Tuesday, April 1, 2008

Social Networking!

Last week I posted an entry into a new community blog on the recently launched HP user group community networking site. Check it out at http://hpusercommunity.org/

The site has just opened, and most of the sections have limited content - but I will be very interested to see how it fairs. I am taking an interest in this site, and in the community that develops around it, as the new user group is created from the platform-specific communities in place today. As readers can tell by now, I am very supportive of social networks and any place I can go to for current information on HP’s platforms and solutions is of particular interest to me.

In the blog entry I posted last week, I made a comment about the green hills of Southern California, and so I have included a picture here of the view from the front of where I live, just so that you could see what it looked like. It lasts for less than a month, and it’s very different from what I am used to back in Colorado. But it’s not really the color, or the temporary nature of it’s presence, that I was interested in but rather its message of change!

As the new community blog went live, I had an email exchange with Nina Buik, the Encompass President, as I was interested to know some of the background. “The social networking initiative was based on the results of a member survey Encompass held in early 2007 … and it was the highest priority,” Nina explained. The Encompass board decided to pursue such a change and selected software from Leverage Software. But Nina quickly added “with the efforts under way across the user groups, this effort is now inclusive of all participating communities.” It is hoped that members of Encompass, ITUG and HP Interext EMEA will be able to connect with like minded technologists and as Nina told me that “to accelerate growth, visibility, and awareness, the new ‘project Endeavour’ social networking site has been launched in conjuncture with HPTF&E and be a means for conference attendees to not only connect on or before the conference, but to then turn to year round as well!”

As you look at the stakeholders in any community - the primary vendor, the competing third-party vendors or ISVs, and the end users - then there’s no question that much of the commentary appears to be coming from the ISVs. It’s not that the end-users are not fully engaged, but the individuals attracted into the ISV community tend to be a lot more vocal than their colleagues in the end-user community. For many end-users, it is strictly forbidden to identify their company affiliation and be visible in something as public as a blog. For others, there will always be the concern that their observations may be at odds with the rest of the community and perceive the risk in responding as outweighing any value they may otherwise obtain. And this is to be expected across any communications vehicle within any community. There will always be a vocal minority!

But are we seeing the presence of vendors in public communication vehicles becoming too prevalent? Are we running the risk of seeing real user dialogue being stifled? As readers of this blog know full-well, I too am a vendor and often reflect a vendor’s perspective. While I do have a day job at GoldenGate, I am conscious of over-referencing GoldenGate solutions. I do try to keep references to GoldenGate products and GoldenGate executives to a minimum, and to limit references to related topics where the product features or executive viewpoints contribute to the overall dialogue. But I am aware that a lot of contributions are coming from ISVs and that they are never shy about expressing an opinion.

In the email exchange with Nina, she did point out that the new Community Networking Site “will also be an excellent marketing venue for HP’s partners to market their ‘wares’ (and that) social networking sites are the fastest growing advertising mediums.” I asked Nina to explain this last point, and she added “because advertisers can reach their target audience without their message being lost on a general webpage!” While I am the first to admit that I really dislike the current fad of pop-ups and the over-use of flash presentations, I can see her point. We do present a good target for many ISVs. But without the support of vendors, much of what we want to have supported within the user community, just wouldn’t happen. The business model for user groups depends on financial support coming from a broad base of partners and the vendor community is incredibly important to the functioning of the community.

But is this turning off users? Is this even impacting our more traditional communication vehicles – are all of our community stakeholders comfortable with the increased visibility of vendors at regional user group meetings (RUGs), within SIGs, and even the main events themselves? Have we seen the scales tip too far in favor of vendor participation and is the increased visibility of vendors turning traditional events into marketing shows? I have written recently how as users of technology, we need to find the right balance when it comes to deploying applications on NonStop. We need to be sensitive to what really should be deployed on the platform. And the same appreciation for balance should apply when we look at the balance of stakeholders within the community.

In a recent exchange with the Advocacy team, Sam Ayres outlined the role of Advocacy and strongly reinforced its future position in the new unified community. Sam is slated to lead the new Advocacy group and has proved a strong champion of this group over the past couple of years. However, one advocacy committee member wrote how he was “hearing that one of the main issues to the user group community as a whole is the lack of actual HP users (and that) the feelings I get are that the vendor community has been turning the user groups into marketing venues and this is why attendance and memberships are down.” To which Sam turned the discussion onto a path I hadn’t considered, saying “I would like to add that many of the ‘partner / vendors’ have assumed that role (within the user groups) because they were among the most successful ‘end users’!” Adding, “we need to maintain balance of true end-users versus partners, we must be careful not to bash those users who were so successful as to start their own companies and become partners!”

I find this gets to the heart of the issue – there really is no firm line between the different stakeholders, nor should we try and establish one. On the one hand a successful user may indeed license their software to another user, or share a back-up site with other users in their city. ISVs may be users in their own right and share the same issues with other users in terms of migration planning and business continuity. Larger ISVs may offer outsourcing and perhaps even Software as a Service (SaaS) offerings. Even the primary vendor may be a user, for a number of ISVs, plugging gaps in their product offerings. In other words, there is a growing fuzzy, blurred, dotted-line between all the stakeholders and each of them has a need to participate in all user community communications vehicles. We may not always be aware of their business goals, but we should never try to peg them down or slot them into just one category. Sam added “we must always keep a balance of end users and HP partner / vendors within the user group organization (as) both serve vital roles in the dynamics of our user group. We just need to make sure we don’t tip the scale too far in either direction."

I closed my most recent posting on the new HP User Group Community Networking Site with an observation about how seasons change and how in business we live with constant change. Adapting to change and growing is the challenge for all businesses. The challenge for user groups is just the same as it is for business – no one at ITUG would have predicted Tandem would be sold to Compaq or that later, Compaq would be acquired by HP – change of this magnitude was not on any ITUG board member’s radarscope. Building a new community and adapting to popular social networking are very important for the future of all stakeholders. We may not like some of the decisions taken, or like the larger visibility of partners. But if the new board gets the balance right, I think all sides will benefit and see that a future within a bigger more dynamic community has so much more to offer.

The green hills here in Southern California will soon be gone and the traditional golden tones so familiar to us all will dominate. I enjoy the cyclical nature of it all and frankly, I like the Colorado’s season changes even better as they are much more pronounced. And I am really looking forward to the next cycle in the life of the user community and to a lively social network!

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