What Does It Take to Become Part of a Community Effort?

Mark Miller (@EUSP) and I sat down virtually yesterday to talk about being a member of a community. The context was the SharePoint community, of course, but we tried to keep it general enough to apply to pretty much any type of community. IMO, the same basic ideas apply to being in charge of your neighborhood social committee, a member of Congress, a speaker on a circuit, or a contributor to the SharePoint community.

All it takes great content, and the willingness to realize that you will act like a moron from time to time. Oh, and a love of bacon, but that’s probably optional.

The video is part of a series Mark is doing called Community Building – Real World Stories. He’s already interviewed a few others, with more to come.

This is part of a series of talks on how community leaders became engaged with their communities: how they found the community, the process they went through to become part of the community and insights into how you can become more credible and visible in your industry.

Next time I should probably set up my Webcam a little less slanty.

What Can ‘Dralion’ Teach Us About the SharePoint Community?

Cover of "Dralion"

Cover of Dralion

Tonight, my wife, 6-year-old son, and I went to see Cirque du Soleil’s Dralion here in Boston. If you’ve never seen a Cirque du Soleil show, they are truly remarkable. Even though they have probably over-commercialized themselves (hey, who’s to begrudge success?) each show I’ve seen, and it’s been 3 or 4 I think, gives the “Wow!” factor.

When you see a performance of the caliber that Cirque du Soleil puts on, it’s awe-inspiring. The combination of physical strength and perfection along with the mental acuity and concentration required to do the performance is mind-boggling to me. These are people at the top of their game, day in and day out; every performance goes off as close to perfectly as it can.

There’s a flip side to that, of course. Because they are so talented, when there’s even the tiniest slip up, you notice it. A quiver in an arm here, or a slip of the lip there, and all of a sudden your willful suspension of disbelief can be broken for an instant. Then you think, well there was a screw up. What gets lost in that moment is the fact that what they are doing is remarkable, that you couldn’t even begin to do 1/1000th of what they are at that moment accomplishing yourself.

During the show, from time to time I was thinking about the fact that I made a mistake in one of the pieces of content in my DVWP Basics course, which I’m currently running at USPJ Academy. It’s not a big mistake, but several of the students noticed it and I need to fix it. Because I’ve put myself “up on stage” by running a course with my own material, the flaw in this case is mine. No matter how good the other content may be – and I hope it *is* good – the flaw is what is currently sticking in my mind.

I see a similar thing played out in the SharePoint community, too. (Everything comes back to SharePoint, don’t you know?) There are literally hundreds of people out there in the SharePoint community giving of themselves to assist others. In some cases it’s a part of their job, but in many, many cases, it’s pro bono. Yet even with no quid pro quo (how much did you pay for that ticket?) there’s push back, second guessing, and ingratitude too much of the time. It’s the flaws that people seem to see and dwell on and not the phenomenal contribution that folks just like all of us are putting out there.

So when you get that help, willfully suspend your disbelief and applaud the effort and giving mentality. Pretend that there isn’t an ulterior motive (usually there isn’t anyway) and say “thank you”. Those SharePoint performers, who are at the top of their game, are giving you themselves, two shows a night with a Sunday matinee.

Thanks for coming, and remember to tip your waiter.

p.s. That flaw in my material was really bugging me, so I just fixed it. I feel a lot better now.

What Should Microsoft Do for the SharePoint Community – My Opinions

This post was cross-posted on NothingButSharePoint.com on 23 November, 2010.

As with so many things these days, this post started off in a conversation on Twitter. Eric Ligman, Microsoft Global Partner Experience Lead, tweeted a question: “What would you like to see from #Microsoft from a social networking/community perspective? #socialmedia #mspartner“. Here’s the conversation from Twitter:







I realize that Eric’s question was about communities around *any* of Microsoft’s products, but what I know is the SharePoint community. I’m betting that it’s as much of standout in the technical community spectrum for Microsoft as it is against just about any technical community out there.

As I mentioned above, the SharePoint community is alive and well, thank you very much. Through the herculean efforts of people like Michael Lotter (the king of SharePoint Saturdays) and Mark Miller, Jeremy Thake, and Joel Oleson (the kings of SharePoint online communities), and a band of others, the ball got rolling.  After those early cultivators of the community started things off, it seems like the community just keeps growing. Of course there are those who enter the stream to try to make a quick buck off SharePoint as the latest new big thing, but the vast majority of the SharePoint community kicks in their time, knowledge, and effort for free or very little.  This is something which makes the SharePoint community so unique.

It’s been said ad nauseum, but the SharePoint community *really* is unique. I’ve been in technology for almost 30 years now and I have never seen such a giving, thoughtful community built around a technology platform. I often wonder if this is more due to the technologies available to support things (20 years ago we wouldn’t have even had a way to identify the others in our field, much less collaborate with them regularly) or the domain itself. I think it’s probably the confluence of the two: passion for collaboration supported by the best collaborative technologies that have ever existed. I’m not just talking about SharePoint here; it’s just one of the threads in the amazingly vibrant social and collaborative technology fabric which we all use every single day.

So, what do I think that Microsoft should do in the SharePoint community space?

Be Aware

For gosh sakes, know what the community is doing. I was at a Microsoft-sponsored event a while back and it flabbergasted me that we had to explain to marketing folks in the Office division how SharePoint Saturdays worked and how the SharePoint community uses Twitter. Microsoft needs to know all that is going on and participate mindfully. Know what we are up to and learn the lingo and the names. Get to know us, even those of us who aren’t MVPs. Many of us don’t do this for things like MVP badges, but for the community itself and the rewards we get from participating, as intangible as they may be. Think about what we are doing and why. Let us know what you see us doing that seems good or bad and why. Keep the channels open. 

Be Respectful

Yes, the community is alive and well, and to a large degree that has been without much help from Microsoft. So respect what has happened around SharePoint and don’t meddle without very carefully considering each act. We don’t just need a bunch of money and a herd of Softies showing up at all of the events. But the events are fun, mind-bogglingly valuable and informative, and might benefit from a little Softie TLC and mind share.

Understand how much time many of us put into the community. Think about the fact that the reward structures (the MVP program for one) that you offer to the propeller head geeks (That’s not a put down, BTW. I’m a closet propeller head.) don’t really work for everyone in the SharePoint space. There are also a lot of *very* good small shops out there who work with SharePoint who don’t necessarily get much from things like the Partner Program. That’s OK, frankly, but we’re not just going to sell software seats for you (which *sometimes* seems like the overarching motivation for you). We’re going to help make people think about Microsoft differently, one project at a time, but also one conversation at a time.

We’re in this not just for the technology, but for how this stuff can fundamentally change work as we know it. We see potential far beyond documents in lists and social networking. We see a greater whole which transcends SharePoint itself. (OK. I’m getting a little ridiculously hyperbolic here, but I’m not kidding, really.)

Be Supportive

Yes, that may mean a little money. But it also means continuing to let us use Microsoft facilities for SharePoint Saturdays. It may also mean being there at SharePoint Saturdays to show that you know about them and understand the value. It may mean tossing the community leaders a few bones every once in a while, and that may be very simple stuff like mentions in articles or invitations to cool events. Different rewards work for different people. If you get to know us, you’ll figure out what those might be. Acknowledge what we do and the difference it makes to you. Help us when we ask for help, whether it be on a particularly thorny technical issue, or when we point out problems with your documentation, or when we ask for new ways to work with you.


If there’s one message I’d say is the take away for Microsoft in all of this, it’s “Don’t screw this up”. We’ve got a great thing going here. We may not all get rich, but we’re doing good work and making a difference.  The SharePoint community is the glue that hold it all together.