The Meteoric Rise and Slow Fall of a Community

Over better part of the last ten years, I have been involved and benefited from one of the largest business communities that I have ever seen.  Revolving primarily around the VMware ecosystem, this community has provided me with access to some of the smartest minds in systems administration, business leaders and I have made numerous friends, but alas I think it is all about to fall.

To even start to explain where I am coming from lets first take a step back and explain some history.  I started working with VMware based products somewhere around 2004 or 2005 with GSX Server. As time progressed I worked more and more with virtualization and was even offered a job after and early VMware User Group(VMUG) meeting.  That turned into a stepping stone that began to escalate my career path.  I moved from a standard admin to management and then shifted over into being a sales engineer.  During my first role as a sales engineer for a regional reseller I began to participate heavily in the Community Roundtable Podcast, a very early weekly podcast hosted by John Troyer.  Combined with the VMware community forums I had access to tons of resources and people.  Things we progressing great and I moved into more VMware centric roles and eventually moved over to the vendor side.  This move was all because of relationships I had built with this VMware community.  The community had grown and so had my involvement, 5 years ago I started hosting a daily podcast at VMworld with some of these community member that I still do today.

It was during one of these podcasts this year in San Francisco that I had a few other guys confirm feelings that I have been having for the past year, that the VMware Community has gone too commercial and lost the camaraderie and independence that made it so special.  Vendors used to spend small amounts of money to help get people together with the knowledge that their name would be shared and these influential bloggers and social media activists would in turn support them (if their product was worthwhile).  Events were created by individuals and anyone could show up and be welcomed regardless if they worked for a vendor.  If you were active with a certain group it did not matter if you filled out a form on a website to give the sponsoring company a fresh lead, you were welcomed into events with open arms.

Times have changed and while I still have many great friends and contacts I dont think the community as I knew it exists anymore.  We have groups of people recognized for their participation in the community, vExperts, that many even with the group have become too entitled and it is no longer a group that provides feedback but rather just wants free swag.  We have events that were once only ran by the community and were open for anyone that are ran by corporate marketing teams and are no different than if a customer appreciation party.  There are very few new blogs or known technical talents that are being publicly lauded for their work and those that remain are often now so entrenched in their circle of friends that it is nearly impossible for a regular customer to make a connection with them enough to feel like they are becoming part of something.

There are still a few events that are driven for the community and managed in a way that any sponsored money and invitation goes back into the event but the feel and the vibe is slowly dying.  This VMworld I was lucky to be involved with VMUnderground which while much bigger than the founders or any of us involved ever expected still goes back to making sure people meet each other and see sponsors logos and hopefully is mutually beneficial.  Community packages were built for sponsors around participation in the vBrownbags, a series of hopefully no FUD short talks, Spousetivities, the definition of work-life balance and of course VMUnderground and vRockStar and the sponsors seemed to feel they are getting good value by participating.  I also got to see a much smaller event like The Gathering with only about 35 people be very well attended and produce great value for all involved.  Something that allowed community members and sponsors intertwine and even allowed community members that had not meet were able to.

I am not going to list off any of the events that I heard were not as accommodating or as focused on the attendees as I only hope they already received that feedback.  What I will say is that I hope as we move towards VMworld EMEA in a short 5 weeks everyone involved in the community finds a way to meet someone new, find a vendors they think is amazing and support them, and welcome that new talent that has allowed our industry to grow.  The community is not about a number of leads but rather about a network of people helping people.  Lets not let that fail!

3 Replies to “The Meteoric Rise and Slow Fall of a Community”

  1. Hi Michael,

    Good post, and maybe it’s time to start a revolution again!

    It will be hard and it will be difficult, but it was difficult also in the beginning! I’ll try to think of something in the next weeks (before VMworld EMEA) to keep this great Community rocking!

    Again thanks for sharing!

    Arjan

  2. I only made it to one VMworld (2013) so I can’t say how the events at the big yearly conference is. However, I lived in Richmond, VA for a while and I thoroughly enjoy what the vExpert community has to offer when you aren’t able to attend VMworld or are near SV, NoVA, RTP, Boston, and other large cities where VMware and many of the large vendors are. In Richmond it was particularly helpful – the Richmond VMUG didn’t get together that often and it was a 2-3 hour drive to either Washington, D.C. or RTP, NC for their VMUGs or other conferences. I never would have been so connected and inspired if my community had been only my local peers in Richmond.

    I’m now in Indianapolis, IN and there’s a lot more going on here than in Richmond, but it’s still 3 hours to Chicago which is where many big events like MS Ignite are held and a 2+ hours to Cincinnati and Louisville. The vExpert community helps fill in the gaps.

    In addition, I work from home. The nearest coworker in my group is 2 hours away and 12 hours for the organization HQ. If it weren’t for the VMUG and vExpert community, I wouldn’t really know any technical colleagues in the area.

    Perhaps some of the “fall” appears enhanced due to the existing communities in some geographical regions. For those in regions without vibrant communities, especially in rural locations, or who don’t already know their neighbors, I would wager it’s very much still in the “rise” side of the equation.

  3. I very much consider myself a “late arrival” to the VMware community but I have not regretted it one bit, rather it renewed my enthusiasm for technology and IT and gave me focus on something I had found a passion for (Virtualization)

    I think with any big success story you are always going to get commercialization and folk who are only to happy to “sell” their time and opinion but thus far I have seen that only on a small scale in what I see as a very large very active and frankly superb group of people.

    Will it will be possible to ever be completely rid of any commercialization that enters any eco-system/community? I doubt it, rather I think you have to rely on the fact that most of us are sensible astute individuals who recognize the good from the bad.

    It’s hard to say if it has peaked or not, but given the size of this community it will likely ebb and flow but I do not believe it will crash and burn. (at least I hope not!) We have to many good people who give a damn, and for that I am very thankful.

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