SharePoint Community Evolution

A very interesting shift has happened over the past year prompting a change in the SharePoint community resulting in an evolving paradigm shift.  SharePoint, the fastest revenue generating product in Microsoft’s history (I talk more about that momentum in a recent SharePointForAll welcome post) has a seriously strong and tight community.  This started first by common bond among those struggling to deploy and develop the product building up our first generation of MVPs.  The evolution has continued this past year in an explosive growth in the community, and a shift into exponential growth while maintaining the close knit community due to 5 things.  1) The broad adoption of major consumer social networks by SharePoint folks connecting thousands of us – blogs, twitter, facebook and a bit of linked in too.   2) Key Microsoft SharePoint community advocates leaving the mothership and integrating into the community  3) SharePoint Saturday – a free no holds barred community event driven primarily by the community for the community (code camps as well)  4) Best Practices Conferences – a non Microsoft conference that brought together the technical and community leaders in a big way like no other 5) SharePoint User Groups – connecting with others with the same challenges in a show and tell manner, providing the local to global connectivity

1 – Social Networking – Twitter – A year ago Lawrence Liu was a lone voice (I know there were others, but just follow my line of thinking) shouting in the darkness praising microblogging and essentially halting his other blogging activities and telling the community to follow him there for the latest and greatest.  A few MVPs created accounts, with a handful using them, but the community wasn’t really yet there.  It was a start.  About 6 months later a few of us took another look at it and found something.  The SharePoint community was there, but small.  We had to band together and build our little community and make lists to help find each other.  The lists really helped us find new faces and new people. Facebook helped us find each other based on who we knew and who we had in common.  The blogging networks helped us find what Mike Gannotti was doing with his cool videos.  It also made us get a lot more personal with each other for good or worse.  We know what each other are doing throughout the day for over a year now.  Many blogs were added to the fray over the last year, but I’ve seen the social networks help us continue those conversations and filter through the best content.  Many have dropped RSS feed readers over the recommendations of posts and news content via twitter.

2. SharePoint Big (Visible) Names Leave Microsoft – Mike Fitzmaurice, Lawrence Liu, Joel Oleson, Mike Watson – Why did that happen? It didn’t happen for one reason.  My perception: It was a non launch year and each of them wanted to spread their wings.  Each LOVED SharePoint, each was a major contributor for the community, and each had their own reasons.  What resulted was the community realized they couldn’t tie their perspectives and knowledge to one person at Microsoft.  It made a lot of people look inward and give more clout to the community, more trust in the user groups, more trust in MVPs and community leads.  It made them realize it wasn’t Microsoft or TechNet that would tell them exclusively how to design and use the product, they’d have to figure it out by leveraging the community.  Community became very important as this shift would make a difference to all of us in the community. (Understand there are still hundreds of great people working on the product(s).  We are well served by Dave Pae, Chris Johnson, Richard Riley, Tom and Arpan.  They just don’t have too much to say until SharePoint Conference. 😉

3. SharePoint Saturday – Michael Lotter, Susan Lennon, and Kevin Israel (Team System MVP) the three founders of SharePoint Saturday, none of which are SharePoint MVPs would build an organic following that would make a huge positive impact on the community in the U.S.  Affecting nearly all regions, SharePoint Saturday brought 150+ people together at each free event and provided access to experts with choice.  Despite your local background you could propose a session and be chosen.  The first SharePoint Saturday in Virginia beach brought in speakers from around the U.S.  It’s sponsorship from vendors would guarantee it’s success model.  Last week’s SharePoint Saturday in D.C. had over 50 speakers at the dinner, and a few had flown in on their own dime (not from SPSDC) from Georgia, North Carolina, New York, Seattle, Texas, and San Francisco.  The locals could get high quality end user content, admin, and developer content across multiple tracks.  It was the speaker lists and the speaker dinners and comradare that would have its influence on the community.  The twittering made everyone feel like they were there.  MVPs and other speakers at the conferences had built their names and reputations from their blogs and on twitter.  Every SharePoint Saturday was a mini reunion and gathering of the SharePoint minds. http://www.sharepointsaturday.org

4. Best Practices Conference – Ben Curry and Steve Smith drove for a conference that would not be political, it would not be about getting the regular TechEd Micrsoft speaker list, but would break the trend and go after those in the community who knew.  Sure it was a paid conference, but Ben and Steve took it as their responsibility to track down those in the community that were recognized as having something that people wanted to hear.  The emphasis wasn’t on the speaker skills, but on the knowledge of the individual.  In our community it’s great if you can get 10 top notch speakers at an event, but both Ben and Steve were looking at 50-60 of the top speakers and talent in our community and it made a difference.  These events had impact on the community by helping establish the community and providing them the platform to share their knowledge.  While Microsoft was invited, these conferences were primarily driven by the community for the community with the knowledge of the SharePoint social network by Ben and Steve.  There’s another one coming up in DC in August. http://www.sharepointbestpractices.com

5. SPUGs – SharePoint Usergroups – SharePoint Usergroups can now be found on every populated continent and Michael Noel have discussed efforts for Antarctica. In my travels I’ve visited Usergroups and communities around the world and one thing I’ve found in common is the thirst for knowledge and the thirst for community and collaboration.  These people need answers, they feel like they are alone, and they light up when they find someone who knows their struggles.  The SharePoint community exists globally and locally.  That’s the exciting part.  The SharePoint Saturday has brought it local and elevated the locals in the community and united them with the national and global SharePoint community.  Everyone has a voice and everyone has a right to be heard.  Their ideas are just as important to be heard and considered as the next persons.  The ISPA at http://www.sharepointpros.org was established to help promote the community.

So where are we?

This paradigm shift has taken the focus of the expertise of the product group the exclusive voice on the product.  As well it’s landed on the MVPs and SharePoint community leadership.  I don’t know how best to describe this community leadership bucket, but if you spend sometime both in the blogs and on twitter you’ll surely find it.  There are a lot of good people in the SharePoint product group and we hope to hear from them in November, but I think they’ll realize we’ve all changed.  This 2010 SharePoint wave is going to be different this time around due to our integration with the social networks and the tight knit community.  Expect to find a lot more sharing and a lot more community.  We’ve evolved.

That’s the amazing part.  We are really getting to know not just a handful of people.  We are all essentially getting to know and conversing with hundreds and some of us thousands.  It’s amazing.  Wild thing is this shift toward a broader base and the more distributed voice with real personality will continue.

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