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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 either in Open    Office or Powerpoint    format. Ahem.

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

Not running MS-Windows, let alone the dreaded Internet Explorer, puts me in the minority. A position I make up for by being vocal about web design and architecture that doesn’t work well in non-IE situations. Javascript, frames, impossibly long URLs, and other usual suspects were mentioned in the discussion. Fortunately I wasn’t alone with my usability woes. I guess with any big site there are learning steps; I’m just doing my bit to help by complaining (politely :-).

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.

Content Management

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.

Content Creation

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.

Schlachthof!

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 http://www.sdn.sap.com/irj/sdn/weblogs?blog=/pub/u/23 [original link is broken] [original link is broken] [original link is broken] [original link is broken] [original link is broken] [original link is broken] – 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!

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9 Comments

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  1. Matthias Zeller
    Great Summary! I have to add that DJ chickened out around midnight… Actually his hotel reception closed at midnight and he hadn’t checked in. Mark, Marc and I decided to have one more drink in the Print Media Lounge in Heidelberg which had the right out of space ambiente for our alien discussion 😉
    Thank you Mark for organizing this great meeting and I hope to see you all again in San Diego and/or Munich.
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    1. DJ Adams Post author
      🙂

      Although the taxi driver was late picking me up, he certainly made up time on the road to Walldorf. I jumped out of the taxi at the top of the main street (as it was a semi pedestrian zone), and ran straight past the hotel by mistake while trying to find it in the last few moments before midnight. I finally found it, with 30 seconds to spare. Whew!

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  2. Stepan Samarin
    DJ, thanks for summing it up. Ah, and yesterday I was thinking that it’d be great to join you in Wiesloch, but actually colleague of mine caught me when I returned to the office, and we had a coding session till 21.30! Well, I’m not going to miss the next time 😉
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  3. Mark Finnern
    Hi DJ,

    Thanks for coming and presenting the outside perspective. That was really excellent.

    Let’s see if the tape came out good and we may make you to a TV star 🙂

    I am also still smiling from all the good energy and discussions that was present in the packed room.

    If only I had a magic wand to fulfill all the great ideas and suggestions right away.

    Back to reality and the small steps of improvements. Actually first a couple of days off 🙂

    Back in week or so, Mark.

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  4. Stefan Klensch
    Hi DJ,
    your presentation of the outside perspective was definitely one of the highlights of the meetup, i really enjoyed that. Your summary is a great sequel of the presentation style, maybe you should plan to write a “SDN for Dummies” book 😉
    I would like to thank SAP in general and Mark especially for the invitation for me and the other non-SAP people (hey DJ, you’ve forgotten to add me to the list! ;).
    Anyway, it was great to meet some already known people again (like Karin, thanks for the little talk outside) and to see most of the others for the first time. But, to be honest, i wouldn’t have been able to identify them by the portraits in the weblogger area…

    Cheers
    Stefan

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    1. DJ Adams Post author
      I used the email distribution list to check the names, and you weren’t on it, so I missed you out. Sorry about that!

      DJ

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  5. Oliver Stiefbold
    …DJ turned out to be younger than I thought from his picture:). This was my first surprise.
    Second suprise was his clear vision of what SDN should be in the internet ecosystem.
    I could simply admit.
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    1. Mark Finnern
      This is a classic. Sorry to give away your cover DJ. He is British. He just has chosen to live in Germany, probably because the Germans are so funny 🙂

      Now everybody back in line writing serious Weblogs. DJ there is still hope for you, another year in Germany and you will get it too, Mark.

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