Monday, March 12, 2018

Thoughts on a New Community

So I've been thinking about creating a new online community. Actually, I've been thinking about it for years. But I wanted to make sure that I felt I had enough "stuff" to make it worthwhile.

I've always tried to fill a void. So I want to do more than just have a place to distribute information.

One of the things the SMB IT Community needs is a place where we can all gather as a community. There was a time when that place was the annual SMB Nation conference. But as the community has grown, that conference has faded and lots of other events have take its place.

Now, there's a conference for Robin Robins, a conference for Datto, a conference for ConnectWise, a conference for CompTIA, and lots of smaller conferences. Then there are events for ChannelPro, ASCII, The Channel Company, SMB TechFest, and others.

So we have plenty of conferences, in my opinion. BUT different people attend different events. I just attended TechFest, ASCII, and ChannelPro events back to back. All were excellent. And maybe twenty people attended two or three events. Otherwise, there was basically no overlap.

We need a place to meet as a community. Yes, there are places online. But there are 100 places to get together on Facebook or LinkedIn. There are ASCII email lists, but that's not the same as an interactive forum. There are forums on Reddit, but mostly not focused on this community.

I Use The Term Community because that's the thing we need the most.

There are new-ish groups all over the place with people who are just getting into this business. They don't know about the channel. They don't know about managed services. They don't know that there are LOTS of people willing to help them.

How could they? If you're just getting into this business, you probably think you're a "computer consultant." How could you know the terms managed service or channel?

We need a community to help people who are new to our profession. And, to be honest, part of the role of community is to help show them that this IS a profession and to show them some of the standards.

As I travel around, I meet so many great people. Over time, I get to know them. I learn about their families and friends. I can honestly say that some of my best friends are people I met in our community.

But I'm afraid the community has become fragmented and will continue to fall apart. We need something where everyone can come together and interact with one another. The goal would be to add something we can't get anywhere else - not replace something that's out there.

- - - - -

Here's what I'm thinking about.

A new online community with three levels. One is free, two are paid.

1) Free. Includes all the free stuff I give away, plus an index to everything I've ever produced. So if you want to find something, you can.

2) Paid content. Basically, this is everything I've ever produced. AND a commitment to continue posting new stuff month after month.

3) All that, plus an interactive community. We'll have forums, special internal-only webinars, community meetings, member-only training, and more.

As for the interactive forums . . . My head is exploding with ideas. We can have SIGs (special interest groups) for specialty and vertical technologies, sales, podcasting, tools, and pretty much whatever people are interested in. We could even have a buy-sell-trade board.

I really think this would be a great place for a group learning experience. For example, helping people learn to create client-facing videos and marketing material. And once the group went through the learning process together, we could hold competitions for the best products that came out of it.

. . .  Anyway . . . I've been thinking about this for years. And I think it's time to decide whether YOU would find it worthwhile. I put together a super quick survey. I would love your feedback on whether we should have just one offering or two or three. And, of course, what you consider to be a reasonable price.

Please give your feedback here:

Thank you !!!



  1. Karl, You are spot on with your observations about how a once tight-knit community has fragmented and faded away. I believe that cloud computing is the central reason why this has occurred. With significantly diminished need for on-premises servers for small business operations, the Small Business Server community that was so helpful and essential is no longer a part of the picture. But, as one thing exits, two more spring up. We, as a group of practitioners, haven't harvested the new technologies and tied them into the old community. Instead we have become fragmented into special interest groups like the Datto community, the Connectwise community, etc. and we tend to gravitate almost exclusively to those community events.

    I really like the ideas you have put out for comment. I would like to add one more. Many of us are now reaching an age where our tenure in the business has a very short shelf life. I think we could develop a high-value opportunity for younger people entering the industry if we created a program to harness the business acumen of the senior members of the community and use it to form a mentoring program. It should be an opt-in program with a modest cost to encourage people to have some skin in the game if they want to get value out of the program. Just my two cents.

  2. Thanks for the comments, Bob. I like the senior mentoring idea. I'm just not sure I'm ready for the "senior" title yet.

  3. Karl:

    interestingly, been having conversations similar. There are two factors you haven't really addressed, which are some of why we do have the fractured nature of the community now.

    First, as individuals within a community mature, they have different needs than those who are new. This happens in peer groups as well -- some, more "advanced" members of the community begin to accelerate, and after a while, they feel they are contributing far more than they are getting back from the community. A community for new members, by its very definition, is focused on that entry, 101 level content -- which is not valuable to the experienced members. You have some contributors who simply enjoy helping, of course, but for many, as their reflected value diminishes, they opt to leave the community -- or start their own, thus fracturing the community to continue to get value.

    The second trend you aren't addressing here is the vendors that are monetizing the community. When the community started, there was a single, monolithic one, as most were on the same page in development and maturity (see above). Vendors have elected to drive that for their customers, going deeper -- 201 level content -- based around their own products. Again, splintering the community as people look to drive deeper. Monetization isn't necessarily bad -- its paying for a lot of it, in fact -- but it's a factor.

    Don't get me wrong -- I love your premise of trying to link the community back together. However, there are real reasons it's trended the way it has.

  4. Dave, I think one of the goals of a new community is to bring together members who are at any level of expertise rather than walling them off into 101 and 201 levels. It is a broad interaction among people in a community that drives everyone forward. If we only look to do something that is singularly good for ourselves, who will help us when we need help from someone with more experience and/or expertise? I understand your point, but I think it misses the mark in the context that Karl has described, particularly when you bring what vendors want to the table. Just my two cents again.

  5. Thanks Dave.

    I do agree with you, but I don't think either trend negates the value of a community. I recently ran into some old HTG friends . . . because they were attending different events than I normally attend. These folks are clearly above the 101 or 201 level. But we enjoyed our time together. I think community transcends these levels.

    In fact, with working forums, we could create a space for each level to "talk among themselves" and still participate in the broader community.

  6. Gents:

    Please don't think I'm devaluing a community -- I'm bringing up the trends that I've been observing for all of these communities. I very much enjoy it when the communities cross... but there needs to be reasons for that to happen.

    I'll ask Bob -- your statement "when you bring what vendors want to the table." Are vendors not part of this community? It's an important distinction -- they're certainly part of the ecosystem overall. Are people like me, who work for a vendor (even tho I didn't always), not part of this? If the goal is to helping all members of the community (at the table, so to speak), you need to define who it includes, or this isn't a community that includes them. (I won't be personally offended -- I'm actually offering all of this because for the idea to be successful, answering questions like this helps set it up for success).

    Is the goal simply to have more of a "neutral" spot? I also wonder why you don't view CompTIA as this -- that's what they aim to accomplish. Are they not providing a resource?

    Trying to understand....

  7. CompTIA has a great community. But I don't see it as a larger gathering place. We have new people getting connected to one or more communities all the time. I guess I'm looking for a much broader community.

    As for vendors, I think it would be great if vendors participated. I don't know exactly what that would look like. One person mentioned that they don't want to see ads. I think that's okay. I'd rather have participation than ads.

    But I don't know how vendors would want to participate. Over the years, you (Dave), Steve Noel, and Greg Starks have stood out as vendors who jump in and actually participate in various online groups. Most other vendors don't participate. A few will participate from time to time.

    I think there's often a "corporate" attitude that employees shouldn't participate in forums that the company does not control. If you have ideas about getting vendors involved on a personal level I'd love to hear it. The easy route is to buy ads with a blogger, a magazine, or just plain Google. But that's just getting seen, not "participating" in a meaningful way.

    Anyway, I appreciate your comments.


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