The report of the community’s death was exaggerated

The title of this post paraphrases Mark Twain who wrote this when his obituary was published in the paper. Today, Mark Rackley (the SharePoint Hillbilly) wrote a post asking: Is the SharePoint Community Past Its Prime?

In my reply below (too long to be a comment on Mark’s blog), I state my case that he is completely, and utterly (ok, maybe not utterly) wrong:

Growth is always tough. Things were fine, and then they changed. Waaah. <– that’s a general comment, not meant to call-out Mark (though he does cry like that, I’ve seen him).

Like Mark, I worry about issues like sponsor fatigue. But then, I see them all come out, in cities (or suburbs) large and small. They must still be getting value out of the opportunity to put themselves in-front of a group of interested and dedicated potential customers.

I worry about opportunities for new members of the community to speak. But (most recently) at SharePoint Saturday events in Houston, Detroit and Chicago, I have seen great new speakers from the local community. At home in Toronto, I see local speakers ‘cut their teeth’ at user-group meetings in a friendly and relatively low-pressure environment. Yes, there is an ever-growing group of ‘high-reputation’ speakers who are in-demand because they are either very engaging, have great content, or both. This is good for the community as well, as it provides examples to aspire to.

By the way: A side-note here. 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. (This is not an excuse for speakers to stop adapting or innovating in your sessions.)

I have felt the sting of not being accepted to speak after taking time to submit. It’s easy to become complacent and build up expectations. But an occasional jolt is not a bad thing. The community is growing – sometimes you need to up your game, and sometimes it just comes down to a tough choice, made by a volunteer who’s doing their best in whatever spare time they can squeeze out of a day. So far, I feel that Mark’s points are things that we should keep an eye on, but are not as bad as he makes out. Sure there are bits of drama here and there. And there’s an occasional jerk who wants to show you up in a session (or, maybe he’s not a jerk – just confused about what you are saying, or weak on social skills). As speakers – especially experienced speakers – we need to know how to handle those people without being rude. Sometimes we need to admit that we may be wrong or that we don’t know.

I completely disagree with Mark about the conference question and who runs a legit conference and who doesn’t. I’ve mostly only been to Best Practices conferences, SPTechCons, Summit (in Canada) and SharePoint Saturdays. I don’t think I would be able to tell if a conference is exploiting the community or not. If they treat the speakers well, and deliver value to attendees, I don’t get what the issue is. If they don’t do either of these things, they won’t get speakers or attendees to come back. (But I’ll admit that maybe I’m missing something here that I have not directly experienced.)

I won’t say much about the MVP program comments. I love being an MVP, but I don’t know how it happened that I became one (I never expected it). It does sometimes seem a bit random. I think that Microsoft could do a little bit more to recognize those who clearly contribute to the community. But, when we complain about Microsoft, don’t forget that at many of those SharePoint Saturdays and conferences you go to, Microsoft’s name is near the top of the sponsor list. As someone who organizes volunteer run SharePoint events, it would be much harder without the support we get from Microsoft including money and prizes. I don’t know how Mark envisions Microsoft taking on a much more visible role without us all rising up and complaining that they’re trying to take over our grass-roots community.

Speaking as a speaker who speaks quite a bit (say that three times) I think the most important thing that we can do is to be welcoming to new members of the community. Don’t sit in the speakers’ room at conferences; attend sessions (especially those of new speakers), encourage them and invite them into the circle when sharing a pint. Don’t create a rift between ‘us old-timers’ and ‘those noobs’. I think that SharePoint as a product has a lot more maturing to do, that our clients need help from knowledgeable people and that anything we can do to help nurture and grow this community (the most amazing I have ever come across in many years of IT work), the better.

So Mark: Waaah, waaah, waaaah. Now that you’ve had a good cry over the changes you’ve seen and worried about, dry those tears and go back to having fun, learning, teaching and being one of the all-time, all-round heroes of the SharePoint community!

About Ruven Gotz

Ruven Gotz is a Director with Avanade, Microsoft’s Global Partner. As a Microsoft SharePoint MVP with over 20 years of IT industry experience, Ruven has spent the past nine years delivering award-winning SharePoint solutions for a wide range of clients. Working as a Business Analyst and Information Architect, Ruven is able to apply his eclectic education and varied experience in Psychology, Computer Science, Economics, Software Development and Training to get to the heart of complex problems. Ruven is a great communicator who is able to discuss technology concepts in language that is relevant to his audience, whether they are from IT or business. He has become a leader in the use of visual tools to help his clients and team members achieve shared understanding of problems and goals and shared commitment towards implementing a successful solution. Ruven recently authored “Practical SharePoint 2010 Information Architecture” (Apress) Ruven lives in Toronto, Canada. On Tuesday nights in the summer, you’ll find him racing his 24’ sailboat ‘In the Groove’ (NOTE: Ideas and opinions on this blog are my own: I am not representing my employer.)
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