The SharePoint Community is the BEST Technical Community on Earth

Today in a press release the top 25 Online SharePoint Influencers were recognized by thanks to the research by Mark Fidelman of more than 700 individuals in the community. Being recognized as top influencer for the second year put me in a very reflective mood. I’ve been thinking a lot about where we’ve been and how this whole thing got started. I’ve been very privileged to have seen this community grow from the beginning.

By now you should have all seen the video of the guy who is all alone and is dancing. He looks funny and everyone seems to just be looking at him and snickering. Then another joins him and another, and now this small dances and then a few more join him. As they continue dancing more and more join in, momentum builds and now everyone is dancing and having a much better time than they were before. I’ve had moments in this community when I felt like I was dancing alone and everyone seemed to be staring.

What makes a community stand apart? When I first started with SharePoint I had been to conferences and had seen connections. The world has gotten flat. Many things have contributed… if you look at contributing factors of making the world flat… I think SharePoint and Social Media really has contributed in a huge way to flattening the world. From writing a blog and for the first time realizing people all over the world can simply do a search and land on your blog… then lead that reader to connect with you on the social network of choice… Twitter is an easy one with little commitment for following with a variety of personal and business engagement then Facebook which requires the two way handshake is an even bigger commitment.. now you’ve got users sharing their thoughts directly with you and you’re seeing each other on a personal level. Finally you connect with that person through direct messages, emails and in person events… conferences of various types. I’ve been blessed in the SharePoint community to visit a LOT of this planet in seeking out those connections and building and strengthening communities all over the world. I didn’t start the fire, the passion was already there but I’ve really enjoyed stoking it. My goal has not only been visiting these amazing places and meeting these incredible people who share similar passions, but in connecting these communities into the greater global community. At times language and not feeling like they have anything to contribute has kept many from doing anything. Further from the truth when any individual joins they bring ideas, experience, and questions. As well, they often know others and they bring their connections. In the community the distance between one another is shrinking. It’s not unusual to find someone in Bangladesh who I’ve never met who has been in the local community and have 5-10 connections in common. I proposed that in the SharePoint Community it’s three degrees of separation where in many others it’s not so close. We may be the closest We are the most connected technical community in the world due to the global evangelism and remote travel and the strength of our social networks. Bring it on, I’d like to see a comparison to any other where the connections are not just where they know each other online, but have met someone who has met someone. Social Media + Travel + Events & Casual/Social Events = Secret formula to the SharePoint Community… I won’t go into it now, but this is the SharePoint Saturdays, the SharePint, the Sharing The Point, #SPhelp and SPYam and a whole lot more.

I reflect back on when the community really came together. In the days before Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter there were websites and more so there were blogs. When I first heard about the announcement of this sponsored research for the top influencers in the SharePoint Community and being recognized the top influencer, I reflect back on my blog three generations ago. I took a tour in the way back machine and found my oldest blog post. I started blogging on MSN spaces back in August of 2005. I’ve been blogging ever since. In the first year of blogging I would speak at Tech Ed 2005, speak for a third time in Europe at ITForum in Barcelona, share many "best practices," and even complete a family vacation across southern Europe our first international family trip. Before we had these social networking sites we had conferences that brought us together for the big events, and we had blog rolls. These Blogrolls represented those you felt connected to in some small way or recognized as having a connection with them. I wrote quite a few months before I felt like anyone was reading my blog. I wrote a post three months in suggesting that if no one reads your blog it’s much like the tree that falls in the forest without making a sound.

The first ever SharePoint Conference I went to wasn’t a SharePoint conference. It was Internet World in New York in October right after 9/11. I didn’t even have a session, I had booth duty. I got permission from my boss, and what a dangerous thing that was. I got the taste for travel on the company dime, I was able to combine the joys of talking about SharePoint. I was able to meet others with passion for technology, and I would find that the world is waiting for me to come and discover it.

If you look at those in my blogroll you’ll notice a few people who you may or may not know. They all had a very big impact on me. My interactions with the community started with going to conferences. Conferences that stand out in my mind are the first SharePoint Advisor conference. Even most of the SharePoint Conferences were Office Conferences and it was a split between client and server sessions.

The first time I met Shane Young, Andrew Connell and Spence Harbar was surreal. Boston Teched 2006. In my memory it seemed like the SharePoint community was actually getting together in larger groups beyond the much smaller groups we had in the past. A group of us after the big concert had gone out to the outfield… the green monster. Community seeds were planted that night. With SharePoint Portal Server 2001, 2003, and STS and WSS 2.0 the community was very separate and we really didn’t know each other well, the Nintex folks were around and had some of the first vendor solutions(Smart Library), fpweb was doing their hosting thing, Dustin Miller had done some great things such as launching the first SharePointBlogs platform and SharePoint University including forums and the first recycle bin, Bill English had put together a group for the first SharePoint Admin book, and Todd Bleeker was blogging, writing, and training. My first real speaking gig was in New Orleans with Kimmo at an internal event, and that’s when I first met Fitz, and Pattison. I had dinner the AvePoint guys, Tony and TJ in Barcelona. It is AMAZING to me that nearly all of these people are still engaged in SharePoint. Those that contributed in the early days made such a big impact for the rest of us… We needed help and everyone did their part. I felt like I was part of something great. Each individual I met I was sincerely interested in knowing better. I remember fondly a time when a dozen of us were around a table in Orlando for some event. The topic was TV shows. Everyone was talking about the reality shows they were watching back in the day. Things like the Amazing Race, and talking about this cool new game Guitar hero that was consuming Dustin’s life. I realized I had way more in common with these people than I had ever imagined. These people whose blogs I would read and books I would put on my shelf, were really a lot like me.

The first real crazy adventure where I actually spent a decent amount of personal money was at the Sydney SharePoint Conference. I hiked up to the top of the Sydney Harbor Bridge with Andrew Connell, and his wife Margaret, and later that day they would go to the aquarium with my dad and I. Now I was mixing personal life with my professional life. I was really enjoying it.

I think I need to write a book about the life changing experiences I’ve had with this community. The adventures are many.

The SharePoint Community isn’t just for creating friends. I was at a SharePoint Conference in 2008 in Seattle and had a Microsoft Design Time session with a Financial Institution. The Finance SharePoint folks went on to say they were having problems with their sites. One problem they described was URL lengths being a big problem, another was a design challenge where they were putting tons of different teams in a single site collection, they were looking for site quotas, and better ways to manage security. They also went on to complain about an issue that I know there were a lot of answers to. I referred to the boundary limits TechNet articles, and the numerous blogs that shared thoughts on information architecture, site sizing, URL length and limits and all sorts of discussions about what works and what doesn’t. I was shocked when I heard the say admins didn’t have any online access to blogs. It was a big awakening to imagine what it would be like running SharePoint without access to the community. No access to twitter, yammer, and the blogs… what if you only had access to TechNet and MSDN. That’s really where the documentation starts, definitely not where it ends. I really felt for these guys. I immediately saw what they were missing and knew there were answers to the questions they had.

The latest chapter in our community is SharePoint 2013 and Yammer. SPYam provides some new dynamics for the community. It even provides further options for connecting in an environment built for the community. I’ll explore that in another post.

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