Tonight’s Forecast: Cloudy with a Side of SharePoint

I just got back from a nice little event put together by our friends over at SoftArtisans called “Cloudy with a Side of SharePoint”. It was a freeform discussion at a local beer pub on all sorts of topics, but nominally “What’s up with SharePoint in the cloud?”.

Of course, you can get a bunch of techies together over beers without the conversation ranging all over the place (it was great to catch up with some folks I haven’t seen in a while), but we did indeed talk about SharePoint in the cloud.

Some of the more interesting takeaways for me…

Having servers in the cloud where novice developers can’t break things very easily (the sandbox is *supposed* to make that the case) means that the number of developers expected to start working with SharePoint over the next 3 to 5 years may be more possible. As more and more techies jump onto the SharePoint bandwagon – it’s everywhere, don’t you know – we have the danger of even more horribly badly implemented solutions than we’ve had in the past. SharePoint is a truly huge beast and it takes a *very* long time to get good with it. By adding a protective barrier between SharePoint and these newbies, the ecosystem may grow more safely and even faster.

The possibility of increased uptime because “the cloud” is a dedicated service (we were generally lumping together Office365 with FPWeb in the conversation tonight, but there are other good shops as well) with highly trained people running it (we hope, and so we’re told) can certainly be appealing. Interestingly, no one I talk to really seems to care about the “money back guarantee” behind Office365. After all, if it’s down, it’s down, and if your content goes missing, the money you get back certainly won’t cover it.

Finally, as we went around the table, it was interesting that even in a relatively small group there are very different views on what “SharePoint in the cloud” means as well as the impact it may have on each of us. The small-shop, high end consultants worry about developing in Office365’s sandbox and what it takes away; the partners who develop products see issues when it comes to licensing and as well as new opportunities; and of course there’s me, thinking that the cloud doesn’t change a heck of a lot about how I think of SharePoint, though there may be more people interested in the courses I teach at USPJA.

It was great to join in the banter with Ian Dicker, Ryan Thomas, Rob Windsor (Rob is infiltrating the US from his native Canada and his incursions have not gone unnoticed. First BASPUG last night and then CWASOS tonight.), Mike Gilronan, and Claire D. Willett, Ben Jones, and David Wihl from SoftArtisans. Unfortunately I was a little late and missed my pal Sadie Van Buren who had to cut out before I got there.

And no, there was no BAITR tonight, at least not at my end of the table.

p.s. Claire called it both CWACOS *and* CWASOS, so I’m right either way. She and Ben want it to be a monthly thing, so stay tuned if you’re in the Boston area…

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.