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Capturing a crucial moment in community history

 

On a blustery day in Seattle - 7th March 2018 – history was being made. On this day, a posse of Microsoft’s most eminent leaders, managers and developers were gathering on Redmond Campus. They were there to meet a contingent of the Microsoft TechNet Wiki Ninjas - guardians of MSDN and TechNet - representing countless millions of community users, past and present.

 

Their joint mission - to discuss the future of our many glorious Microsoft communities and to better understand the problems – as well as to collate the potential that already lies within.

The one-hour meeting was overshot by two hours, as valuable exchanges led to mutual understandings.

Proceedings began cordially, as the following faces portray:

For a rotating 360 degree view of the image above, click here.

 

But once pleasantries concluded, sleeves were rolled up and we all got down to our serious thinking faces:

Again, 360 degree version available here.

Thanks to all above, for joining in for that photo story 🙂

 

So much has happened, so much is known

As I understand it, documentation across the various websites [related to Microsoft technologies] has almost always outnumbered all the other technologies put together. This is no surprise, considering Microsoft's history and dominance.

Together we are stronger; we therefore ALL advance faster, towards a better future for all humanity. Is human evolution measured only by our DNA? Or also by advances in tools, technology, and science? In which case, humans are evolving faster than ever!

This is the future! A vast collection of information, served up through numerous prolific search engines - by date, popularity, and relevance.

We REALLY do now have that utopian dream of a “computer” that can answer any question that we need to know – in this case to progress our professions and solve our technical needs.

 

Lost down a rabbit hole

With so much information, from so many sources... Search engines are becoming particularly adept at monitoring and serving just those pages they think are most relevant. However, it is said that the most popular search engines only serve 1/500th of the entire “deep web”. The rest being indexed only by individual site search tools, for example on TechNet and MSDN themselves.

This means outdated documents soon drop off the “global” search tool results, and into obscurity. Found only by people using the actual local site search tools. This doesn’t mean it is no longer valuable, just no longer ranked by the most common search engines.

There is also a certain amount of inaccurate documentation, which promotes a bad practice, or is significantly out of date. I’m sure you have on occasion found yourself way off topic, or copying some ten year old code and wasting valuable time.

 

Promoting the best, honouring the rest

Microsoft has announced they are looking into ways to pull the best information from all of these communities into one place - docs.microsoft.com.  The ultimate authority, a central repository, the official information bank.

Have you contributed some particularly useful documentation over the years, to any Microsoft platforms? If so, this could be your chance to have your work promoted to the status of official documentation (get it migrated over to docs.microsoft.com).

This means much of Microsoft’s greatest minds (developers) will be focusing most of their time on new tools and features for the new platform. Which in turn, may mean a slow decline for MSDN and TechNet - or at least some parts of it.

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: If you head to any MSDN documentation, you'll see the migration already in effect: https://msdn.microsoft.com. Click Documentation at the top.

 

Recognition

It is true that most who post anything significant, imagine their contributions will be there in many years to come. Maybe their children will inspire their grandchildren to join the same communities, after showing the wise words their ancestor contributed to history.

But if documents are moved to a new home, what of the cross-links? Plus, what about the community points and social ranking those profiles proudly presented? What of the recognition, for all those prolific and historic contributions?

For the contributors, their own history and identity, every small contribution means something. Even the shortest of posts that solve a problem, representing the revelation that ended a day of research and frustration. The choicest of nuggets that would also save so many, on that same path.

Gathered to listen to our representations were all the key figures who would influence the future of our communities. Dan Fernandez, Sandra Abad and Hui XIE (plus a couple of their most senior developers) took note of every point we posed. Also attending, was the most important figure in TechNet/MSDN history, "grand master ninja" Ed Price. Ed had helped conceive many of the current platforms and has coached hundreds of people over many years in the ways of the Wiki. Looking around the table, we had the dream-team in one room [and on Skype]. I felt a fresh energy and clear exhibition of willingness to do things right for all past effort.

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: Wow. I appreciate that. Just don't tell the people who made TechNet and MSDN! =^)

I genuinely felt real empathy and open hearts from Dan and his team. We all know love can quickly turn to hate when one’s efforts are disposed or devalued simply in the name of progress. But Dan and his team clearly appreciated this and demonstrated at great lengths that they were keen to work on an amicable solution that meets the various needs of our community.

 

Don’t Panic!

This doesn’t mean your old (or continuing) work on MSDN or TechNet is under any threat. One clear assurance given at the meeting was that nothing has been decided. Our combined goal (with Microsoft and the Community) is to combine and continue our efforts! So all changes will move in the same community-driven direction!

It is true that there is a heap of old documentation, forums, and code samples starting to stagnate. Like a stagnant pool, the information within can cause more harm than relief for a weary traveller, thirsty for knowledge. Something will have to be done eventually.

Suggestions include archiving historic documentation, or simply branding (labelling clearly) certain documents as old. Discussions included the role that the community would have, in helping to decide what is useful and what is not even worth archiving (such as stubbed or inaccurate articles).

 

What is Microsoft’s true strength?

The answer is obviously you, the community, and every individual within it. Just taking the time to read this, for example. All of you, who have collectively made MSDN and TechNet the largest collection of technical documents, discussions, reviews, tutorials, questions, solutions, examples, and work-arounds - covering every aspect of your chosen IT professions.

It is the very history and the tales, which have been scribed by so many devoted people, over so many years, which have has led us to this glorious place in history.

 

What happens next?

After three hours that seemed to go in a blink of an eye, we left with views exchanged, concerns raised, plans revealed, and possibilities discussed.

Next, we digest what we've discussed, we disseminate to you, and we all discuss it together. Then we meet again and talk some more. Regular meetings, so we all have an ongoing hand, helping to shape our future as one community.

Together, with Microsoft and many of our Wiki Ninja leaders, we demonstrated a new face of openness and collaboration. Every effort was made to show we are listening to each other and that all of Microsoft acknowledges and celebrates the history we all helped to write. Microsoft will never forget the work so many have contributed, over so many years - the solid foundations that got us all to where we are today.

One thing is certain, we will need full community support - your hearts and undamaged passion - to continue the journey. Communities always evolve, so join us, onwards and upwards!

 

A greenfield opportunity, a level playing field, and a chance to get noticed!

Much was discussed about incentivising and energising any new platform with recognition and gamification – which I’ll save for another post. Should historic progress points count towards a new platform? Or should history be forever remembered, but not carried over?

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: As a stake in the ground, Microsoft's goal is to find a fair way to transfer previous gamification. It won't be the exact same, but it should be a fair exchange, taking into account each community member's impact, experience, and ultimately the persona and reputation that they worked so hard to establish for themselves. We've done this in the past (when exchanging MSDN/TechNet Forums gamification points to the new system established in 2010, which included grafting in TechNet Wiki, Gallery, Blogs, and Translation into the profile gamification system), and we plan to continue this track record of fairly migrating gamification into new profile systems.

There are a number of well-known problems with some current platforms that hinder input, or prevent better gamification, for current contributions.

One thing is certain, there is a lot of potential in better gamification in a new platform. And everyone at Microsoft is excited about the gamification opportunities! For us all to get rewarded, promoted, and recognised. A community driven platform, with features designed from the bottom up.

If you have any views on the current platforms, or suggestions for future incentives and recognition systems, now is a good time to tell us. Leave comments on our posts, or provide your own blog articles (and send us links to them).

Those of you who find this and realise what I am hinting at and get in early enough, may just find this new opportunity is a fast-track path to increasing your fame and fortune. This has been proven time and time again to be the fastest way to progress through the community, up though the award systems, and eventually invited into the company itself!

NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: This last bit might sound impossible. But you should know that Peter speaks/writes from experience. His own endeavors on the Wiki have resulted in job opportunities and becoming an MVP, being able to visit Microsoft and "sit at the table" of community leaders, across from Microsoft leads who are designing the future of the Microsoft technical community, making requests and concerns on behalf of you, the community. We have another 30+ examples of that from other community members who have joined the Wiki Ninjas and climbed the ladder of success. So if this is your desire, please see my article, How to Become an MVP or MCC

 

A chance to elevate your own career!

Get involved now - with TechNet, MSDN or docs.microsoft.com - and just get yourself known!

We (the TechNet/MSDN community leaders) will work with Microsoft to move more towards an open source platform, with community inspired & built platform features. There may therefore soon be opportunities for you to embellish your CV, with the description of “community feature development”.

Any future merging of communities and official documentation may involve open source development, or even private invite projects. Known community representatives, like TechNet Ninjas, MVPs, MCCs and even “new-but-passionate contributors” could be invited to join various ground-breaking projects - to help build that better future!

 

If a better platform is to be created, the best people to help develop it are the cream of our technical community, those who use it - that’s you!

 

 

I hope this somewhat rambling post helps bring some transparency to what I consider the beginning of a new chapter of community evolution. But it cannot evolve, without YOU. So please, sharing is caring. In this case, please share your most candid opinions on the platforms and communities themselves.

 

Now, most importantly, what do you think?

Comments (14)

  1. Thanks Peter for taking a step to broadcast this.

    1. Pete Laker says:

      And thanks to you sir, for your ongoing support of the community!

  2. chilberto says:

    Thanks Peter. I am really looking forward to an investment in the Microsoft community. I have been using MSDN and TechNet since 2005 and I would really like to see the forums, sample projects and wiki improved. Interesting comment about losing progress. I would prefer not to lost my progress as I put a lot of effort into achieving it but I would think a restart would make sense. Maybe just a badge or something to indicate the previous contribution. Anyway, please keep the community posted!

    1. Here is our current status on that… As a stake in the ground, Microsoft’s goal is to find a fair way to transfer previous gamification. It won’t be the exact same, but it should be a fair exchange, taking into account each community member’s impact, experience, and ultimately the persona and reputation that they worked so hard to establish for themselves. We’ve done this in the past (when exchanging MSDN/TechNet Forums gamification points to the new system established in 2010, which included grafting in TechNet Wiki, Gallery, Blogs, and Translation into the profile gamification system), and we plan to continue this track record of fairly migrating gamification into new profile systems.

      1. Pete Laker says:

        It is good to exchange and honour past achievements

    2. Pete Laker says:

      I agree I’d feel cheated if I wasn’t honoured for past achievements. I currently feel that some form of library, archive or historical bank would be preferred. This is an area I am actively monitoring, through this process.

  3. Good to see this getting attention. I can’t claim to have all the answers, but I will try to throw in a cent or two.

    Of the main outlets (docs, blogs, and the forums) only docs feels like a 2018 experience on the technical side.

    The forums were nice when they launched, but are feeling a bit dated now. Let’s be honest when it comes to the content though. StackOverflow it is not. There shouldn’t be a written test where you have to prove your skills to be allowed to enter, but over the years it has just started to feel less rewarding to post there. I remember the good old days where we had good discussions, and team members chiming in. (I feel old…) Now it has devolved into tech support for those who either don’t read manuals or are able/willing to pay for support. I don’t want to come across as elitist, and of course I am generalizing a bit here, but you need some mechanism for triaging stuff in there.

    The blogs can from the reader’s perspective be good to keep up with. (Sometimes I just keep up with them through RSS in Outlook.) But contributing.. let’s just say there is a reason I’m not using WordPress for my personal blog any longer. I draft posts in OneNote/VS Code/something, store screenshots in OneDrive. Then I create the post, carefully ironing out any formatting issues and make sure I upload each picture correctly hoping they might look good when I hit publish. Don’t get me wrong – I am honored to be allowed to publish my ramblings on msdn.com. But imagine having that be more of a git + markdown experience. And I want the try.dot.net experience too! I figured out the mechanism behind that last year, so I can use it on web sites I code, but I can’t plug it into WordPress. (Or Medium and other sites for that matter.) Probably shouldn’t be saying this in case I’m violating any terms that will make you shut it down 🙂

    Docs are as I say great on the technical side of things. I should probably be looking into doing some contributions there as well. Of course, since the format of official docs and blog posts are different the process needs to be different there. While I can push buggy code to blog posts one might want second eyes when it has to work for others. I don’t know how hard it is to get through the process there, but make sure you identify contributors who might qualify for the express lane if you’re getting a ton of contributions. What might need a slight improvement is the pdf print function – they don’t feel as booklike as I want them to be; but now I’m nitpicking 🙂

    Should we have more options to contribute? What if I have something I want to cover that might be in the 30-page range I want to publish? It’s not a good fit for a blog post, but will it feel right to split into the docs structure? Or would a mini-book be suitable instead? This is clearly just me thinking out loud. I’m not sure if it’s a valid idea or not.

    Ideally I would like videos and Pluralsight kind of experiences as well, but I don’t think many of us would be able to produce quality audiovisual experiences. And besides – that could easily require more effort than I am willing to invest of my spare time.

    Incentives…hmmm… Well, points don’t really mean all that much. Badges look cool though, and everyone goes along with gamification. It’s the whole thing balancing between “I’m doing this for the love of it” and “Am I just putting in a bunch of hours for free”. Maybe it’s just me, but activities like public speaking are higher visibility and as such seems to be more noticed/recognized than doing the online grunt work. (Which is sort of obvious, and some of the acclaimed speakers are great so not trying to diminish their value.) Being outside MSFT one can put a different twist on things though. If an MSFT employee writes a good piece of documentation that’s like “hey, it’s their job, what’s so impressive about them doing what they’re paid for”. But if I have a customer asking for something, and I can refer them to the official docs and say “you can trust that piece of code – I wrote it” that would probably feel pretty good. Well, as long as one doesn’t come off as too cocky/smug/arrogant. Today you’re either an MVP or a non-MVP on the recognition scale, but there’s certainly a number of people who are decent techies even though they don’t have anything to show for it.

    Ok, that’s enough of me ranting for now. I’ll try to contribute any way I can, and will continue to crank out blog posts and code 🙂

    1. Thanks Andreas!

      Forums… I don’t know if we can change the users (meaning that the problem of what users ask or want will likely not go away), but the goal is to be more modern in functionality, like Stack Overflow and Microsoft Answers/Community.

      Blogs… Our current focus is on the Forums and Wiki, but we’ll likely have Blogs conversations down the road as well. The goal is to continue the Wiki efforts as a type of Community authoring platform. So that would be one method to get the tools you mentioned, specific to technical authoring.

      Docs… The team really has only built/consolidated documentation on Docs so far. So it’s that same team that will next focus on re-doing Forums and Wiki / Community authoring. So we should expect a similar level of quality.

      30 page… we can contribute larger articles as Wiki articles now. The goal is to have a Community authoring platform that will be our equivalent for the community to continue to lead.

      Recognition… You have some great points. Currently we seek to grow that reputation on the TechNet Wiki. And it is working. The authoring people have done has helped them get jobs, build their career reputations, and achieve awards (including the MVP award for many). Our hope is to actually increase that in the future… more notoriety, more system support, more of a cohesive story that the content is recognized as quality by Microsoft, etc. The “What” is still being planned. But we do have that story now on TechNet Wiki, and the current plan is to increase the story even more as we look to the future!

      That last bit also ties into my note I added in this blog post above…

      NOTE FROM THE EDITOR: This last note from Pete might sound impossible. But you should know that Pete speaks/writes from experience. His own endeavors on the Wiki have resulted in job opportunities and becoming an MVP, being able to visit Microsoft and “sit at the table” of community leaders, across from Microsoft leads who are designing the future of the Microsoft technical community, making requests and concerns on behalf of you, the community. We have another 30+ examples of that from other community members who have joined the Wiki Ninjas and climbed the ladder of success. So if this is your desire, please see my article, How to Become an MVP or MCC: https://social.technet.microsoft.com/wiki/contents/articles/4827.how-to-become-an-mvp-or-mcc.aspx

      So, many have taken that path to become an MVP (leveraging the Wiki and other sources), and we hope many more will. But even more important is the reputation our community members are building for quality knowledge, ability, experience, and content. That helps change their lives (and the lives of their families), and we’re proud to be part of that story!

      Thanks again, Andreas!

    2. Pete Laker says:

      Some great insights here, thanks!

  4. Thanks Pedro for the post, it’s always good to move on new platform and technology which is in current trend, but at the same time we also need to maintain our beloved community which has lots of very good contributions for years. Lots of members contribute and keep on contributing in our community for many years and all their hard work’s like great article with step by step explanation, Innovative article with good quality of code and content, Lots of Forum Support and many code examples with source code all of these contribution with their points and awards should be honored and placed for years and years as all this small contributions will be helpful for years and years for all our present and future learners. Hope and believe as our beloved community will be remained and our community will be grow faster than before with great contributors.

  5. Thank you Pete for this blog post. You captured the essence of the meeting. I was impressed as well by the willingness of Microsoft to engage with the community. We had several very productive meetings with the Microsoft team over the course of 5 days. I am optimistic about the future.

  6. pituach says:

    Awesome post Pedro.
    Well written and it’s very interesting, in the way it is presented 🙂

  7. I synced with Peter Laker and added a few “Note from the EDitor” comments. =^)

    Big thanks to Peter for this thorough and exhaustive post on the subject!

  8. John Naguib says:

    Thanks Pedro and thanks Ed, I am one of the wiki ninjas who made his MVP way through our community, I wrote a blog over Techcommunity which is also a good platform for sharing https://techcommunity.microsoft.com/t5/Thought-Leadership/The-MVP-Stamp/m-p/161309#M277

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