SharePoint, Hillbillies, and Community
What a flurry of great blog posts and commentary we’ve seen today! It started with an excellent article by Barb Mosher over on CMSWire (The SharePoint Community: What it is, Why It's Important and Microsoft's Role) including interviews with SharePoint community stalwarts Laura Rogers (@wonderlaura, a SharePoint MVP), Jennifer Mason (@jennifermason), Dux Raymond Sy (@meetdux, another recent SharePoint MVP), and Microsoft’s Chris Johnson sharing their thoughts on what has made the SharePoint community successful.
The article was followed by a detailed response from SharePoint Hillbilly Mark Rackley:
I do think the “Good ‘ol Days” may be behind us. The community has been rapidly growing for a few years and I’m afraid it’s reaching a size and maturity level that may NOT be beneficial, and BECAUSE I care about you guys I wanted to say something and hopefully step on as few toes as possible. This blog post is NOT about stirring the pot (although we know I enjoy a good stir), it’s about bringing attention to some red flags I see and trying to figure out how we can fix some things before they get broken. I want the community around for a long time… maybe we can even start some sort of pension plan seeing as how I have no hope of getting Social Security some day.
Mark’s overall response was very positive (Mark sometimes enjoys playing devil’s advocate), but it brought on the inevitable anonymous response, where someone felt the need to pile on with negative comments, sucking on lemons the whole way down:
I do believe we're at a critical mass here, is there a fix? no. plain and simple there just isn't. At least from the community side of things, its the exact reason you see the people who actually MADE the community fading away. At the end of the day, there's too much noise.
Owen Allen jumped into the fray with his thoughts on future growth:
I expect that the community, as it grows (and it will do a LOT more growing), will end up diverging into local groups, the cliquishness will not be as prevalent as the numbers grow, and there will be plenty of rewards wherever community members look for them. My advice to any community person would be to make sure you measure yourself according to your own goals, and not solely by how others look at you. This includes the MVP program.
Also joining the conversation was SharePoint MVP Ruven Gotz:
Sometimes as speakers who go to many events, we may think “Oh, that guy with his same old message”, but for the attendees who are new, and haven’t heard that message yet, it still is highly relevant. Long-time community members have to realize that there are new people joining every day, and what is ‘old hat’ to you is a startling revelation to them.
To recap my response to Mark’s blog post, I really wanted to make 4 points:
- We have not reached critical mass yet. I just do not believe it – the numbers just don't back it up. Adoption is on the rise, companies who own SharePoint are looking at how to get the most out of their investment, and the community will continue to expand. Having said that, I do believe that many *people* within the community have achieved their own personal critical mass, and are feeling some burnout. It's inevitable. But don't confuse what individuals may feel and perceive as the reality versus what is actually happening in the community.
- The next generation of leaders are on fire. Talk to folks who are just coming into the community, where its all brand new and exciting and where they can see this community as opening up a whole new world, and you’ll find that the air crackles with electricity. Two great examples: Thor Castillo, whom I met at SPS Houston, has tremendous value to bring to the community, and is excited to be here and share his rich experiences in the branding space. And Kim Frehe from Chicago was full of energy when I met her at SPTechCon last month, and thought she was alone in the world until just a couple months ago. Spend a couple minutes with either one and you can't help but be reminded of why we do what we do for this community. Am I the only one who gets completely reenergized by people like this? Thor and Kim remind us all that the MAJORITY of users and burgeoning IT Pros out there are not yet participating in the community, but are searching for it. That is our opportunity as current community members — to reach out, to share what we know, to bring more experts up to speed, and then to pass the baton.
- Your old stuff is somebody’s new stuff. I can see some speakers getting sick and tired of doing the same topics over and over again. But what's old hat for you is brand new (and much needed) for someone else. When I submit abstracts to speak at events, I include the old topics and let the organizing committee – the people who know the interests and needs of their communities – make the decisions about what they want. And then I am happy to provide that content.
- Do more for the local community. At the end of the day, we all need to do more for our home communities. Hopefully people who are feeling some level of burnout don't withdraw from the community, but instead turn their focus back to their local user groups – or keep writing and sharing. That's where is should start, that's where people should be careful not to forget.
Why do I keep doing what I do? Like so many other community members, I do it because I love the interaction with the people I meet, and the chance to both learn and share what I’ve learned. It’s what drives me. And Doug Hemminger’s response to Mark’s blog perfectly captures this sentiment:
I am fairly new to the SharePoint community and have enjoyed the enthusiasm and passion that people bring to the seminars and conferences. I understand you points about the maturity of the community though and your thoughts have sparked some of my own pondering about the subject. I sincerely appreciate the time and effort that people put in to speak at user groups and SharePoint Saturdays and conferences and I can only hope that the passion and enthusiasm continues, even if it is eventually a new cast of characters.
Tom, I think its good practice to recirculate old (good) content from time to time, introducing it to newbies. You have to be creative about how you do it, but one way is to deliver the same old content to new channels. Re-post!
I get that there is a lot of noise out there in the channel, but I advise people to ignore the noise and just keep creating the content. Over time, the good content and experts float to the top, and as people start to dig, their filters (whether the tools they use or how they personally consume data) improve.
As for gaining as voice, I find that most people just don’t know where to start, and how to get involved. That’s one of the reaons why I published an ebook on the topic (no registration required): http://www.axceler.com/Portals/0/ebooks/BuildingYourPersonalBrand.pdf
I’ve enjoyed following the thread. Starting with Barb’s article brought back early memories. I remember my first session in Barcelona with a young wipper snapper MCS Consultant from NZ named Chris Johnson.
Yep, I’m becoming an old man, but I believe Chris and Christian are right that it’s the next generation of energy that will continue to build this wave. I’m a SharePoint surfer and I’ll continue riding this wave, but I’ll catch a few less than I was previously.
I’m definitely one of those guys that Shadeed points out that picks events they’d like to travel to and support. My favorite is hitting new communities. Looking forward to speaking in Minsk Belarus, Bled, Slovenia, Berlin, Germany, Chile, Argentina and Uraguay. There’s still a whole lot of the world to explore!
PS. So glad to see Mike didn’t fall off the edge of the earth. IN Fact I see he’s speaking tonight at PSPUG. See we don’t completely burn people out. They can’t LEAVE! (Not a hint or reverse psychology.)
Super great article, Christian. For every moment I think the community is “full”, I have ten when I speak to a new crowd, find a new city, a new user, someone just joining the community. A year ago, I thought my local group might be at its apex, and the extremely huge turnout at the last BASPUG is a testament not just to Geoff Varosky, Talbott Crowell, Eugene Rosenfled and Ryan Tacy, but to the Boston area. Get the same feeling everywhere I go. Yes, some folks take a break, but the challenges, and new opportunities just keep coming!
I like your comment, “Your old stuff is somebody’s new stuff.” I’ll try to take it to heart, because sometimes, as a speaker, I’m not as enthusiastic as I used to be about the old stuff.
@Mike Look for the SharePoint Community on bing at Disneyland in October 🙂
One of the challenges for some newcomers is gaining a voice in the community. I have been a part of the community for several years contributing via my blog and conversations with other SharePeeps. With that stated, I tend to lurk a lot more these days — unless I’m posting Marc Anderson’s [@sympmarc] blog posts before he does.
I have co-workers who are incredibly gifted with the use of SharePoint having a difficult time gaining a voice within the community — but I think some of the old vets out there are doing a great job helping to promote some of these new voices (i.e. Mark Miller [@eusp]) and the new talent that has been seen at SharePoint Saturdays around the world. As vets, we should do out best to find the new talent and promote their ideas — point them to Nothing But SharePoint, help them promote their blog, validate their ideas, etc.
However, the “noise” factor that Mark Rackley points out is very real — the #SharePoint hashtag has been hijacked by recruiters making it virtually useless. We have bloggers that are reposting blog posts as their own. There are some looking for free solutions and demanding community veterans to do free work. These are some of the things producing the noise and I really don’t know what we can do to squelch it.
Shadeed, you just gave me a great idea! I am going to reach out to Sadie about adding this to the SPMM discussion…
Mike, visiting hours are 11am to 3:30pm. Please take off your shoes.
Very good response to the series of blog posts discussing the state of the SharePoint community. It was good that you linked back to the previous articles written by Barb Mosher and Mark Rackley so that the casual reader can follow the conversation.
I agree with your 4 points and would like to add that most speakers go through a community discovery phase, then a constant travel phase to various events around the country, then return to enhancing their local communities while picking and choosing which events they’d like to travel to and support.
One of these days I’m going to visit the SharePoint community. I couldn’t find it on google maps though. Should I try bing?