Well, 24 hours (almost to the minute) have passed since I got off the train at Wiesloch-Walldorf station yesterday. I’ve just got on the train again to go home. Yesterday was quite a day. There was a really good turnout for the SDN meeting; some people from SAP came and went as their work and meeting schedules allowed, but at the peak there must have been around 20 people. The ‘outsiders’ (non-SAP people) there included Lutz Morrien, Klaus Meffert, Matthias Zeller and me.
The meeting kicked off at around 2pm in the “posh” 6th floor of SAP’s EVZ building (I understand food and drink focused logistics were the reason for that – nicely organised, Mark!) and lasted until sometime between 5pm and 6pm. I’m not sure exactly when as the time flew, and in any case, the coffee was so strong it made me go cross-eyed and I couldn’t have read the time if I’d tried.
We started with a huge round of introductions, where each person suggested one good thing and one bad thing about SDN. This was very revealing, as it showed clearly that different people have different perspectives on what SDN is and their relationship to it. But there was a lot of common ground.
As far as the good things went, well, the fact that SDN exists was pretty much up there at the top of the pile. Everyone was in agreement that a site like SDN, with weblogging, forum discussion and download facilities, as well as a growing collection of articles, was an extremely good thing (obviously!).
There were plenty of bad things that people put forward too. None that can’t be solved, I might add. I think it’s fair to say that the overwhelming winner here was the fact that you have to register and sign in to get to the SDN content and use the facilities. This (as I and others have pointed out in the past) has caused SDN to exist as an island. Very few people outside of SDN link to SDN content (forum posts, weblog items, articles) from their own pages simply because their readers are not prepared to go through the hassle of registering and authenticating with what they see as a “walled city”. And the number of people who might discover and link to SDN content is lower than it should be for exactly the same reasons.
But – get this – the requirement to log on is going away in the near future. Hurrah!
Following the introductions, I inflicted a combination of ranting, rambling and arm waving on the room, in the form of a short talk on an outsider’s view of SDN. I won’t repeat the content of the talk to you here, but as I’d put together a few slides (mostly to fool people into thinking I knew what I was doing) you can read them now here: An outsider’s view of SDN.
There was a good range of topics discussed. Here are some of the highlights (for me).
SDN Content : Fact and Opinion
What SDN is, and consequently what content it can and should contain, was enthusiastically debated. I think it’s fair to say that there were two general camps. In camp 1, there were people who regarded SDN as an extremely useful channel to deliver information on technology direct to developers. In camp 2, there were people who regarded SDN as an open community where everyone and their opinion were equal.
Weblogs and forums imply (to me) an open opportunity to talk about things, learning with and from your developer peers. This, coupled with the fact that a channel to deliver information seems (again, to me) to suggest traffic in mostly one direction and some sort of hierarchy in the relationship, puts me clearly in camp 2.
Everyone agreed that SDN was still in its infancy, and finding the right balance in this respect was (and is) an ongoing task, which is understandable in a ‘living, breathing’ environment.
Accessibility and Navigation
The fact that SDN remains largely a black box (or is that a black hole?) in the general web universe has largely to do with the authentication requirements I’ve already mentioned. As soon as those requirements go away, SDN can partake of the link love that other communities are blessed with. Moreover, mechanisms like trackback will allow people who don’t want to use SDN to write about something to nevertheless make the connection to SDN content in a useful and recpirocal way.
Raised mainly by the SAP people who submit articles and weblog entries to SDN, the consensus was that better facilities for managing content would be a bonus. The ability to revise content after submission is a good example of what people were asking for.
Contributor Points System
There’s a new mechanism that Mark and the rest of the SDN team have been working on, with which contributors to SDN can earn points, that can be redeemed for … well, I can’t remember, to be perfectly honest. It was about that time I made the mistake of drinking more black coffee, which made my head spin and my eyes cross. But I do remember there was a lot of discussion, about how the points could or should be awarded.
Kathy Meyers gave a good talk on how to write well for the web (I hope she’s not reading this now with that in mind – I’m sure I’ve broken lots of rules already!). On the subject of producing content, we touched on the question of when content should be in the form of an article, and when it should be in the form of a weblog. Basically, I think the (sensible) consensus was reached that it didn’t really matter that much, and one just used common sense to tell. Different people will have different perspectives, and that’s fine.
Oh yes, and before I forget – some of the discussion was recorded, to be shown to the rest of the SDN team, who due to geography and other real world restrictions couldn’t be there. So don’t think that the meeting was an isolated affair; hopefully, all the points raised and discussed will find their way to the people who can act upon them.
After the meeting, Lutz, Mark, Matthias and I went into Wiesloch to the Alter Schlachthof for a few beers and something to eat. We had a great time talking about all sorts of things. It was all fine until I gave the language game away by talking to the waitress, a result of which Matthias forced us all to speak in German 😉
Later Mark tracked down Marc, he was in Heidelberg, and after finishing his drink there came down to meet us. He arrived with a plastic bag with (SAP)”TABU” on the outside and Absinthe on the inside. He ordered a blue drink, pointed out that it was actually green, and then drank it anyway, telling us stories involving VCs, a hotel called “W”, nightclubs in New York, and conferences in Hawaii. I think he was from outer space. But a great guy.
Anyway, that just about wraps it up. I need to get off this train and onto another one. It was indeed an honour to meet everyone yesterday – thanks!