AUSPC 2011 Keynote: Joel Oleson & Mark Miller Present ‘The History & Future of the SharePoint Community’

At the beginning of the joint keynote presented by Joel Oleson and Mark Miller at the Australian SharePoint Conference, Joel explained that as he and Mark had discussed what they could bring to Australia, he realized that "One of the things that's really evolved [in SharePoint] over time is the community" and that, given their combined experience as prominent members of the community, they were very well positioned to speak to the topic in their shared keynote.  Joel said that his history attending Australian SharePoint events goes back to 2006, but that his first exposure to the Australian SharePoint community began with Angus Logan telling him back in 2003 that he was a regular reader of Joel's blog.  Joel described that moment as an epiphany regarding social media and SharePoint … "Someone in Australia is reading my blog?!"

Joel then provided the "history" portion of the keynote, beginning with a brief history of his experience at Microsoft and with the SharePoint Team Services team in 2001, and moving into a look at how we've historically gotten technical information related to software.  Joel acknowledged that back in the day, it was a combination of books/manuals, admin/ops guides, newsgroups, and MSDN/TechNet that were the primary sources of technical information.  With SharePoint today, however, Joel pointed out that "As a community, we've vetted the [official] documentation and generated our own documentation to fill in the gaps."  This behavior came about in part due to the fact that surrounding the launch of SharePoint 2007, there was a "huge backlash" due to the feeling that there was not enough product documentation available.  This despite the fact that, as Joel explained, there was a "product team of 60 writing furiously at Microsoft," and they had generated over a thousand pages of doc at launch … but it was still not nearly enough.   The global SharePoint community felt that documentation was needed to address "Not just an understanding of a feature, but how it works, and how it integrates with other features and third-party products," and it was just such gaps in documentation that the community set about filling for themselves.

Wondering just what it is with the SharePoint product that makes the community so different from other that of other software-based communities, Joel suggested that there are several key things which have influenced the community over time, including: the MVP program, consisting of Microsoft-recognized experts who went on to become a tightly knit community evincing a camaraderie that lent a family feel to the product which, in turn, "blossomed into this larger SharePoint community";  SharePoint User Groups (which in Australia alone includes User Groups in Sydney, Brisbane Canberra, Melbourne, Perth, and Adelaide) which are about building a network of people and their shared SharePoint experiences; SharePoint Saturdays, which "definitely impacted the SharePoint community as a whole" and which were "completely developed by the community … all over the world" and were supported by the vendor community  to make it a free event – Joel included a slide showcasing  six already scheduled SharePoint Saturdays which will take place throughout Australia alone this year; SharePints, social gatherings of SharePoint enthusiasts (traditionally over pints of beer), about which Joel said, "Yeah, we're passionate about the tech, but we've also made friends with these people, and we enjoy spending time together"; and Twitter, one of the biggest contributors to the SharePoint community, which "has opened up community and has made the world flat … and a whole lot smaller."  Joel wrapped up his portion of the keynote by strongly encouraging attendees at conferences to "go out and have a good time with people," because it's the people, and not just the tech, that are truly at the core of what's special about the SharePoint community.

Mark Miller, whose daughter Aurora was having a birthday today, then took over the keynote reins, explaining that he'd promised his daughter that he would "get  400 crazy Aussies to stand up and sing 'Happy birthday' to her."  Naturally, the gathered crowd was happy to oblige… such is the nature of the SharePoint community.  Mark then dove into his portion of the presentation, addressing the notion of inventing the future, by saying that "The future begins right now."  Mark pointed out that "There are two other big SharePoint conferences going on right now" (Best Practices in La Jolla, and SharePoint .ORG in Baltimore – both of which, by the way, Bamboo is sponsoring, presenting at, and providing blog coverage of) and Mark encouraged attendees of the Australian SharePoint Conference to use the hashtag #auspc when tweeting from the event because he wants "to see us trending above these guys."

On the subject of Twitter, Mark said that it's "one of the main communication methods for the SharePoint community [providing] direct contact with the people you trust," but given the constant flow of information on Twitter, Mark points out the need to find a way to organize the information in a meaningful manner that's relevant to individual users.  Mark suggests as one such example as it presents tweets in an organized, easy-to-read newspaper-style format.  Of such presentations of content, Mark said, "I think this is the wave of the future … how do we dynamically expose information the way I want to use it right now?"  Mark said that "We have to redefine what community means," explaining that he defines community as "Who do I trust that I want to hear from when they discover something that's going to be of value to me?"

Speaking to the notion of local communities, Mark pointed to User Groups as the foremost example.  As Mark said, "Every major metropolitan area these days has a SharePoint User Group," and he suggests that these groups are going to splinter from the original, all-encompassing model (i.e., consisting of a range of participants from developers to end users), and says that this splintering is already happening in the U.S.  As a result, Marks feels that the "future of local communities is splinter groups, not competing with each other but overlapping and supporting each other" … and such communities can and will then be extended throughout the world via live online presentations. 

On the topic of global communities, Mark spoke of the SharePoint Saturday phenomenon, and mentioned the SharePoint Saturday EMEA event that he facilitated and presented live online so that everyone in the SharePoint community around the world would have access.  Discussing the future of the growing SharePoint Saturday community initiative, Mark mentioned the two-day SharePoint Saturday event that Dux Raymond Sy is currently organizing to take place in Washington, D.C. this August which is expected to draw a record 2,000 attendees.  Mark said that "SharePoint Saturdays are starting to blur the line between conference events and free events," and that consequently, "in the future, specialization is going to be the differentiator between the [separate] conferences."

Wrapping up the joint keynote, Mark posed the question "How are we going to reinvent community?,"  and said that it's his feeling that going  virtual will be the natural progression.  Mark is already attending live events online, or delivering presentations over the phone, as he recently did when he presented to 120 gathered attendees at a live event in Portugal.  "Communities are going to morph from being location-based to being content-based," Mark predicted, and exhorted attendees to "create your own communities," inserting at this point, a plug for Sharing the Point (of which I'm a team member, along with Mark, Joel, Dux Raymond Sy, Paul Swider, Michael Noel, and Rob LaMear), a new SharePoint community initiative which will see us departing Sydney tomorrow evening and flying to Beijing, Manila, and Ho Chi Minh City to present free,  half-day SharePoint community events over the coming week.


Read our complete coverage of the Australia SharePoint Conference 2011:

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