A Missed Opportunity…

I remember the first time I really felt a sense of professional community – it was very early in my career when I was a sysadmin at a big engineering company here in Vancouver. Being a sysadmin back then was a lonely job. We were solitary creatures that lived amongst the wires in very cold rooms with nothing but the comfort of the steady green blink, blink, blink to assure us all was okay. The only connections we had came from usenet newsgroups like alt.sysadmin.recovery (look that one up :)) but these were tightly moderated by such impressive gurus that most of us didn’t dare post for fear of being bashed with a LART (something else to look up)…so mostly, we just “lurked”.

Then a company called 3Com came along and changed everything. They united us. They brought us together at conferences so we could learn from each other, they created usergroups so we could connect with each other, they set up user generated newsletters so we could celebrate each other…and they did all of this without actually selling us anything… except a “concept”. A concept that they knew was deeply important to us. This concept was called “interoperability”. They took it as a personal mission to get ALL of our networking equipment working together seamlessly and harmoniously regardless of whose product it was… To us, this was quite a concept!

We came in droves from all over the globe to learn and share in the magic world they painted for us because to sysadmins, this concept created euphoria. The most interesting part of all of this was that we knew, REALLY knew, that their competitors’ products were just as good (if not better). However, it was the “dream” we bought and we became loyal to them to the core (and their products) for years!

3Com as an organization has gone away but I still think about them every time I hear someone talk about building a community around a product. Communities are not built around products; they are built around concepts, dreams and shared ideas or better yet…shared pain!

Why do I bring this up now? Well, the other night I was at a conference where a fabulous “concept” was discussed. All of the elements were there…a room full of people with a common goal, a shared pain for how things were and a shared dream of how things could be…but it fell short.

There were no introductions to help us get to know each other better. There was no discussion encouraged so we could share existing issues and points of pain. There was no “place” given to us to help us connect and learn together…just a sales pitch. What a missed opportunity!

Sadly, this “concept” could be one of the most interesting advancements to hit the mobile development space since the “app store”. But, I am afraid it is doomed because they missed the point. You see, they need our help as a community to really get this going but, communities grow around shared concepts and dreams …not products.