BlogHer Business Conference 2008 – Trip Report

Just spent my first 3 days in New York City, attending the BlogHer Business Conference.  When asked how did I enjoy NYC, I recalled the scene from the first Matrix movie, where Neo is crossing the very busy street in the crosswalk during orientation.  I felt equally baffled and confused =)

Microsoft Blogging Case Study

Besides trying to act non-tourist-like by wearing earphones as I walked by solicitors (which worked, btw), I was invited to be a panelist on the Microsoft Blogging Case Study (live-blog transcript"Case Study #5").  I was joined by Ariel Stallings, Ani Babaian, and Nelly Yusupova who moderated, 3 very amazing women.  Working with guys day in and day out, I forget how much fun and reinvigorating it is to connect with other technical women.

Below were my top points from the blogging case study.

  • At Microsoft, it is all about blog smartWe hire smart people to make smart decisions.  When i’m in doubt about a post, whether it is a Visual Studio tip day i need sanity-checked or a peer review to ensure what i’m saying makes sense, I ask for help.  I even ask some of my non-Microsoft blog readers to review comments to get their thoughts, just for that other point-of-view.
  • My personal rules of the road are three-fold: 1. no politics  2. no religion  3. no rants.  There’s a time and a place for this, and it is called Facebook.  I should also mentioned that Facebook is for my friends only, hence why i’m not on the Microsoft network.  When in doubt about posting something personal, think "always customer first.  will this post help my readers and/or customers make a better connection with me, or will it drive them away from me?"
  • I started blogging because i wanted to connect with the blind developer community, but what actually happened was that i connected with those like me, non-visually impaired software-accessibility testers looking for help and advice.  That was the lightbulb moment that i realized that what i learned internally could be shared externally, hence the info on software testing, Visual Studio, and so forth.
  • Since blogging is an extension of my day job and i blog in my spare time, my ROI may be different than bloggers who have blogging ROI as actual goals and commitments.  For me, i measure "success" via metrics (something i can control) and indicators (signs of success). I can control the number of blog posts i’m going to write, but i can’t control the number of page views (sorry, no bots allowed).  An indicator of success is when my RSS hits increases, meaning that i’m getting more and more subscribers to my blog.
  • Windows Live Writer is my hero.  I bow to it.  It has carried me through all these months writing the Visual Studio tip of the day, because of its ability to 1. publish posts to go live at a future date and 2. to write offline and store on the local computer.  Consider how I’m writing this blog entry on the plane, going to save it locally as a draft when i’m done asking the poor people next to me how to spell a certain word, and then publish it next time I’m on the internet.

One particular "shout out tweet" we found on Twitter. 

social media so perfect for people like these Msoft bloggers. they’re so genuinely excited about what they do. makes their co. look good.

Why I love Windows Live Writer

After the panel, the blogher people interviewed me to see where this love for Windows Live Writer was coming from.  Their timing couldn’t have been better, as i had just demo’ed Live Writer to Paull Young by having him post to his blog.  He was awesome to let me put him on the hook with me to explain why Live Writer rocks.

http://www.blogher.com/live-microsoft-windows-experience-lounge

I can’t sign Live Writer’s praises enough.  It is the main factor why i’ve been able to keep the Tip of the Day running.  You rock, Live Writer.

I was Microspotted

Ariel has the absolutely coolest job ever.  She gets to interview Microsofties about their jobs, their personalities, and why they work at microsoft.  Ariel interviewed me about my job on CodePlex and working with the open source community. 

Also, she took some pictures of me outside on the street of NYC.  She’s an awesome photographer.  I got a quick peek at one of the shots, and it really moved me.  It’s amazing how much time goes by and when you see yourself in a great photo, it’s like you get a second to stop and smell the roses and realize how far you’ve come, especially when you’re someone like me, so driven about getting over the next hill that we never really give ourselves even a moment’s rest.  On the plane out to NYC, I had just finished reading Nelson Mandela’s book long walk to freedom, and one of the very last sentences really hit home, where he mentions how there’s always a next hill to climb.

Yeah, I think this is the longest post i’ve written since starting tip of the day.  I should probably do more cross-country flights.  =)

Trip Report: Online Community Business Forum

It’s been an intense couple of days, meeting with those who run online communities in business environments (read: for-profits, not non-profits).  In other words, people there either ran an online community, like a support forum (Apple’s support forums, Dell’s online communities) or discussion board (AOL, etc.), or sold tools and applications to host such online communities.

Technorati tags: ocbf2007

And some pictures of Sonoma (and for those in Seattle – pictures of the sun).  Sadly, i was more in awe of the sun and weather, than i was of the vineyards.

Top Takeaways

  • Currently, there is no global definition for community.  It’s one of those, "you know it when you see it" (thanks to Sean McDonald from Dell for the quote.)  Maybe in time we’ll have a clear definition, like we do today for blogging.
  • The majority agreed that a crisis is needed to build a community.  I’ll go a step further and say that there needs to be a mutual call-to-action for the community to 1. find one another and 2. do something.  Crisis is a great call-to-action.
  • A lot of the online community research mapped very closely to the OSS community research I’ve seen.  This is very interesting from a social engineering (if that’s the right term) perspective.  How we interact online may be constant across any community.  Now if only we can define what an online community is and isn’t…
  • Mike McCamon from iModules.com had the quote of the conference.  I’m horribly paraphrasing, but it was along the lines of "Selling Online Communities to executives today is like trying to sell telephones to executives when they were first invented, when the reaction back in the day was, ‘who would use a phone?’"  That’s so true.

Conference Highlights

  • I unintentionally started the "Women’s Bathroom Community."  – I just started talking to one woman in the bathroom, which caused another 3 to join the conversation, thus spending 20 minutes in the bathroom talking about online communities.  We all went to dinner later.  Oh, I’m bracing myself for the comments to this one.
  • Mac vs PC:  Mark Williams (Apple) and Sean O’Driscoll (MSFT) did a joint session on engaging in your community.  And of course, they couldn’t pass up the opportunity to do a little commercial spoof.  it was an excellent discussion.
  • I really liked the 5 minute open microphone on whatever topic you want. Of course, I got up there and did my 5 minute OSS sales pitch. Never a dull moment.
  • Every conference needs a “wine-tasting break” prior to the “wine-tasting event” prior to the “dinner at the winery.”

Lowlights

  • Having my leg x-rayed the night before flying out.  Nothing broken, but hurts nonetheless.  ouch.  shin splints.  I blame my personal trainer for not listening to my "no lower body workout today, because i did something crazy over the weekend."  And, he blames me for climbing Mt. Si. twice over the weekend.  But he’s still fired.  =)
  • Being too far away to hit josh over the head for being hit by a car and not going straight to the ER.
  • What does "riff" mean?  Does it mean to add to the conversation?  Or to go off on a tangent?  I couldn’t quite pick up on the full context…  For example, "Let me riff on what you are saying…" No one seemed to take offense, so i gathered it didn’t mean "let me rip it apart."

Adventures in Sonoma

I called Gretchen while i was down there with a desperate plea for help ordering wine.  I audited (yes, audited) wine appreciation in college, and i lived with a French family in their vineyard for a little while one summer back in high school, but that’s the extent of my wine knowledge, except for the fact that i can’t distinguish between wines.  They all taste great to me.

Sarah Onat from appc.com (she and i co-founded the bathroom community) and I did dinner both nights, and Friday night we did some sight-seeing and ate dessert at a local cafe on Hwy 12 (?).  Thanks Sarah with the ‘h’ for driving!!

Zoe Hollister from Forumone.com (our tireless event coordinator for the conference) and I spent Saturday as tourists.  When we hit 3 vineyards before noon sampling wine, we realized we had to slow down!  We drove around and to our (happy) surprise, discovered the Napa Premium Outlets and ended up doing some shopping.  =)  Thanks Zoe for driving!!  Hope work on Monday morning isn’t too rough (she took a red-eye back).

And lastly, i’ll sign off by telling my first adventure story of the trip.  It’s about 1-1.5 hours from SFO to Sonoma via car.  Since i was the only passenger, the shuttle driver and i started talking the usual age, rank, and serial number.  When he said he knew what Visual Studio was, i was immediately shocked, then i realized, "oh wait, I’m in the Bay Area" (SFO is the bay area, right?).  Apparently it was his last day on the job, moving full-time to his start-up 30proof.  They are speaking at O’Reilly Where 2.0 conference, so best of luck to them during their demo.

And now i’m going to get some sleep…  very long day getting home from sonoma and writing trip reports…

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Welcome SourceForge Visitors!!

First of all, congrats to the Port 25 team for the Microsoft site on SourceForge.  The same guys who bring you Port 25 are now bringing you a site on SourceForge on what Microsoft is doing in the open source space for the windows platform:  http://sourceforge.net/powerbar/msft

I’m simply blown away to be listed in such great company with Bill Hilf and Jason Matusow.  Wow. We need to add RobMen (WiX) to the list; otherwise, I’m going to be too embarrassed to remain up there (note to self to contact Jamie).  One day when i grow up, i hope to do what RobMen has done in the open source space, especially in terms of paving new ground at Microsoft.  But as one of my longtime linux guru college friends keeps telling me, "patience young grasshopper."  Grr, i have too much energy for patience.

Over the past 6 months, I’ve been focused significantly on internal culture changes, making it easier for other teams to "go open," and everything else in between.  Usually, i blog as much as possible about what I do at work, but i’ve been doing a poor job blogging as of late.  But now that i have the honor of sharing web real estate with Bill and Jason, I need to start doing some real blogging again.

Soccer, Contests, and Community Building

A Great Day of Soccer

My entire childhood was spent playing in the Mississippi Youth Soccer Organization.  I started playing soccer in the second grade, and play for the next 14 years.  I had this huge crush on this boy (Jerry) in my first grade class who played soccer, so I decided to learn how to play so I could impress him on the playground.   But alas, Jerry moved away at the end of first grade.  Fortunately, I fell just as hard in love with soccer, so my heartache was short lived. (yes, I started playing soccer to impress a boy – I bet those who know me didn’t see that one coming)

Each Spring, we had the classic soccer tournaments, playing for District and State championships.  But something I will never forget is “The Great Day of Soccer”.  It was this annual tournament where you participated in individual events, and not in any team events.  The 5 events were

  • how far you could do a throw-in
  • how fast you could dribble through the cones
  • what your accuracy was for shooting on goal (40 points if you could get it in the upper corner)
  • how many times you could juggle the soccer ball
  • how far you could kick the ball

My final year, I got up to 88 consecutive juggles before screwing up.  The crowd that had gathered around me freaked me out and I lost my focus towards the end.  But they still applauded, and I still kicked the ball straight up in the air as if I had reached the goal of 100 juggles.  And yes, I still wear my “great day” t-shirt, after all these years. It was truly a great day of soccer, and truly a great t-shirt to still be alive after 15+ years.

Contests and Community Building

One of the things I learned from OSCON last year was that contests may actually drive the community apart because of the competition. Ever since, I’ve been scratching my head wondering how effective contests really are in building community. I just can’t shake the feeling that it feels risky.

Then I started thinking about the great day of soccer. There’s no way you can build a soccer league by hosting the great day of soccer. Where would you host the tournament, how you would get word out to come, what sort of events would you have? In order to build a local soccer community, you must first find the kids that are playing soccer in the playground and find the parents that used to play as a kid. Then you have to find a place to play. Only once you have the kids playing for fun can you tap into that energy and use it to attract others to play, others that might not have had an interest before, but do now. It’s one of those, “hey, what is going on over there?” Here I’m thinking about improved fields, jerseys, announcements in newspapers, and media interviews. Now, as you’re starting to gain more and more kids, you can work on improving the infrastructure and so forth. Finally, once a critical mass is hit of die-hard soccer fans and players, you can have a tournament to showcase individual skills. A contest at this point wouldn’t drive people away, because they are already here for their own reasons. A contest here would be competition at a different level, allowing those interested parties to compete over reputation, while the critical mass gets to watch and freak out people trying to reach those 100 juggles.

Tying this all back to community-building, the gist of this run-away random thought is contests do not build community; successfully-run contests promote the already-existing community.

Of course, the next time I’m home, I should actually call up one of the founding members of BAYS (bay area youth soccer – my local hometown organization) and find out just how far in left-field I am with how a soccer league gets started. =)

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