition of what is a UG. Definitions made on personal beliefs depend on personal boundaries which differ from person to person. As a community it is important to have a more functional definition, because the lack of this makes it difficult to measure the dynamic (or existence) of any group.


Coffee-art and Java

Everybody knows that the logo that represents Java is a cup of coffee and one a way or other the image of Brazil is subconsciously always remembering people a good cup of a scented hot coffee. Taking advantage of this happy coincidence many of Brazilian Java groups have exploited this fact in their logos, as can be seen at, on which are displayed the links and logos of all 26 active Brazilian JUG.


The art logos represented in these groups by themselves are a journey that symbolize the culture of the regions of each JUG, as typical foods, historical images, traditional crafts, geographical landmarks, monuments, etc.. I hope someday one sociologist or anthropologist can examine the art that is represented by these logos that shows the diversity of this technological universe. Interestingly, despite the differences in each independent group, all speak only one language…. Java.


A bit of history 

Looking for the year when each of the 61 JUG started its activities in Brazil we find another curiosity.


There is a peak of JUG inaugurations between 2003 and 2004. What happened in this period? To understand we need to delve a little into the recent Java history and the Open Source movement in Brazil.


Several fortuitous factors came together during this time which made Brazil as a whole adopt Java. The explosive adoption of the Internet in the country, the free software movement, the personal desire of some developers, the commercial interest of a big bank and the strategical need of a government to reduce its dependence on proprietary software. These factors together have created a vortex that dragged an entire nation.


Java was launched in May 23, 1995, during the SunWorld’95 where a couple of developers from the biggest Brazilian national and governmental bank became interested in this new technology and decided to test it as soon as they came back home to Brasilia. The top management of this same bank was worried about the high cost of software licenses they were paying and made the decision to look for Open Source alternatives. [08]


At the same time, many in the Brazilian government had serious concerns about the high degree of dependency of their strategic systems to proprietary software vendors affecting the nations sovereignty.


The fusion between personal interests, corporate and governmental decision sparked the adoption of Java in the country and the use of this technology became natural.


By necessity to provide outsourced services to the government many developers started looking for corporate or academic training in this new technology and as this was non existent at the time they began to gather around Java Study Groups to look for and to share knowledge. Eventually these groups became the first JUG, the pioneers.


In April 1996 JavaRS started its community activities followed by BRJUG in November 1997, DFJUG in February 1998 and SouJava in October 1999. Of these four beginners only the last two remain. Since the beginning the Brazilian JUG symbiotically absorbed the idea and adopted the culture (philosophy) of the free software movement. [09]


FLOSS JUG 20140225

Legend: Timeline of Open Source, Java versions and Brazilian JUG Movement.


Of the 61 JUG created in Brazil between April 1996 and September 2013 (17 years) the chart on the previous page shows that 28 were created in the period between 2003 and 2004, and this represents 46% of the total. Nearly half of all Brazilian JUG appeared in just two years (orange horizontal band on the timeline chart above).


However, of these 28 groups that emerged in this short period, only 7 are still active today (25%) and 21 no longer exist (75%), ie, 3 of 4 JUG ceased to exist in only two years. What happened in this period suggests some important reflections.


The chart shows three distinct moments, we could call the first the Pioneers (1996-2002), the second Commercial (2003-2004) and the last the TrueBelievers (2005-2013). The group of Pioneers emerged spontaneously following the evolution of the Java language. Born as a response to the need to create a peer to peer network to help people learn the platform, from bottom to top.


Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva was elected in 2003 the thirty-fifth President of Brazil and one of the important items of his election platform was the adoption of free software in the Federal government. At the same time, the Bank of Brazil (a state bank) following this policy adopted Java as their development language, after trained more than 800 programmers initially.


Lula upon assuming the presidency of the republic causes an alteration in the entire software production chain, taking the software houses owners by surprise, because the practice until that time had always been to offer the development of programs for the government on proprietary platforms. They had not trained programmers in Java and thousands needed to be trained quickly.


President Lula at 10th FISL Photo taken by Ludovic Poitou, June 26 2009President Lula at 10th FISL  (International Free Software Forum). Photo taken by Ludovic Poitou, June 26 2009 [16].


Many “smart” entrepreneurs saw the creation of Java Users Groups a solution to meet the need of their own software houses and also the possibility of expanding their businesses in the area of training. It was the time when JUG were created from top to bottom. Taking advantage of the popularity of the language they jump on the bandwagon on the Open Source initiative to have access to a pool of available manpower when needing to hire, and could choose the best for free. There was no commitment to the initial idea of the Java Users Groups culture, to meet the needs of the community. What mattered was only to comply with their own business and many still charged people to participate, like in clubs, unlike the original philosophy that had always been to offer services for free.


A desire to promote your own commercial offerings usually is poisonous. The best groups stay very clear of any commercial involvement. This also applies to sponsors. Users Groups that are seen by members as predominantly a vehicle for someone to market to them are usually short-lived. I have often seen user groups with good potential completely derailed by conflicting commercial interests within the group” (Low, 2007, p.14). [20]


When the motivation of the group was commercial none survived, because paying members feel entitled to demand, and when they don’t receive what they expected they leave because nothing was added to their careers. In a free and volunteer Users Group with zero cost to administer, the marginal value which one needs to add to create services for the community is low but, in a non zero cost the marginal expenses are much higher. The difference between zero cost and any cost is a big one.


The third group in the chart above is the TrueBelievers. In 2005 after the JUG failures boom, slowly many groups started to appear again mostly in medium cities in the country, with population below 500,000 people. This second generation of JUG took advantage of what was learned from the success and errors of the previous groups and are continuing the UG culture, like for example of not charging members. Presently, most of them have activities under universities, that offer their facilities for the community work. The life and death rate of JUG returned to around 50%, which is not bad comparing with the previous phase.


So, to conclude after so many histories and answering IMHO our original question, why was (and still is) the JUG movement so successful in Brazil? In a simple and short answer is because there was a change in the technological landscape in the country, due to political and economic motivations, which created an unsatisfied demand for technical information, which was filled by the Java Users Groups.



brasiljugs_logoDr. JUG
JUG Leader / Founding Java Champion [21]






I thank the Webmasters Pedro Andrade and Rodrigo Nunes for maintaining DFJUG sites, without which this work could not have been accomplished, and also Prof. Ian Utting and Bruno Souza for helpful conversations.


01 – James Gosling video (2008) –
02– Brazilian Population 200 millions –
03 – Wikipedia,, visited 2013-08-07
04 – Many of the Brazilian JUG are represented in the world JUG profile map in visited in 2013-07-29.
05 – Map of Brazil, source IBGE,, visited 2013-08-09
06 – 80% of the Brazilian population lives at 200 Km offshore
07 – Viral marketing,, visited 2013-08-10
08 – Java History (in English) in StoryTroop with several testimonials of Brazilian developers, in
09 – Java History (in Portuguese) with testimonials of Brazilian developers pioneers, in the Java Magazine –
10 – History of Free / Libre Open Source Software in Wikipedia visited 2013-08-17
11 – OS/2 history at Wikipedia in
12 – Politec’s Hiraclis Nicolaides in personal testimony
13 – The Dot-com bubble at Wikipedia in
14 – President Lula at Wikipedia in
15 – The Brazilian Public Software Portal in
16 – President Lula at 10th FISL.
17 – Public License for Trademark in and Simon Phipps wrote about the Brazil’s New Trademark License
18 – BB economy of US$ 50 million dollars in proprietary licenses in
19 – SouJava in the JCP Committee in
20 – LOW, Greg. Building Technical User Communities. Rollinsford: Rational Press, 2007.
21 – Currently doing a PhD in Computer Science at the University of Kent, in Canterbury UK, in the research group that created the BlueJ and Greenfoot.

Timeline of OpenSource, Java versions and Brazilian JUG Movement in a nutshell



The first historical step was the arrival and installation of GNU / Linux in the servers of some departments of Computer Science in the University of São Paulo (USP). [10]



Java was launched in SunWorld’95.



First Java event in Brazil – JavaDay.


IBM offered the solution OS/2 and Java to the Bank of Brazil – BB. Covering 70% of the national territory BB adopts the IBM’s Operational System OS/2, Warp 4 version, in its 6,000 bank agencies and 10,000 ATM with several tools for development and native support for Sun Microsystems Java. [11]



The Bank of Brazil starts training 800 Cobol programmers in Java. The director of a big software house at the time said: BB is like an elephant, hard to make a turn but when it does it creates a vacuum that pulls everything behind it. [12]



The state of Rio Grande do Sul data processing company PROCERGS was the first Brazilian governmental institution to legally adopt Open Source IT solutions.



First edition of the Open Source International Forum – FISL in Porto Alegre.


NASDAQ record of 5132.52 points in one day and the subsequent burst of Dot-com Internet bubble. [13]



Luis Inácio Lula da Silva is elected the thirty-fifth President of Brazil with a proposition to support the Open Source initiatives. [14]


Several high members of the technological entourage of the presidential candidate Lula were influenced by the support of the French government to the Open Source movement (very strong at the time) and when the president took office they became secretaries (heads) of several ministries and federal agencies.



Government launch the technical committee for adoption of Open Software – CISL.


National Health Card project wins the Duke Choice Award.



The National Income Tax system is released in Java and wins the Duke Choice Award.



São Paulo Health system project wins the Duke Choice Award.


Juggy, the world’s JUG mascot is created by Brazilians.



The Brazilian Public Software Portal – SPB is launched as an associated “virtual public market”, where organizations – both public and private – can find suppliers who will help them install and support one of the more 60 available open source and free applications on the portal, which are mostly written in Java. [15]


President Lula receives the Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz to talk about Open Source initiative and Java.



Governmental Normative Instruction number 04 (IN 04) defines Free and Libre Open Source Software as preferred on public purchases.



President Lula of Brazil came to FISL (International Free Software Forum) 10th edition. This is probably the first time ever that a President of a nation has visited a Free and Open Source Software conference anywhere in the world. [16]


The Income tax Java system is used by 25 million Brazilians to make their annual declarations exclusively on the Internet.



Public License for Trademark – LPM is launched to extend the exercise of software freedom to protect free and open trademarks similarly to the open source licenses. [17]


The BB announced that since 2003 the adoption of open solutions produced them an economy exceeding US$ 50 million dollars. The institution uses Linux in over 80,000 workstations and 6,000 agency servers. The LibreOffice is in more than 100,000 desktop computers. [18]



Oracle announced that SouJava was nominated to the Java Community Process – JCP Executive Committee. [19]


jHome project wins the Duke Choice Award.




Legend: All 61 Brazilian JUG are represented here. GREEN is an active JUG and RED is a JUG that does not exist anymore.


At the same time, the Bank of Brazil (a state bank) following this policy adopted Java as their development language, after trained more than 800 programmers initially