SharePoint, Hillbillies, and Community

What a flurry of great blog posts and commentary we’ve seen today! It started with an excellent article by Barb Mosher over on CMSWire (The SharePoint Community: What it is, Why It's Important and Microsoft's Role) including interviews with SharePoint community stalwarts Laura Rogers (@wonderlaura, a SharePoint MVP), Jennifer Mason (@jennifermason), Dux Raymond Sy (@meetdux, another recent SharePoint MVP), and Microsoft’s Chris Johnson sharing their thoughts on what has made the SharePoint community successful.

The article was followed by a detailed response from SharePoint Hillbilly Mark Rackley:

I do think the “Good ‘ol Days” may be behind us. The community has been rapidly growing for a few years and I’m afraid it’s reaching a size and maturity level that may NOT be beneficial, and BECAUSE I care about you guys I wanted to say something and hopefully step on as few toes as possible. This blog post is NOT about stirring the pot (although we know I enjoy a good stir), it’s about bringing attention to some red flags I see and trying to figure out how we can fix some things before they get broken. I want the community around for a long time… maybe we can even start some sort of pension plan seeing as how I have no hope of getting Social Security some day.

Mark’s overall response was very positive (Mark sometimes enjoys playing devil’s advocate), but it brought on the inevitable anonymous response, where someone felt the need to pile on with negative comments, sucking on lemons the whole way down:

I do believe we're at a critical mass here, is there a fix? no. plain and simple there just isn't. At least from the community side of things, its the exact reason you see the people who actually MADE the community fading away. At the end of the day, there's too much noise.

Owen Allen jumped into the fray with his thoughts on future growth:

I expect that the community, as it grows (and it will do a LOT more growing), will end up diverging into local groups, the cliquishness will not be as prevalent as the numbers grow, and there will be plenty of rewards wherever community members look for them. My advice to any community person would be to make sure you measure yourself according to your own goals, and not solely by how others look at you. This includes the MVP program.

Also joining the conversation was SharePoint MVP Ruven Gotz:

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.

To recap my response to Mark’s blog post, I really wanted to make 4 points:

  1. We have not reached critical mass yet. I just do not believe it – the numbers just don't back it up. Adoption is on the rise, companies who own SharePoint are looking at how to get the most out of their investment, and the community will continue to expand. Having said that, I do believe that many *people* within the community have achieved their own personal critical mass, and are feeling some burnout. It's inevitable. But don't confuse what individuals may feel and perceive as the reality versus what is actually happening in the community.
  2. The next generation of leaders are on fire. Talk to folks who are just coming into the community, where its all brand new and exciting and where they can see this community as opening up a whole new world, and you’ll find that the air crackles with electricity. Two great examples: Thor Castillo, whom I met at SPS Houston, has tremendous value to bring to the community, and is excited to be here and share his rich experiences in the branding space. And Kim Frehe from Chicago was full of energy when I met her at SPTechCon last month, and thought she was alone in the world until just a couple months ago. Spend a couple minutes with either one and you can't help but be reminded of why we do what we do for this community. Am I the only one who gets completely reenergized by people like this? Thor and Kim remind us all that the MAJORITY of users and burgeoning IT Pros out there are not yet participating in the community, but are searching for it. That is our opportunity as current community members — to reach out, to share what we know, to bring more experts up to speed, and then to pass the baton.
  3. Your old stuff is somebody’s new stuff. I can see some speakers getting sick and tired of doing the same topics over and over again. But what's old hat for you is brand new (and much needed) for someone else. When I submit abstracts to speak at events, I include the old topics and let the organizing committee – the people who know the interests and needs of their communities – make the decisions about what they want. And then I am happy to provide that content.
  4. Do more for the local community. At the end of the day, we all need to do more for our home communities. Hopefully people who are feeling some level of burnout don't withdraw from the community, but instead turn their focus back to their local user groups – or keep writing and sharing. That's where is should start, that's where people should be careful not to forget.

Why do I keep doing what I do? Like so many other community members, I do it because I love the interaction with the people I meet, and the chance to both learn and share what I’ve learned. It’s what drives me. And Doug Hemminger’s response to Mark’s blog perfectly captures this sentiment:

I am fairly new to the SharePoint community and have enjoyed the enthusiasm and passion that people bring to the seminars and conferences. I understand you points about the maturity of the community though and your thoughts have sparked some of my own pondering about the subject. I sincerely appreciate the time and effort that people put in to speak at user groups and SharePoint Saturdays and conferences and I can only hope that the passion and enthusiasm continues, even if it is eventually a new cast of characters.

Christian Buckley

Christian is a Microsoft Regional Director and Office Servers and Services MVP, the Founder & CEO of CollabTalk LLC, an independent research and technical marketing services firm based in Salt Lake City, Utah, and CMO of revealit.io, a blockchain-based video technology company.