SharePoint Community; Loud but not so clear?

Dan Antion (@dantion) had a guest blogger on his excellent SharePoint Stories blog yesterday. Mark Thompson (@MCTSMark), half of the Consultant Chronicle team, weighed in on SharePoint Community; Loud but not so clear. I liked the post and started to add a few comments. Before I knew it, I had enough to say that I had this post written up.

There’s a little bit of the whole Rodney King “can’t we all just get along” to all of this. (I’m saying that, Mark didn’t.) It’s a tricky balance, really. As someone who has found a fairly comfortable niche in the SharePoint community, I wrestle with how to make it meaningful, useful, and yes, profitable on some level.

I think it’s in human nature to begin to have a larger ego as soon as a number of people start to give you positive strokes. Maintaining humility can be hard. For some reason, though, technology pursuits often lend themselves to the biggest-asshole-in-the-room syndrome. I know more than you and damn it, you’ll suffer for it. Maybe it’s due to the fact that many of us work with computers simply because they aren’t people, and social skills aren’t required in those interactions. SharePoint is different, though, in that it’s all about collaboration. We should all be able to rise above the BAITR syndrome in the name of working together toward common goals.

Staying relevant and providing useful knowledge and information can also be hard. Another human nature thing can be that the more we know about one particular topic (and get positive reinforcement for it), the more deeply we delve into it. Having worked with some truly impressive minds with PhDs over my career, I can tell you that excessive specialization can be isolating and self-perpetuating. To participate successfully in the SharePoint community, I posit that we all need to maintain a level of generality as well as our particular, chosen areas of focus. I often get left field questions (based on my knowledge set) and my goal is either to research a solution to educate myself or (usually due to a lack of time) send the question along to a better place, whether it be a different person or a specific forum where I think a good answer can be had. The flip side of specialization is that we each may well become the best go-to source on a particular topic. We each need to come up with ways to make the particular topic accessible and relevant when we speak to others about it. no matter how far down the rabbit hole we go.

The latter point about profitability is probably the trickiest. Being a strong contributor to the community means that you give a lot away for free. While that is altruistically valuable, it wears thin on our pocketbooks and spouses over time. For those of you who aren’t aware, the Microsoft MVP thing doesn’t bring any lucre whatsoever. If anything, it puts considerable *new* demands on one’s time, for none of which is there compensation. Speaking at SharePoint Saturdays is voluntary, and you need to get yourself there and usually stay in a hotel on your own dime. Writing a successful blog takes a lot of time, which you have to invent from your own schedule. Publishing open source solutions to help with SharePoint usage or development is no money maker – you really don’t make it up in volume. In other words, many people do this stuff for nothing. There’s a party line that all of these efforts will lead to higher billing rates (if you are a consultant) or promotions and raises (if you work inside an organization). This can only be true if the clients have more money to spend (many don’t) or the organization you work for values community work (many don’t).

The community makes and the community takes. When the balance is way off for any one individual, they aren’t usually getting enough back and at times, they must reevaluate. Keeping those reevaluations un-crass can be a struggle.

So yes, the SharePoint community is still wildly successful and helpful. It will continue to be that way, IMO, but it will age in waves. Early members will fade away or “retire”, existing members will shift their priorities from time to time, and a new crop of active members will come along steadily. The community will at times seem threadbare in spots, but it will repair itself. It’s just too strong to fail. It may not be that loud *or* clear, but it will survive.

4 Comments

  1. Marc, I can say that the way you respond to people with questions is one of the reasons we selected you to do our training. So, there’s a little bit of evidence that the strategy works from a marketing perspective. Then again, charging $1 for SPServices would have worked better, I’m sure. I’m going to post the rest of this on both blogs, as I think it applies to both.

    Communities are funny things. If you are among the people regularly speaking at events, you tend to know the other regulars, so events can be like family gatherings. If you are active in the community, but not a regular speaker, events can be a time to catch-up, associate faces with avatars and meet your “fans”. A larger challenge with SharePoint is how many communities it serves. I, for example, am more active in the ECM community than the SharePoint community. Others I know are more active in DAM, Records Management, Project Management, and Development communities. We are all capable of spreading ourselves too thin and impacting the reason we do this in the first place. For example, I was unable to attend SharePoint Saturday in Hartford, as I was preparing to attend my employer’s Annual Meeting. There was no choice involved there, giving back vs. staying employed.

    More toward Mark’s (with a ‘k’) point, even new or wannabe speakers can be made to feel insignificant by some of the seasoned ensemble cast. The first time I ever presented at a significant event (OOPSLA 2001) I was very fortunate to have some “regulars” help me out. They put some additional butts in chairs, and one of them handled a difficult audience member who was determined to be the BAITR (I love that term). This kind of support, the old pros helping the young bucks, is essential for the orderly evolution that you are counting on. Since we are all involved with technology, reflection should be a natural tool in our toolbox. I am counting on that, and people like you guys to keep us all on the right path. You two are clearly leading by example, IMO.

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  2. Thanks to Mark, Marc, and Dan for this line of dialog. I’ve added some thoughts of my own here: http://bit.ly/o6YMRO

    I think the most salient point here is that we can’t forget about the newbies — whether new to the technology, or new to the community as a speaker/expert.

    I do not agree with people who think the SharePoint community is cresting. We’re now seeing a huge influx of business users, and those interested in moving from business user into more of the IT Pro realm. Based on adoption rates of businesses, the data points to a growing community for some time.

    But I do agree that the passion of many community members is waning – they’ve seen it, they’ve done it all, and maybe they’re a bit road-weary. It’s not a negative thing to get to that phase, as its just a natural cycle. The hard part sometimes is recognizing that you’re done, or maybe just need a break from the community, taking some time to rest, reinvent yourself, or just to figure out a way to reignite the passion. If people don’t pause and recognize where they are in the cycle, they may put on blinders that skew their perspective of the community, or the technology, or the people within the community. In other words, because their excitement or interest is waning, they project that view onto the community, and believe it to be fact. It’s tough to look inward, to get past the ego.

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