Starting over, a very belated new year.

Hello.  It's been a while.  I've been thinking about what to do with this blog.  I don't think I've run out of things to say having to do with community, but I also don't have enough to say to make for a daily update of that would be useful to me or anybody else.  

I think it's time to grow the focus here, to include larger professional themes and also the things I'm learning and exploring in an effort to grow my brain and my career.  To that end I'm aiming for twice a week.  I really liked doing the Friday book reviews and I intend to start that up next week (after I read something).  I've got a mile high stack of books I've been meaning to get to for a while, and I'm also going to try to work my way through the design lessons at Hack Design, because I've long felt that design is a thing I'm interested in but terrible at.  I notice bad design when it's bugging me, but I don't have the skills to fix it or even the language to explain it properly when I see it.  So I'm going to go learn stuff, and thrill all six of you with the details, I'm sure.

Balance restored.

Saved by the deus ex machina - the two biggest things on my plate at work disappeared in a puff of smoke today.  One of the projects is completely frozen until February, at least, which gives me plenty of time to catch up.  The other one actually turned out to be much worse than originally thought, so somebody else decided to try to find a different solution, and took it off my plate overnight.  I didn't ask for the help, but it's nice when it appears out of the blue like that.  Works for me.  Work/life balance restored.  At least for tomorrow.  


How do we make money?

I've been thinking about community revenue models.  What works best for different types of communities.  I think freemium is the obvious choice for a lot of people.  Pay for t-shirts or other items as a fundraiser, use those items as a premium for an annual fundraiser.  Beyond that?  Maybe offer a class/webinar that would be of value to a subset of your members.  I wonder what else will come to mind at 3 in the morning.  We talk a lot about proving ROI to our employers.  But what about when the community is the business?  Can you make a community self sustaining financially without bombarding your members with ads? 

It's been a Sisyphean month.

These last few weeks, really the whole month of November, I've been struggling to get out from under the huge backlog of stuff that I had to ignore to get a migration project shipped on time.  I don't like this feeling.  There's always more work to be done than anyone on my team could possibly do.  It's not that, it's just that I continue to play catch up on all the little things so that I can get back to the bigger things, that I thought would be done by now.  This is how you lose control of work/life balance.  This feeling that if I only spent a few more hours tonight I'd be all caught up.  But I won't, because the email still comes in, all night, from the team in India.  And from other nutballs like me who keep working past six.  Maybe tomorrow. 

Less is more?

I think it's time to change the cadence of this blog.  I started out in August with the goal of writing on work days, which I pretty much accomplished.  And I'm glad I did that, but there's not much substance to a lot of those posts.  I like doing the book reviews bit, because it's more incentive to read those books.  One post a week?  Two posts a week?  One career post and one book review?  In some ways it's easier to stick with a daily post because it's just a habit.  But then I get nights like tonight where it's past time for sleep and not much to say.  So I'm thinking.  I'm sure my audience of six really deeply cares about this decision.  

Book review tomorrow though, so I'll hit my goal for this week and think on it over the holiday.  

More on the future.

Thinking more about the Spinks/Millington opinions on the future of community.  I think tech, overall, is already there.  It started with us.  It's not a question of if you'll need a community to support your product, but which tools are best to support it.  I also see growth in healthcare.  Thousands of independent message boards have sprung up over the years around specific medical conditions.  I can see hospitals and research centers trying to build them out.  But it's a tough call because you can provide support, but not treatment that way.  That leaves retail.  I think that's where we'll continue to see growth and evolution.  

I don't see a big growth in the service economy.  Those businesses do capture tons of people, but there's not a big reason for those conversations to be happening between users.  They're all between users and the company, closer to the classic support model.  I'm thinking of Uber.  And all the other services I use - dry cleaning, house cleaner, car maintenance, grocery stores.  I still can't imagine what reason I would have to engage with them in an intentional community. 

What does the future hold?

It's been interesting to see the different ideas around the future of community lately.  David Spinks (CMX) promotes the idea that all businesses can benefit from communities, and that they eventually will.  Richard Millington (FeverBee) is now stating that he thinks we are at peak "community" and that these roles will be rolled back into other disciplines as the model matures.  

I like Spinks' exuberance and enthusiasm, but I disagree with the idea that all, or even most, businesses can benefit from an official community.  Maybe it's a white collar thing.  Or more specifically, when I think of my previous jobs and the services I use today, I can't imagine them incorporating a community manager in any useful way.  A community manager for tow truck dispatchers?  We made our own community, and someone whose job it would be to promote that would be weird, and possibly intrusive.  

I hope Millington's a bit wrong too, because that would certainly make my life easier a decade from now.  But I think he's more of a realist, and probably more accurate in his projections. 

How do you identify a new moderator?

One of the things I've been asked a few times in the last few weeks is about moderation programs.  My view is pretty simple - the people who should be moderators identify themselves.  You can see them take ownership and pride in the space.  The harder thing to understand is that not everybody who is a moderator should be.  And not everybody who wants to be a moderator should be.  In fact, the people who want it most probably shouldn't be.  But you can see them pretty clearly if you look.  

The next thing about moderators is to be careful how you reward them.  Converting a volunteer mod into a paid mod is a terrible idea because they will be much happier if they are with intrinsic motivation.  By making it work, it's less fun.  A better idea is to give them surprise rewards, behind the scenes privileges, and positive honors.  The happier they are, and more appreciated they feel, the more they will do.  It's a virtuous cycle that costs the CM a little more in time, maybe, but next to nothing in actual money.  


Mindfulness, part three.

My second, non-meditative, habit is working with a timer.  Living with a timer.  It goes off every 15 minutes.  I developed the habit in grad school and later learned that it's a standard technique used by people with ADD or ADHD.  I don't really remember when I started doing this, but I know that when I was in grad school I was worried about spending enough time on each class, but not too much time in one area, and because I was working several jobs and internships I needed to be disciplined about working ahead of deadlines.  

So at the beginning of every semester I looked at the classes I was taking and made a spreadsheet in Excel with checkboxes to mark off in 15 minute increments how much time I had spent working on each class, with a defined goal of 60 to 120 minutes each workday for each class plus my thesis project.  Then I printed it out and put in a binder with my notes.  Yes, I might be a little obsessive.  

The thing is, it worked.  I ticked off those little boxes every day.  It didn't matter what I did, so long as I did the next thing - reading, coding, math, whatever.  I never had to cram for an exam.  Some weeks I ran out of stuff on the syllabus before I ran out of checkboxes, so I had bonus time to myself.  Quite by accident, I ended up being the first person in the history of my department to finish and present my thesis before finishing coursework.  According to my profs, they didn't think anybody had done that on record in the hundred year history of the school, but couldn't confirm it.  

That's how it started.  Another habit that developed alongside those timed work sprints is that whenever the timer went off I checked in with myself - if I was plugging along and happy, I would reset it and keep going.  If it was a good time to stop for a break, I'd do that.  

If I was working on a coding or math problem and completely stuck for more than two cycles, I knew it was time to walk away and do something else.  This was the big epiphany, and why I consider it to be a mindfulness practice.  And why I continue to do it today.  That timer reminds me to take a breath, drink some water, refocus my attention on what I want to be doing.  It's key for my productivity and maintaining a regular schedule while working at home. 

Mindfulness, part two.

The first of my two, non-meditative, mindful habits is writing every day.  This habit began many years ago when I started participating in online communities, then solidified when a group of friends migrated to LiveJournal and we all started blogging regularly as a social activity.  I discovered over the years that writing had serious therapeutic value for me, whether or not anyone was reading, and that having a journal is useful - I really don't remember half the things I wrote about ten years ago.  Some of it I don't need to, but I am happy to have the record, the reminder of the immediacy I felt at the time.  And even the day to day details of my life, which has changed so much.  

Now I use a website - - and try to write every workday, and most non workdays too.  I do occasionally take planned breaks.  750 words is about three pages typewritten.   In those words I often generate these blog posts, or posts for my other two blogs.  It also serves as a way to clear my head out.  To do a brainstorm of how I want to spend my day, to try out ideas for future projects, or to work out why I'm angry or frustrated.  Sometimes I just sit and type "words, words, words..." for a while until some actual words come to me.   It isn't pretty, but it's cheaper than a shrink and I think helps me to be organized and focused in my life and work. 

Mindfulness, part one.

I attended an event about "mindfulness" in the workplace today with several of my colleagues.  It was an interesting event discussing the now clearly documented benefits of a regular meditation practice and how there can be real benefits for companies that successfully integrate mindfulness into their cultures.  

Personally, I've never really considered it, and the woo factor has put me off for the most part.  They sold me on the science, so I'll try it and see, and I'll participate if we do manage to incorporate some of the ideas into my team and department culture.  

As we were listening to the presentations I was thinking about a couple things that I do, habits I have maintained for a long time, that I think are part of what I consider to be "mindfulness".  Those habits are writing every day (some of which you see here) and working with a timer.  I'll detail those habits and why I think they are mindful next week. 

End of an era.

Tomorrow we're going live with a data migration project that's been in the works for about two years.  I have very mixed feelings about it.  The time has come for to fold.  I think other factors out of my control helped it get to the point we are today, but regardless, it's time.  I started working on that site ten years ago next month.  That community and site have been the sole focus of my career from that time until abut three years ago, when I took on a higher level role at my company.  

There aren't a lot of community managers who can speak to the real lifecycle of a community, to foster the growth to a place I never thought possible and watch it wane as the context around us evolved.  When started it was unique.  It was a guess about what developers wanted and was incredibly successful for a long time.  I joined a couple of years after it launched and have seen the membership numbers quadruple since then, and the influence of that community on the Java ecosystem has been incredible.   

But it's time to move on.  The web has changed.  A lot of the features we built that sustained our growth for so long have been irrelevant for years now - project catalogs on the forge were hugely important before Google became what it is today.  Having blogs all in one place was more important before people used aggregators to build their own feeds.  The forge evolved over the years, but the GitHub experiment was incredibly successful and became the forge of choice for the community.  

It's time for the support we give that community to change.  The people are there, just meeting in different places, doing different work.  It's a good thing.  A launching pad for a lot of people.  Certainly it's been that for me.  When I started that internship ten years ago I could not have imagined that it would have led me to where I am today, both professionally and personally.  


United Airlines is terrible.

My vacation was great, up until the very end. 

I am sitting on hold with United.  My husband and I took an extended weekend trip to attend a wedding in Knoxville and see family.  I decided to splurge and purchased full-fare first class seats for all four legs of the trip.  Last night, after they started pre-boarding (seriously, what does that actually mean, linguistically?) they called my husband to the counter and told him he was being downgraded.  They refused to give us a refund and tried to offer a $250 voucher.  After a fight they gave him a $500 voucher.  We don't want a voucher.  We want a refund.  


This is funny, when you call the customer service number it offers a list of words you can say - "reservations", "refunds", "upgrades", etc.  You know what happens when you say "refunds"?  It doesn't understand you.  After a while it sends you to reservations, where the reservations lady tells you that she can't transfer you to refunds, because that department doesn't take calls.  

So to add another level to their incredibly shitty customer service, United Airlines has set up a dead end for angry customers.  So I filed a complaint using their form, and they send a generic email and confirmation number that says I might hear back in a week?  There's a fax number and a PO Box in Texas.  Why am I not inspired?  

I do actually have to work today, so I'll save the phone call to American Express to try to get a refund via their services for tomorrow. 

Transparency is good.

At JavaOne last week, somebody paid me the highest possible compliment as a community manager.  He thanked me for being so transparent about major things that were happening in our community and joked that he was surprised that I hadn't been fired yet over it.  Compliment?  Yes.  I think that being transparent and building trust is one of the hardest skills to develop as Community Manager.  It's easy when things are going well and the company and community are happy with each other.  It's not easy when the community loses faith in the company and the company wants to cut communication because it's feeling vulnerable.  The funny thing is that I've never felt that my job is at risk over that - I've been really careful to say exactly what I cannot say and why I cannot say it - sometimes "I'd love to tell you, but I'd get fired if I did because of security issues." is enough.   It's honest.  It's not really obfuscating anything big, it's laying out a reality that most people who work for companies understand even if they don't love the policy.  Much better than just being silent.  

Short blog hiatus - I'm on vacation for a week.  Back next Wednesday!

Gated content, part 2.

A while back I wrote about an issue I have where the elite members of my community have developed the really bad habit of linking to gated content in public forums, and they are very angry about being asked to stop, because it's inconvenient for them.  Although I still wish I could just stop that behavior altogether, it's never going to happen.  Compromise:  change the splash screen that currently tells users they are unauthorized to access the content to a screen with information about how to gain entrance to the content.  It's not a great experience, but it's not terrible.  Long term culture change may be possible with drastic updates to the platform, but that isn't going to happen any time soon. 

OOW and J1 2015

I should have planned ahead for a week hiatus here, and this week will be a short one for me too.  Clarification on my original commitment - I'm writing every work day.  Vacation is vacation.  And sometimes working an event like this doesn't allow for any down time to just write.  

Last week we held the two big conferences my company sponsors, Oracle Open World and JavaOne.  I'm pretty sure this was my 8th J1 and 5th OOW.  We did a bunch of community stuff, including a dinner with our "gurus" - the people with the highest leaderboard ranking on the site.  All men, of course.  It went really well.  We got to share with them our plan for the next year, and got some great feedback about what their current pain points are.  

We also did a "quest" where they could do a bunch of different activities around the community site and each time they completed an activity they were entered in a drawing for a prize.  This year went much better than what we did last year.  

And I didn't have to touch a single t-shirt.  That, in and of itself, was a beautiful thing. 

These conferences are always a struggle for me.  I think being an extreme introvert (who likes people) is he perfect personality type for what I do every day.  I'm alone in a room communicating with my peers and my community via email and phone.  Seeing them all in person is fantastic, but it is exhausting by day two, with no room to recover for a solid week. 


books - How to Work a Room, Susan RoAne

How to Work a Room  was recommended to me after I talked about The 20 Minute Networking Meeting a few weeks ago.  

I think this is a solid book, with great advice for people who feel socially awkward or are very shy.  It would have been a great book for me twenty years ago.  Now, most of what she said are things I already know.  I think this is really geared toward a professional later in their career.  There is a lot of advice about topics to stay away from and inclusivity, which is always good, and there are several chapters about how to handle different spaces on the web - facebook, twitter, instagram, etc.  I think it's all good advice, but again, mostly stuff I'm familiar with.  I think it could be useful for a younger person looking for confidence around the kinds of professional events that they may have never experienced before, or for an older person who needs to keep up with newer ways to connect and communicate to continue to grow a career. 

What if your culture is more toxic than you ever knew?

I accidentally identified a hugely toxic behavior in my community about a week ago.  It's not surprising that it took me so long (a couple of years, apparently) to notice it.  My job right now is mostly behind the scenes, I sort of serve as a community manager for the volunteer moderators and that's generally the group I have the most contact with.  I'm going to go ahead and be specific here, since this is unfolding in public view over there too.  We've got a whole bunch of different kinds of communities under one umbrella, and one of them includes a paywalled support community.  And it's paywalled in such a way that the average user can't purchase access, it's B2B, so their employers have to, and I believe they do at the time they purchase the product.  

I discovered that members of this paywalled space are publishing links to documents behind the paywall as answers to questions posted in the public space, in response to people who can never see what's behind the paywall.  I discovered it because three of those posts came through moderation and I rejected them with a polite note.  The guy who wrote those posts asked about it in a feedback area, and we were off and running. 

What is unfolding now is such a beautiful example of the definition of privilege.  There's a four page (so far) thread of me saying that's a terrible experience for the public users because it doesn't answer their questions, and all of the people who already have access to the private space anyway defending the practice, because it's hugely convenient for them, even though it is damaging to the community at large.  It's basically a lazy workaround for people whose companies didn't buy enough support licenses. 

What happens next?  I'm not sure.  This is something truly new to me as a community manager.  What do you do when the elites of your community are fostering a toxic culture that works for them, but nobody else?  (Hey, that sounds like some other, large scale problems in cultures around the world.) We've got some ideas.  I'm not sure how it's going to work yet, but it has to change.  It's been over a week now and I"m still gobsmacked at the response I've seen. 

Shifting gears while moving at top speed.

It's random war story time, here's an example of what I was talking about a while ago, meeting the community where they are.  I was managing a very large community that had a volunteer leadership group (more than mods, less than admins).  We had blogs, forums, mailing lists, and commenting on other content for interaction, and over the years before I took over the mailing lists had devolved into giant spam pits.  I spent a few months trying to clean them up, and went in to our annual meeting hoping to recruit a few to come back and bring back the forums.  We started talking about that, and they immediately responded that they wanted something different.  What they wanted were spaces dedicated to their subcommunities where they could post news, videos, twitter feeds.  They wanted portal to deliver their content and to still be able to interact with their members on that page.  They shut me down before I had a chance to start.

Ouch.  I had a choice, push forward with my agenda, or chuck the whole thing and start over.  I started over, which was scary.  I had no script and no idea where this was going to go.  We had a plan in about an hour and more enthusiasm than I'd seen from that group in a couple of years.  When I got back in the office we started the portal pages, and I audited the forums for activity.  We closed down the truly dead ones and made them read-only.  

That was a hard lesson to learn, but one I took to heart.  You can be the best, most trusted leader, but if they just don't want to do what you're asking, you have to stop asking and see what they do want to do.  Your community is there because they want to be.  Being a real leader is about trust, but that trust goes both ways.  I had to trust them, that what they wanted was for the best of the community as a whole.  And it was, we saw more traffic and better engagement in those portals than we saw in the forums in the previous few years.  Over time the rest of the forums petered out and we closed them, but the community remained strong. 

Testing, 1. 2. 3.

Short one today, because I am a testing zombie.  We're doing a large scale data conversion and migration this month, and it just might be the death of me.  I'm not even looking at the scripts.  I'm just looking at the results of the first pass and it is painful (as expected, the first pass often is).  We spent over an hour on a call last night walking through the results.  It was difficult, but we made a bunch of progress which I am very pleased about.  Back to it....