Tuesday, September 05, 2006


The OneNote Community

If you haven't figured it out yet, I am big on technical communities. The OneNote community is not the only community that i am involved in and this is not the only blog that I post on. Why am I so interested in the community? It takes a community around a product or technology for that product to be adopted. I could almost go as far as stating without a community a product or technology will probably not become widely adopted. That may be stretching it a little. Maybe it is a synergy between a solid product and a strong community that results in quick and high adoption rates. Almost every major product has a strong community behind it but what is a community.

What is a community?
Well there is no one correct answer for the question "What is a community?". Communities are really nebulous and my concept of a community will be different than yours. It is interesting to see one technical community start a new concept and see other communities follow suit.

For myself communities are everything that revolves around the product. It is the newsgroups and list servers. It is the free power toys, readily available SDKs and KB articles. It is the free downloadable add-ins and demo code. It is web casts, pod casts and blogs. It is the chats, emails and white papers from the product team and evangelism team. It is partner, end-user and developer training and certification. Lets not forget the conference sessions, books, magazine articles and assorted swag.

Initially I had concluded being part of the community involved non-commercial interests but I am leaning away from that concept. Initially I was a purist - Not that I don't believe there needs to be a strong commercial side to the product - just that if it was to be community it should be non-monetary motivated. As a community member I have no problem suggesting that someone look at a third-party application to solve their problem. What bothers me about "commercial-community" is the answers to question are - "Look at my product" which may or may not be the correct answer. In general you should not have to purchase something to have free exchange of concepts and ideas. Lately I have seen commercial companies support community-related events in such a way as to not definitively link the event to the commercial company.

Another reason I now generally consider commercialism in the community world - if done correctly - is because of training, books and articles. These are great community resources but you generally need to purchase the product. The community would be missing a key element if there was no support for training companies and authors. And being an author at times I myself cannot just give away all that time and energy for nothing. Sorry, that is just the way it is. We all got to eat. :) And I would be remiss if I answered newsgroup postings with a pat " get my book, your answer is in Chapter 4". That type of answer does the community no good in my opinion.

So what makes a community?
Well there is obviously no one single answer. Certainly having a solid and useful product is required. Without a product that has a definite place in the software industry the community will be continue to struggle. To be honest a second generation product is almost required for a solid community. I should state that with any first round product like ON2003 there are some dedicated leaders and followers creating a community. It seems that it is that second iteration (and here comes ON 2007) where the community starts to grow and gets over the hump. That's not to say that first round products are bad or not worth the communities time, just that there is a certain amount of community leaders and community followers that is required to start the snowball effect.

There are certain items that all communities must have - again in my opinion.

The community must have strong product and evangelism team support and contact. I think everyone understands the product team. And the OneNote community seems to have pretty good support from the product team via blogs and email. Many may not know what I am referring to when I say evangelism team. The evangelism team is who ever is out there speaking about and around OneNote. This includes the Product Managers, MS community people, MVPs and other individuals not associated with Microsoft. Anyone who speaks at a conference, maintains a blog ect. is part of the evangelism team.

The community must have a strong, free knowledge base for support. This includes the blogs, newsgroups, web casts, list servers ect. Take a look at MS Exchange or MS Sql Server both produts with strong communities. If you Google either product you will so many results you could not possible look at it. Googling "SQL Server" results in about 119,000,000 results; "Exchange Server" has 30,900,000 and OneNote 7,540,000. Maybe it is unfair to compare OneNote to SQL Server. So lets look at "Microsoft Word" with 81,200,000 and "Microsoft OneNote" at 371,000.

Training and certifications are high on my list for fostering a strong community. Training either free or paid is important - both end user and developer are required in my opinion. Participating or integrating with existing MS training and certification structures is a must. As a developer or end user striving to achieve a specific MS certification I should have the option to choose a OneNote test instead of say an Excel or PowerPoint test. This gives OneNote some credibility. It shows that Microsoft considers OneNote as important as other products in the Office Suite. Without it OneNote will look like a distant cousin.

The last item I will cover under the guise of what makes a community is Books, Articles and Conferences. Any solid product has a following of authors who write books and articles supporting the product. And as the community grows we will be needing more and varied conference topics at the major conferences. I don’t think we get to a point where we will see a OneNote-specific conference - but anywhere Word or Excel shows up, OneNote speakers should be there.

Why do we care if we have community?
Community is legitimacy - in my mind. Community is promoting what we like to do and if you don’t like working with OneNote, then I would question why you are even reading this. With a strong community our ideas and concepts will carry more weight, be heard in more places.

Having a strong community is important for us that use ON both personally and professionally. It will give us tips, ideas and examples. It will help us use ON better in ways we do not think of. Community will give us ideas on new ways to use OneNote that we do not think of, helps us look outside of the box.

A strong community will allow us to have a "ring" of people to ask questions and receive answers.

A strong community will elevate the product in personal and corporate use. Will give us more opportunity to install, develop and design solutions to problems - and that means Jobs!

These are just One Guy's thoughts on community, Jotted down in OneNote no less and pushed to a blog. The sub title for this blog contains the words random and semi-useful and this post probably slips neatly into both categories. I feel that community is vitally important to the "success" of OneNote - particularly within corporate business. Let me know if you think I missed something or if I hit the nail right on the head so to speak. You have an idea that should be considered? Let me know. Think I am way off base - let me know.

Hey Unknown OneNote Guy - great blog! I too am a big fan of OneNote and work on the team. The only thing about community that's missing from your post is music! Luckily, there's now a new OneNote song for the community to sing about :-) It's called My One and Only OneNote and here's a link to the lyrics.

-OneNote Mike
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