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Last week, the New York Times web site ran a Readers’ Opinions column, asking readers: “Is there a product you loved that you can’t find anymore?”

In light of Apple’s iPhone and the constant release of new and improved technology products, the NYT wanted readers to wax nostalgic. In just 14 hours, 34 minutes, the newspaper received 1403 answers from people who missed, among other things:

  • Honda CRX, 1971 Volvo 1800 E, Acura Integra, Datsun B210 hatchback and a slew of other cars. Several longed for their first car, whatever the model.
  • Collard and Bowser’s English butterscotch toffee and licorice
  • Wilson T2000 steel tennis racket
  • Spice Girls edition of the Chupa Chup’s lollipop
  • Analog tuner controls on car radios 
  • Coca Cola made with real sugar
  • Hydrox cookies
  • Hewlett Packard HP 11C and 15C calculator (“the perfect calculator!”)
  • Word Perfect for DOS (One person even missed his 386 computer, on which he says had the best experience playing Tetris.)

Many people missed specific brands of cameras or film (especially Agfa slide film), shoes (simple Nikes of all types) and food — lots and lots of food. Thankfully, no one mentioned EP 5.0. [The entire list can be found at http://news.blogs.nytimes.com/2007/07/16/i-love-it-its-perfect-now-it-changes/.]

I bring all this up because SDN also is not what it used to be, even from 1 or 2 years ago. On one hand, it is much stronger, bigger, richer — as all the statistics on cuncurrent users, forum posts and blog views show. And Mark and Craig remain at the top of their game. Yet, some of the magic has been lost.

SDN Has Come a Long Way

Just a year ago, when I was at the SDN community day at Tech Ed in Amsterdam, SDN seemed more intimate and, dare I say, fun. BPX was just starting, and there were just a couple hundred people for SDN day. I loved how Mark asked for ideas for sessions, and simply wrote them up on the chalk board, changing them at a moment’s notice when necessary. We were kind of winging it, but that was kind of the charm of it all — Mark was great simply because he was great — not because he had a fancy PowerPoint.

A couple a years ago I got involved in SDN, and started answering questions on the Portal Content Development forum, one by one. Though I could never challenge Detlev (and wouldn’t even try), I moved up the ladder of points and helped a lot of people and met even more. I learned alot about the portal, and about customers in the real world. At Tech Ed, I posed on the main Tech Ed stage for a group picture of the top SDN contributors, which was a thrill.

Now, everyone has discovered SDN. There are a ton of changes in store, many very exciting and some, well, less so. SDN will soon be used for rolling out official information, making SDN, at least a part of it, less a community and more a channel for SAP product management. SDN has been so successful that there is more and more information and people, but also — as with any big venture — more moderators, more rules, more problems, more meetings, more procedures, more marketing, more points and more arguments over points.

Not Better or Worse, Just Different

Everyone looks back at their youth with longing; even the disappointments seem sweeter with time. SDN, in its infancy, was really cool, free-wheeling, friendly, open, innocent. OK, not all of that has changed, but some has, and let’s admit it.

At the same time, I remind myself that SDN is simply evolving, naturally, into something different, not necessarily better or worse, just different. It is becoming larger, potentially grander, perhaps more relevant, and with all that, more corporate. So I also remind myself that I must evolve with it, to find the new areas of SDN that are special, and to help build and foster a new, different and hopefully richer community.

In my blogs I like to refer to movies, and so I end with a reference to “Splendor in the Grass”, with Natalie Wood and Warren Beatty (he was introduced in this movie). The title is taken from a poem from William Wordsworth.

    “What though the radiance which was once so bright
    Be now for ever taken from my sight,
    Though nothing can bring back the hour
    Of splendor in the grass, of glory in the flower;
    We will grieve not, rather find

    Strength in what remains behind.”    

Let’s admit that things at SDN have changed, not always for the better. But let’s all keep trying to make SDN even better.

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14 Comments

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  1. Anton Wenzelhuemer
    for a little more than 2 years I enthusiastically recommended SDN to anyone(without the using the referral bonus thing). Customers, Developers, even SAP agnostic technophiles(“have a look at the preview version of  Netweaver, it’s free to download”). I was so convinced that this is a real good move of SAP, I told people to use the opportunity to Consume, Participate, Collaborate.
    Actually, what I did was voluntary marketing for SDN.

    I don’t do that anymore for a few months now. Why? I don’t know. Gut feeling.

    Things are changing, evolving. That’s a natural thing. Interestingly while other such communities currently transform from ‘operator driven’ to community driven ones, SCN seems to go the other way round. Maybe they’re only early anticipators of the post-2.0 era already.

    anton

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    1. Mark Finnern
      Hi Anton,

      I would love to say: Well I was gone three months 😉 Reality is, I am back for almost three months now, and your gut feeling is what keeps me up at night (After all it is 0:15 am here)

      We may have lost some playfulness. With size comes also the drowning of the individual. The solution for me is to give people with specific SAP interests their own space to interact: The Israeli Portal Developer Group, that meets one a month or so.

      What we always saw as our pride is that we are listening to the community and then develop in a direction that the majority wants us to grow towards.

      That you feel differently is a bit of a wake up call for me.

      I value and respect you for your honest opinion and we will do some soul searching regarding this, Mark.

      P.S. Daniel, thanks for writing this post. You hit it on the head, the growth of the community has it’s consequences. I also loved your observations from the early SDN Days, the time as well as the physical event. Had to smile about “… we were kind of winging it …” Especially the session that accidentally moved from Las Vegas to Amsterdam, unfortunately without the speaker 😉 

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  2. Imtiaz I
    Hi Daniel,

    Very nice Blog ! I agree with you completely. There was such a community aspect before that is hard to see now in SDN / SCN. When i started using SDN, i was in awe of all the magic here, people contributing, people sharing. Nowi see a lot of policing, do this, do that, u shouldnt have done that. I once referred my friends in Australia to check SDN, but i hardly do that. Almost scared that i’ll be hand slapped to refer people because i want to score points. Two year ago, at my previous employer, our ABAP contact was on vacation, our project was ready to be tested, I was the only BI contact, i was asked to complete some of the ABAP code. As much as i was hesitant, i searched internet, read books, then hesitantly i asked on SDN, but i was humble dwith all the help  i got at that time, which was of great success to out project. I never had to do ABAP since, but now when i see similar questions, the answers are almost intimidating to the person asking the question – “You should atelast know this”, “The answers are in the first chapter of that ABAP book”. I was like ok, i know now that if i’m ever in that situation, I’ll certainly not ask. But with all growing, there will be some pains associated with it. “Splendour in grass”, said it all : )

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    1. Anton Wenzelhuemer
      Hi Imtiaz,

      interestingly I posted one of your example answers (…first few chapters…) in repsonse to a question. The thread as I recall it was something like this(posted in a forum obviously dedicated to other questions):

      Q: I have class, how do I use it in report?
      someone A: declare the object using ‘type ref to’ and later instantiate it with ‘create object’ or the appropriate constructor
      Q: I am fresher, can u please post full code examples
      me A: …buy a standard book on ABAP OO and find your answer in the first chapter or so … with that knowledge I hope you don’t produce productive code yet…

      I know, such an answer is harsh. But isn’t it kind of lacking some respect to the community if you don’t prepare at all and throw in such questions?

      I use to say (and think) that no question is too trivial to be asked. But, and I don’t mean this rhetorically but would like to know your opinion, can this be taken LITERALLY? What if somebody asks  for an explanation of basic arithmetics (which is also said to be needed when programming something for an ERP system) next time? Does it make sense that such a question is being asked and answered here?

      I think it would be sad if anyone were scared off of asking even trivial questions but I also think that those asking questions do also have some kind of responsibility not to make this whole forums a joke.

      Anyway, currently any question – no matter how often it has already been answered or whatever trivial it is – is finding someone who answers it more or (increasingly) less correctly.

      my 2 cents,
      anton

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      1. Imtiaz I
        Dear Anton,

        I’ve read many of your contributions across the forums and I’ve immense respect for you and your knowledge, really. I’m so glad that you replied to my comment. I see your pain point, of how a trivial question triggered a not so gentle answer, which happens to the best of us. Coming from my perspective, I had no background at that time in ABAP, to that matter even now, I’m not good at it. Before posting here, i did do my homework, with the time contraints, some of it made sense some of it totally went over my head. I messed up my code but I was put back in track by our very members. That doenst mean that I don’t know the basics, it just meant that I never had a chance to use them before and after that instance I never did. The answer to our thought provoking question is “Yes and No”. I understand how an experienced person might feel about a not so experienced person. What might be trivial for some experienced people might not be for the not so experienced ones. It is quite understandable that everyone should be prepared, should have a basic understanding. But if someone’s making a career move, from a non technical background, these expectations might be tough leap for them. Many many months ago at lunch I came across someone, who said, after 15yrs of mainframe or some other bkgrnd (I forget), he wanted to get into something different, he chose to get into ABAP, went for ABAP classes, did this and that, took the certification, but the market never warmed up to him. So, after many tries, he’s now doing some other free lancing career. Let’s say if he did make it in here to this cozy world of SAP, and had to ask a basic question, how’d he feel? Ofcourse, the question that you chose to answer seems so vague, what does the person mean by posting full code examples??? It’s like asking for help to find the needle in the hay stack.

        If a person familiarising with the forums gets a cold shoulder feel from the other users then they’d take twice as long to complete something. Do we want to encourage learning or force people to find ther own way.

        Either way, all I’m saying is not all apples in the (newbie) basket are bad, with the backgrounds (I mean technical or non-technical) that people are coming from, it might be not as easy as it was for the experienced person. The new apples cant make it as good as others without any community help. Just  my 2 cents : ) – Imtiaz

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      2. Daniel Wroblewski Post author
        Thanks for all your comments. As for offering simple questions, I don’t think that is the real problem now with the forums. There are beginners, and they have beginner questions. And since there is no beginner forum, and the Knowledge Base is not so well set up for people to search, beginners must ask. Besides, it gives people a chance to get easy points.

        The real problem is:
        * Questions that are not related to the forum (like basic Java questions in a portal forum)
        * People who don’t know the answer but provide information on related questions in the hope of getting points
        * People who repeat a previous answer in the same thread in hopes of getting points
        * People who scream at posters for posting a too simple question
        * People who bark at posters and try to bully them into giving points (or even to increase the points)

        I don’t think the simple questions is that big a deal, as long as they are rerlated to the forum.

        Daniel

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        1. Damien Johnson
          To tell the truth this is probably one of my first responses to a blog! Reading this thread and how people are starting to feel with SDN I wanted to give my 2 cents as someone that has read many a forum and posted a few questions.

          As soon as the community in general starts to feel that some questions are beneath them, and takes the viewpoint that you should know the answer through self education or reading a book the value has all but gone! I generally search for answers to my questions and if I can’t find the answer I ask it, admittedly with some humbling introduction to my lack of knowledge. But the value is that invariably I get an answer – that’s why I came to the forum and that’s why I would come back.

          As to the point where do you deem the question to be too low level, I don’t think there is one. I came across a post in some experts forum that asked about Java Script and the original poster had to ask how to construct the algebraic function to calculate the value (fairly simplistic for you java/ABAP/c#/assembler gurus but a little out of reach for a business consumer who may have performed the last of their algebra 20 years ago). They got the answer (and an explanation & link to further information) and I’m sure that they came back and/or recommended the forum to others.

          Going back to Daniel’s point this is a community that’s there to help each other and as soon as it starts to alienate or loose touch with its origins it will loose what it has built.

          ** Points do not sages make **

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    2. Kenneth Moore
      Was the responder German.  This would be a typical response for a German.  So keep in mind the culture of the people you are working with and do not take offense.  😉
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  3. Alvaro Tejada Galindo
    Hi Daniel…Yeah…SDN/SCN is evolving…getting bigger and bigger…We got more people involved but also we had more points hunters…That’s something that we cannot changed…But also, as we get bigger, I get to know more friends and real cool people doing such interesting projects…I can’t really talk about the “Good old SDN years”, because as I live in Perú, I not able to be so in touch with the community…What can I can recall is the “Good old PHP/SAP years”…When I join the SDN was for the PHP/SAP forums run by Craig…A lot of contributions were made on that time…Now I feel that those contributions have decreased…Which of course makes me really sad -:( I thought that by writting tons of PHP and Ruby blogs people would be more interested in Scripting Languages, but on the contrarie, people is more interested in log on to the community to hunt points in the ABAP forums (Which are really flood with bad questions and bad ansewers)…

    I really hope that your blog helps the community members to open their eyes and realize that it’s on us to bring back the magic -;)

    Greetings,

    Blag.

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  4. Mark Yolton
    Thank you, Daniel, for your thoughts on this topic, and thank you to those who have already commented.  We will keep an eye open to watch for negatives, and an ear open to listen for unhappiness… and also for comments and trends in the positive direction of change, evolution, and expansion also. 

    Good timing: our extensive twice-annual member survey is about to launch — and for the past two years we’ve seen very strong and steady increases in satisfaction to record levels for SAP and to world-class scores relative to our peer groups — so please be open in sharing in that survey.  We read it carefully and use it to plan our priorities for the months ahead.

    Whatever your thoughts, wants, needs, or perspectives, I hope you and all of the community members will sense that we are listening and watching carefully, and are making very difficult investment and policy/practices tradeoffs to do what we think is in the best interest of the community member as our highest priority. 

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  5. Daniel Wroblewski Post author
    I was torn about writing this blog at all, because I was worried that I would be able to convey the idea properly and that people would focus too much on the negative.

    I think there are issues, growing pains, for SDN — they are real and must be acknowledged and dealt with. But there is still plenty of excitement and good things, and I just don’t want people to lose sight of that.

    Thanks for the comments.

    Daniel

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  6. Kenneth Moore
    I find SDN very helpful still.  I am a casual user, so maybe I miss some of the daily grind stuff.  Maybe you guys just need to take a break from SDN for a while – a mini-vacation.

    I agree that the agressive point seekers are annoying.  I am well aware that I CAN give points and usually I do, but you know, sometimes I choose not to.  It is voluntary, you know.  So I hate being reminded to give points.  Very immature and silly, really.  I assume these folks are young and this is their only hobby.  But I don’t let it get to me.

    Overall, I usally get a useful answer, one way or another, and don’t care if it is copied/pasted or what, so long as it is answered.

    I say chill-out people.  Take a vacation.

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    1. Daniel Wroblewski Post author
      Hi Kenneth,

      Thanks for the comment.

      I agree SDN is still very helpful, even more helpful than before. And I agree that sometimes we need to take a break and chill out.

      On the other hand, realize 2 things:

      (1) Hard-core SDNers are what makes the forums go, without them there wouldn’t be so many useful answers, so what they think is important. You can’t alienate them, even they are a little wound up.

      (2) I agree that answering the question is the most important thing. But I see a lot of stuff going on where people are not so sincere, and also not so helpful. People post partial answers, or just post a link to a link to a link, and they don’t the answer, or couldn;t answer a more-detailed follow up. People don’t have an answer and then provide related but not relevant information in the hopes of getting points. This is unhelpful to anyone, and just leaves a bad taste in people’s mouths.

      Anyway, I will take your advice to heart. I plan a vacation to the States in a few weeks, so I will not think of SDN at all!!!

      Thanks again.

      Daniel

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