The impact of community

Posted by Christian Buckley

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When I left Microsoft back in 2009 and joined a small SharePoint ISV in downtown Seattle, the SharePoint community was already a fast-growing, thriving phenomenon. One comment that I have heard again and again from people is that they’ve never seen anything like it.

Not that there haven't been some ups and downs. Maybe some would disagree, but I count two major community downturns: around the 2010 launch, and then again a couple years ago with the momentum turning toward Office 365. Both cycles included their doomsayers—people who questioned the direction of the platform, with many predicting the rapid demise of the platform. And yet SharePoint as a brand is once again resurging, and the community continues to thrive.

One of the standout events over these years in the SharePoint ecosystem has been the SPTechCon event. Honestly, I've lost count of how many there have been, as I've attended most—and for someone who has presented at more than 250 events and user groups since 2009, forgive me if I don't remember details around every event (much less remember every person I've met at those events). However, some of my more memorable experienced have happened during SPTechCon events:

  • More than 300,000 views of my slides from the session "10 Best SharePoint Features You've Never Used But Should)" which is just insane.
  • Pointing out the eerie similarities in the rise of Cher's fame with the trajectory of SharePoint in Boston in 2010.
  • In 2012, presenting the “Bieber-ization of the SharePoint Community."
  • Creating a memorable t-shirt that people really liked. I ended up giving away thousands of these things.
  • And my second, equally successful but somewhat controversial t-shirt that became a fan favorite for the Todd Klindt and Shane Young admin sessions.
  • The creation of the greatest fake SharePoint band that ever lived: Horse’s End. We introduced the band name in a lightning talk (and the promise of a Lady Gaga-like meat outfit) and then supported our session with a VH1 Behind the Music video, with the inevitable band breakup.
  • The frequent inside jokes, usually at the expense of good friends and fellow speakers like Mike Gilronan, Geoff Varosky, Todd Klindt (specifically, his hair), and so forth.

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It's fun to share these memories, but really it all just points back to the fact that this fantastic community has been supportive of all of these antics. As a community, we have a great sense of humor (we have to—we work with SharePoint!). While Microsoft has made some great strides in creating feedback loops for customers, it’s really the community that continues to make the difference. Whether you’re looking for best practices in setting up your infrastructure, understanding the latest online features, or building out your governance strategy, there are numerous places to go to ask questions, and where people are happy to lend their knowledge and experience to help you accomplish your goals.

Where can you find the community? We have the Microsoft Tech Community, UserVoice, SPYam on Yammer, Reddit, and a veritable cornucopia of user groups, expert blogs, and community events like SharePoint Saturday where people can connect.

There is so much happening within the community, and yet there is much more than people can do. And if you’re relatively new to the SharePoint and Office 365 community and wondering what more you can do to get involved, here are some suggestions:

Document your journey
Some of the most compelling stories from my time in this community have been the journeys of people who had a business or technical issue, and then documented their search for a solution. I had a conversation with someone who has started to use PowerApps and Flow to solve real problems. He said that he was interested in creating content around his experiences, but was concerned that he needed more time to perfect his solutions. But I told him that people would be interested in following his entire learning journey, and to get started right away. This makes great content, and is probably more helpful to those who are also learning this (or any) new technology because they see the successes as well as the failures. I love this kind of content.

Speak up
People need to ask more questions. I’ve never been a fan of the presenter-attendee model, and I always encourage people to ask questions and share experiences. I think the community benefits when it’s a two-way dialog, and everyone gets more value.

It’s kind of like running on a treadmill versus running in a race: When you go running outside in the elements, with uneven surfaces and changing elevations, you’ll activate muscles that may never get used on the treadmill.

Don’t worry about what others are doing
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 I am happy to provide that content.

Plug into your local community
Ask not what your local community can do for you; ask what you can do for your local community! At the end of the day, we all need to do more for our home communities, and by helping others, we will find ourselves learning more about the platform than we would on our own, which you can then apply to your own organization. Not every volunteer activity will provide some benefit to your company, but you’ll be better positioned to take advantage of new connections and new learning if you are actively participating in the community.

Change is a good thing. Every community goes through change as technology evolves, as the community grows and experiences more diversity of skills and backgrounds, and as our collective expectations of what we want to get out of the community changes. What we need to do is to continue providing feedback and looking for ways that we can provide additional value as community members. Keep asking questions, sharing your opinions, and paying it forward.

Looking forward to what comes next from this community.

Topics: community

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