Re: SADeveloper.Net Retrospective

So this morning Kevin asked for comments, and here are mine.

1) What is right with SaDeveloper.net? & 2) What is wrong with SaDeveloper.net?
1) It exists.
2) It doesn’t meet everyone’s needs so people are complaining. 🙂

But seriously, have you thought about it for a bit?  Its a vehicle of the community.  If its not “by developers, for developers” then it shouldn’t be there and as developers we should be able to start something ourselves.  No – I’m not advocating that we split the community.  But developers will find a way if what they’re given doesn’t work for them. (Just check out all the blogs that are around – great technical content, great chatting) 

I think we need a core GROUP of developers.  As far as I saw, poor Arno had to do all the work previously.  The one or two times I suggested a feature I was told to wait for it.  The one main feature I wanted took a year to come around.  For me that was just too long to wait, so I stopped reading and replying to the forums.  With a GROUP of developers who can all make changes this would go much faster.  Of course we would end up with absolute chaos if there was nobody overseeing the changes, keeping their quality up to scratch, and keeping them meaningful to the community.  But surely that’s part of what the leads could do?  They could manage the community development of the site – they’re the people best suited to doing it.  Maybe with the help of some of the SA Architects we could setup a nice framework within which the whole development of the SA Developer/Architect portals would work?

3) Are you happy with the way the forums are run?
Yes, and no.
1) My take on the chat forum and post count.
Whether or not the posters to the chat are doing it just to increase their post count or not, the “Top posters” will always be looked at in awe by newbies and even some of the oldies.  I think idea is that its some kind of recognition for putting in effort in the community… e.g. Mr X posts a lot so therefore he must be involved. Which leads to “Gee, Mr X is cool because he helps out the community”.  For newbies that’s probably going to be their perception, and they’ll listen more to Mr X because he’s posted 10 000 posts (even though he knows nothing about computing), and they’ll ignore Mr Y with 500 posts who is actually the expert in the field.

But having said that, the chat forum is clearly beneficial to some people.  I have time to chat, I just don’t like the interface, and I’m not sure what interface would work better for me.  I prefer chatting “one on one” in MSN.  Until Andre O MSN’ed me a while ago I was pretty un-involved in the SA Dev meetings. I’m the kinda guy who won’t walk up to a stranger and get involved in a conversation.  Now I “know” at least one of the people in the meetings so I’m more likely to talk to people when I’m there.  I prefer IM’ing – selected content comes to me (and its the whole content, not just the first post, but all the follow ups too, and its quick and easy to interact with)
2) Technical forums.
Technical forums are cool, but I don’t really read them much.  I’m not sure why, I guess when I have questions I want to find answers “*NOW*”, I don’t want to post and wait a few days before I get a response. So I go straight to CodeProject, Google and DotNet247.

I have hassles with replying to posts that require me to setup a fairly specific environment before I can reply with a meaningful answer.  I personally hate writing replies to posts that say “have you tried X?”.  I’m trying to reply a bit more to posts. I’m pretty quick to skip over posts where they’re not in my immediate field of expertise, which generally leaves me with very few posts that I can reply to.

Oh yeah – one of my hassles is that I use an RSS reader to read the forums, and I don’t know when a thread has had comments added to it.  (Only new threads are highlighted, and old threads with new comments aren’t marked as “updated”) So I would never have known about this post if Kevin hadn’t blogged about it. (I think someone said I should talk to them about trying to do this, but I forgot who it was or who I was meant to contact… Oops. :-()

4) Are you happy with the choice of leads and do you feel they are doing the right job and their jobs right?
Um… what choice?  I didn’t choose anyone.  Nobody asked me to choose. To be honest, I don’t know who they are or what they’ve done for the community.  I was pretty frustrated by a post I read where the authore was getting upset and scolding the community for not responding to an opportunity when he himself hadn’t responded until the day of his rant.  I was just plain pissed off when I found out that it was a Lead who had made the post.  To me, that’s the wrong attitude for a lead to have.  If I judged all current leads by that example I’d say they all suck.  If I’d had a choice in who became lead I’d probably be pissed off at myself for choosing someone who didn’t have a good attitude towards the community.  But I didn’t have a choice, so I got pissed off with him and with whichever dictator it was that put him in “office”. 

I use the word “dictator” on purpose because without community input in the process of who gets to lead you’re asking for BIG problems.  I admit that we (the community) are possibly not the most informed people as to who is making an effort and who would make the biggest difference, so sometimes we will choose badly.  But that’s how community works.  I know we can’t make this a whole “political” thing, but if the current leads were to profile 5 potential leads, list some of the things they’ve done, etc, get votes from the community and then go away and use those votes to help decide who they’d make a lead, that would be cool.  (i.e. They just use the votes as a guide – but they’d have to make it VERY clear that votes are just guidelines and not directly related to who becomes a lead)  If the community voted greatly for Mr X, but the leads (with all the extra information they have at their disposal) think that Mr Y would be better suited, then maybe they should put make them both leads and just dish Mr Y more responsibility.  That way Mr X has a chance to shine, and a chance to learn the ropes before we end up with a situation where the current leads leave and appoint new leads to replace them who have very little experience in leading the community (things like which contacts have been established with company’s and what resources have been given to them to use.

Having said that, I’m highly impressed with the new leads in Gauteng – we’re actually having meetings again!  And not just one meeting, but they’ve been planned for months in advance, which is AWESOME because now I can arrange my schedule to fit in with the meetings. (I actually have something on every Wednesday night, but at least now I can plan ahead enough to get someone to fill in for me if I need them to)

(If you read this Simon, don’t think I’m saying bad things about your organisation of meetings without understanding that without you we wouldn’t be where we are now.  When it comes to the people I look up to in the SA Community, Simon was one of the first people who stood out for me.  I seriously don’t think we’d be where we are without the people who laid these foundations. So to all the people who have been involved previously – you guys/gals rock!  Thank you for what you’ve done!  Its probably not been said enough, but you do rock!)

I think lead’s are best “rated” based on what they’re doing in the community.  Ruari and co did some awesome things in Cape Town.  I can’t help but wonder if its a bit of his influence up here in JHB that’s gotten things moving a bit here too.  (Anyone got enough cash so we can pay to get him cloned? :-))

5) Why does toast always fall butter side down?
It does that just to piss you off… You see, I think that butter is actually a highly intelligent life form (well, the milk its made from is the intelligent one). Kinda like the mice in the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. And as such, it had a pretty nice existence inside the cow, so then one day us humans squeeze and pressure it out of its happy home, and then churn it up and whip it and do all sorts of other things to it before we eat it.  So falling butter side down is its one last ditch effort at revenge.

6) What changes could be made that would make you feel more positive about SaDeveloper.net and get you to want to be more involved?
I like what’s happening in JHB right now.  To me, the meetings are more important than the forums. (Don’t flame me for saying that, its just my stupid opinion – you’re entitled to have your own stupid opinion but just don’t force me to agree with it. :-D)

If we could change one thing on the forums, I’d make it so that when a thread had a new comment added to it, the feed would show it as “updated”. (I’m not sure how RSS does that, or how my RSS reader does it, but it would be cool.  And I’d be prepared to help build that if someone would point me in the direction of the code)

My own thoughts
I heard someone say that a fair amount of the discontented people were new members, and Kevin seemed to think that the discontented people were from JHB.

I think we’ve lost a lot of older members in the last year, and I think members who joined in the past few months (from JHB) will have seen a community in transformation and I doubt they’d see the value in it. I think some people have been upset for awhile and haven’t had a space to vent. I think some people have been offended/hurt by the recent changes, and I think some people have been frustrated/ignored in the past and have been offended/hurt because no changes happened.

Unfortunately that’s part of community too.  I don’t envy the leads.  Its not a matter of finding the “middle path” (the one that offends the least people on either side) but a matter of deciding on the “right” path and going for it regardless of the consequences.  Of course because there is no one source of all things right for communities, the leads will have to do their best to find the “right path”. The community will need to support them, and give them feedback.  I don’t think a community is built by the leads.  I think the community has a responsibility to follow the leads, but also to question them when they think that they’re heading in the wrong direction.  If members of the community question more than they follow then they either need to leave the community and find one that works for them or they need to re-evaluate their attitudes towards the leads/community.  The leads need to listen to the community because without a community there would be no leads. (without leads the community would still be there, they just wouldn’t be as strong a force as they could be with the right leads)

With all the change happening it will be all to easy to fall into the trap of “death by over analysis”.  Good starting points are in place in JHB, Ruari left good things in Cape Town, and Durban seems to be going strong.  I know us Jo-burgers like things “NOW!NOW!NOW!”, but it looks like the right things are coming.  I certainly hope that the few good suggestions that come out of this exercise are really listened to.

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