Ah, the downswing after a big announcement. News has been dissected, crystal balls need polishing after being breathed on by IBM i swamis, and I'm almost unpacked from COMMON. But who will carry the momentum torch until next time?
In searching for a topic to cover, I thought I'd do a bit of a 180 with this edition of Wheelhouse. I want to talk about how we connect with each other. Not in a personal sense, but a practical one.
I had a conversation a few weeks ago with some IBM i writing peers. The discussion turned to how we can get people informed about IBM i, specifically the content that we create. Since the outlets are so plentiful in the age of social media, great content can get lost in the shuffle. It's not like 20 years ago when you'd get the big stack of IBM literature every few years with the new release CDs.
The responses were all over the map—LinkedIn, Twitter, Midrange.com, and even the IBMi25 Facebook page, which has a lot of followers. From Slashdot to IT Knowledge Exchange, the ability to reach out and find people and answers has never been so easy and yet so hard.
The conversation went something like this:
"I read Midrange.com because I get everything in my email."
"Well, I don't subscribe to Midrange.com because I don't want all the extra noise. I use Twitter."
"You use Twitter and you don't want noise? That's like having a bunch of kids if you want to save your money!"
"Yes, but LinkedIn has all sorts of IBM i groups. IBM i Professionals for instance."
"Yes, and it has AS/400 groups, System i groups, iSeries groups, RPG groups, and depending on who you want to find and the success rate of getting the right answer, you have to post in all of them."
How do we get the word out about our platform? Where do we ask questions? How do we connect with all of our peers since we're all so spread out across digital neighborhoods?
COMMON launched its IBM Connections website, which you can access with your COMMON user ID and password. It's yet another place to reach out. I'm a big proponent of Connections, and I've since added it to my list of places to connect specifically with the COMMON community.
Then of course you have the staples of traditional online publications like MC Press Online, IT Jungle, IBM Systems magazine, and the now-defunct iPro Developer. These each have their own following, but authors and contributors use these social tools to help spread the word about their content, driving traffic back to the source.
Bloggers are also out there adding content all the time. IBMers like Steve Will, Tim Rowe, Dawn May, and others are giving us great content all the time. Plus you have independent bloggers like Nick Litten, Mike Pavlak, and Alan Seiden, plus the very informative iTech Solutions newsletter. Also check out Bart Grabowski's blog; this guy popped out of the blogging woodwork about six months ago with some informative IBM i content. I'm not going to turn this article into a plug machine, but there's great content out there that we need to be making obvious to those who don't know about it.
There's no "standard" for an IBM i or Power Systems online community. With the nature of social computing, anyone can start a community or even a community within a community and begin to interact with others. That's part of the beauty of it.
It's also bittersweet because there's no real cohesiveness, no aggregation. We choose what content to share ideally based on the validity and usefulness of the content to us, but maybe it's useful to someone else. If I see a PHP on IBM i article, I may or may not read it because programming is so removed from my day-to-day tasks that if it's anything too "codey," it will go right over my head. But I should share it.
I don't think we do enough cross-promotion of our own content on a regular basis.
We all follow a number of different streams of data on a regular basis. We all consume more content than we generate, and that will never change, but I think that, as a community, we can do better with promoting each other's blogs, articles, and questions in need of answers. I don't necessarily mean promoting within the same stream. While retweets (sharing another person's tweet on Twitter) are a great way to share someone's content with your followers, why not copy a link to that content and share it on Google+, LinkedIn, Midrange, or any other site that may not be in your comfort zone? Perhaps you're used to using a more-traditional website like mailing-list-based Midrange.com (which has a large and loyal following, I might add). I'd encourage you to explore your options and branch out to different areas on the web where other IBM i professionals frequent.
It seems like the most chatter comes about by way of major announcements—IBM i 7.1 Technology Refreshes 6, 7, and 8, and IBM i 7.2. Since all the commentary is coming from disparate sources, I'd imagine a large portion of the community is going to miss a good discussion or an analysis of a new feature. We need to keep the chatter going as much as possible, cross-promoting and generating new content as best we can in order to get as much platform enthusiasm as possible going on a regular basis. How many times do you hear a statement like "IBM doesn't promote its products?" Or "IBM doesn't promote IBM i?" I hear it enough. I disagree with it too. Announcements come out and get promoted by industry magazines, webcasts, and conference calls among other things. But once the word is out there, the community must take at least some ownership of helping drive that buzz and keeping the momentum going. It's all well and good to see the #commonug hashtag displayed during the COMMON conference's opening session and see Tweets from brand new Twitter users. I followed every single one of them actually. Many of these folks went to the show, tweeted with the hashtag for a few days, and then went back to their offices...and we haven't see them on Twitter since. Maybe they just hoped to win the daily best-tweet prize during the conference. I guess they don't realize you get many daily prizes via Twitter in the form of community and knowledge! It ain't about the swag you get for tweeting during a conference! Didn't they see any other value in using the #IBMi and #commonug hashtags that week? Maybe they did, but maybe Twitter just isn't their comfort zone.
How can we help? It's not hard. Expand your comfort zone like I mentioned above. Cross-promote content between communities. Write a blog on your thoughts about POWER8, IBM i 7.2, or free-form RPG and share it with your peers in places you wouldn't normally put content, if only for the sake of others.
There's a great blog post by a fellow IBM i community member, the prolific and always-awesome Yvonne Enselman, that you need to read right now. In it, she defines an idea called iThusiasm as "a vehicle and brand to communicate my opinions and support for the IBM i on Power Systems, the professionals who support it and are supported by it, and the user groups (both local and large) that bring us together. It is a way for me to share the links that show up in my feeds and lead to great articles and opinions. It is a way to share the energy we get from each other, and hopefully to attract and support the next generation."
We need more of this. Are you up for sharing your iThusiasm?