Slinger's Thoughts

January 31, 2012

The good side of the SharePoint community, a view from underneath.

Filed under: SharePoint — Tags: — slingeronline @ 11:43 am

An article was posted the other day by Bjorn Furuknap about the decline of the SharePoint Community. (Article here.) I don’t disagree with what he said, but I have a different point of view on it. First, Bjorn is a well known and respected member of the SharePoint Community.  I’m not saying he is wrong about everything that was stated in his blog post. He is very likely absolutely correct.  What I find is that sometimes it is a matter of the perspective. And my perspective is different from his, for a myriad of reasons.

  • Why from underneath?

I am not a SharePoint MVP. I’m not a speaker at SharePoint events around the country. I have yet to speak at our local user group because I want it to be done well.  (I’m also not going to take someone else’s topic of expertise and try to make it my own.) I am a SharePoint Administrator, and I currently do quality assurance for a company that creates SharePoint software. I’m one of the people that is listening intently to the community, either on various blogs, or on Twitter. I do have a blog of my own, that has my own findings on SharePoint, (You’re reading it now incidentally,) however I am not one of the prolific bloggers that has a post a week. Either I don’t run into that many issues, or someone else has already blogged about it. The SharePoint Community is not just the bloggers, the MVPs, the speakers and the sponsors though. The community also has the listeners and the learners. SharePoint Saturdays are not for all of the SharePoint experts to gather around and listen to each other speak. It is so that we can hear what they have to say, and ask questions that we may be too afraid to ask in a different format. It is so that we can learn what we don’t know. And learning from a respected member of the community carries weight. It may not carry weight to the person being asked, but it carries weight to us.

  • As the product grows the community will also.

SharePoint has gotten bigger. It almost goes without saying that the community will have to grow also. New SharePoint User Groups, SharePints, and SharePoint Saturdays are popping up all over the place. It is to the point now where there is very likely some kind of SharePoint event going on right now. Our experts and mentors cannot possibly attend every single one of these events. In order to fill that gap, the community grows. We will have more MVPs, more experts, more speakers because of this growth. This isn’t a bad thing. It is just a fact of nature and part of the culture.

  • Different users have different needs, and all of those need to be met.

Not every SharePoint user is the same. Some are administrators, some are developers, some are architects, some are power-users, and so on. Not every SharePoint farm is the same. Some farms can live happily on one or two machines and never have any issues. Some farms are giant lumbering behemoths with 35 servers. Multiply the different possible farm configurations, by the different kinds of users, and almost every SharePoint user has a different need for SharePoint knowledge. Some need information on disaster recovery, some need information on performance. Some might even need some completely non technical information.

  • SharePoint is a monster, having experts in different areas, or “splintering,” helps us find the influencers we should pay attention to.

There is not a “One Size Fits All” SharePoint answer. Some would say that because of this the SharePoint community has “splintered.” I don’t agree. I think that the SharePoint community has specialized. There are certain SharePoint community members that you know will have authoritative answers to that component of SharePoint that you want to know more about. Some are more outspoken than others, but the experts are there. There is also the occasional SharePointer that just wants a recommendation for a good beer.

  • One of the only online communities that is warm and inviting from the outset, you don’t have to “prove” anything.

Once upon a long time ago I was a member of an IRC chat room. In order to be accepted into this community I had to prove something to them. I had to prove that I was worth asking them a question.  The SharePoint community isn’t like that, and I am grateful that it isn’t. If you have a question about something SharePoint, ask. No one will look down on you. No one will tell you to “RTFM.” (Well maybe, but they’ll also give you a link to the exact page in “TFM” that you happen to be looking for.) One of the reasons that I love SharePoint as much as I do, has nothing to do with SharePoint. It is the community. This community could be supporting the “Lets call it beer and drink it anyways” society and it wouldn’t matter. The SharePoint community is built of friendly, helpful people.  That warm and inviting atmosphere inspires more SharePoint users to become SharePoint speakers and experts.

  • Only community I know of where individuals who work for companies that are bitter rivals, can be cooperative and engaging.

Most of the time in the corporate world, if you work for the competition, you are somehow not as nice a person. Magically this is not so in the SharePoint community. SharePoint experts who work at competing companies often follow each other on Twitter. And they are friends in real life. Their companies may hate each other, but they don’t hold a grudge and respect each other. I wish that our politicians were more like our SharePoint community.  I’m sure that it is not all fluffy in the community, but for the most part, at least the part that we can see, all of these people act like lifelong friends. I would even dare to say that some of them are my friends, even though we may have only met twice.

So although I can see Mr. Furuknap’s point I don’t think he is entirely correct. Sometimes it helps to consider the perspective and I thought I would add my two cents to the conversation.

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1 Comment »

  1. Jay,

    I’m not as concerned as you are with agreeing to anything because I consider that a bad thing, and as such, I’ll point out where I believe you’re wrong and leave it at that.

    First, community contributors gain plenty from people asking them questions. I thrive on people asking anything from silly to serious questions, whether those are technical (my favorite) or political. It keeps me on my toes and allows me to learn something new too. The big secret, if there is one, is that of the experts you see in the community, none of them actually know very much. What they know, however, is how to efficiently find information and deduce something that seems like a right answer. As I say to USPJA students, we’re guides, not oracles. We don’t know the answer, but we’ve been around the block enough times to know what’s where and we’ve stumbled on enough rocks to know where to tread carefully.

    So, when someone asks, we can learn too. Personally, I enjoyed that so much, it became an overwhelming job just to keep up, so from the questions that people asked, I started the USP Journal, which in turn became the starting ground for USPJ Academy, which in turn started USPJA Publishing. All of these organizations have been built around the idea of sharing knowledge and answering questions that the community posts.

    Second, a larger community does not necessarily breed better people. It breeds more people. Quantity is definitely not the same as quality, which was also the point of my blog post. When you know that the people who are ‘experts’ today may have 5-10 years experience on the platform, it doesn’t help is a million new developers come to the community by 2013 (Ballmer’s prediction), there simply won’t be enough experience to share. It takes time to breed an ‘expert’ who has the experience and the community knowledge and there’s simply no way that more people will expedite this process.

    What will be expedited, though, is the need of some to reap the rewards of being part of the expert group. As I’ve said, I can pick and choose projects and invoice almost whatever I want, and the situation isn’t very different for many community experts. That reward is so tempting that it’s easy to put the ‘expert’ title on your own name or try to find the quickest routes to be recognized as such. Those that too pollute the community, both by their often lacklustre contributions but also the spirit of sharing for the joy of sharing and learning.

    That’s what’s wrong with the SharePoint community.

    .b

    Comment by Bjørn Furuknap — January 31, 2012 @ 5:36 pm


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