Community participation is not cheap!

I’m in a really privileged position where I’ve spent over a decade speaking at events all over the world. That has been made possible by being part of the Oracle ACE Program, and more recently the Oracle Developer Champion program, who have provided funding for some of the events I’ve participated in.

I guess it’s easy for someone on the outside looking in to think this is a really cushy number, but after my latest trip I started to think about the true cost of all this, so I started to check and got a bit of a shock.


  • I’ve paid for a number of trips this year myself, and I’ve got some more to come which I’m paying for.
  • I regularly buy additional holidays from work, as I need more days away from work that I get by default. I don’t go on holiday. I go to conferences.
  • Even when I’m on a funded trip, I end up spending a lot of extra money. This includes some transport that is not covered, some hotel nights that are not covered, washing, visas and vaccinations etc. You also end up spending a lot of money on food, as you are often having to buy hotel or restaurant food, which is kind-of expensive. I don’t do that at home. 🙂 There are often miscellaneous expenses that just come out of nowhere, and you are in a different country, so you just buy your way out of the inconvenience…
  • I’ve also spent my own money on upgrading some flights. This is not strictly necessary, but when you have a long flight and know tomorrow you will be on stage it can be kind-of daunting. Once again you are just buying your way out of a potential problem.

You can get involved in the community for free by blogging and getting involved in social media, but once you start to travel to conferences the costs start to mount up pretty quickly. I get it really easy compared to a lot of people, but it’s still surprising how much it comes to. For this year alone it’s several thousand pounds. It’s great if your company helps you with this. Mine doesn’t.


I’ve already mentioned about having to buy back extra holidays. The travel time is obvious, but there are other things that are not so obvious.

  • If you are doing new talks, you have to prep them.
  • Even existing talks require some rehearsal.
  • Depending on potential audience, you have to prepare alternatives, or at least plan for how you will deal with different types of crowds.
  • Organising the travel can be a real pain. It’s not always as simple as going to the website of your choice and booking a flight. It can take literally hours dealing with “a certain travel company” before you have your flights and hotels sorted. Even for comparatively easy trips. Once you start talking tours it really starts to sap your time and will to live.
  • There are a stream of emails before, during and after events for you to deal with. It’s quite surprising how much effort goes into just working through this stuff.
  • If you are like me you get the post conference/tour zombie syndrome, where you pretty much have no productivity for a couple of weeks.

It all adds up to be a big drain on your time, which makes me paranoid about how unproductive I am…


Doing this stuff is good fun and I would encourage everyone to try it. It’s great meeting people and seeing how they use technology. It’s a great way to widen your experience, by adding their experience to your own. Just remember it comes at a price, and it might not be so obvious when you’ve not been part of it.

So now I’ve scared you off, give it a go… 🙂



Learning New Things : Networking and Community

I’ve mentioned networking and community a number of times over the years. Most recently in a post called Community and the Hive Mind, where I talk about the impact of community on learning.

I think it’s important that you become as self sufficient as possible, but that doesn’t mean you should ignore what’s going on around you. Why would I bang my head against a brick wall for days if I can reach out on Twitter and get a response in minutes from someone who is better than me? As I said in that linked post

“This is not about expecting help. This is not about trying to offload my responsibilities onto others. It’s mostly about getting a second opinion and the odd bit of advice. More importantly, the other people in the community need to know that you’ve got their back too. This has to be a two-way street!”

Networking and getting involved in the community is a great way to increase your access to information, which makes learning much easier.

From a selfish perspective, the more you contribute, the more opportunities seem to come your way. It kind-of feels like I’m living a charmed life at times, but all these opportunities come from being actively involved and putting yourself out there. To quote Samuel Goldwyn,

“The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

If you want to start getting involved in the community you might want to consider reading my posts on writing tips and public speaking.

Check out the rest of this series here.



Community : Discussing the Meetup Format

I spent a bit of time with Liron Amitzi today brainstorming ideas about user group meetups and putting him in touch with a potential sponsor.

Since his move to Vancouver, Liron’s been involved with the user group there and he was asking for ideas about how to help promote it. I don’t claim to know much about this stuff, but I do see what others like Pythian, Oracle Midlands and RedStackTech (#ClubOracle) have done with the meetup format, and I’m always willing to help if I can. Some of the things we discussed, related to the meetup format, were as follows.

  • Be opportunistic. Many people in the community mention their travel plans in advance. There are often people passing through or close to your city. See if they are willing to drop in to do a meetup while they are there. Even if you don’t know their travel plans, ping them a message asking if they are going to be close to your user group during the year. As long as you don’t hound them it shouldn’t be a big deal.
  • Timetable? What Timetable? Don’t get pressured into thinking you should have a strict timetable of events. Trying to get speakers on a strict schedule is really difficult. If you are being opportunistic, you will probably have to be flexible on your schedule. The world won’t end if you don’t have a meetup for a few months.
  • Develop local talent. Things like lightning talks (10, 15, 20 minutes) are an easy way to get people involved and let them try presenting without it being too scary. You might help develop the next rising star!
  • Established local talent. If there are any local speakers that are already established, see if they will jump in from time to time to do a session. It’s OK to have repeat speakers, so long as it isn’t always the same faces.
  • Promotion. Make sure you and your members tweet and blog about your events. If you ask someone to come to your event they are probably going to Google you. It helps if you have a reasonable online presence to let them get an idea of who and what you are. This is also going to make getting sponsorship easier too.
  • Costs. This should be pretty obvious, but keep costs at an absolute minimum. If possible you want to make local meetups free and include some cheap food and drinks. Nobody expects a meetup to be fancy. If you can find a friendly company that will give you a free room for the sessions, that’s awesome. Sponsorship is not the easiest thing to come by, but if your costs are small, it’s going to make life a lot easier.
  • Sponsorship. Keep an eye out for who is sponsoring other similar events. There are some community friendly companies out there, but sponsorship is all about marketing and ultimately companies are going to want to see a return on investment. They are going to want people to know they are sponsoring your events (see Promotion). If you are keeping costs to a minimum you will not need a lot in the way of sponsorship, so a little can go a long way.
  • Ask for advice. Keep an eye out for other people who are running similar events, preferably outside your area so you are not competing with them, and ask for advice. They probably know a lot more about this than me. 🙂
  • Don’t expand too quickly. Conferences can be really expensive and very hard to organise. I speak to a lot of people involved in user groups and they are always stressed about something, especially conference organisation. Don’t make life unnecessarily hard for yourself. Keep things simple, cheap and fun if possible. I guess the meetup format is about as simple as it gets.

Like I said, I’m no great expert on this, so if you have any other ideas, put them in the comments. 🙂



Community and the “Hive Mind”

A really great thing about being part of the Oracle community is the networking and access to information it gives you. In my current job I have to do a number of things that are not really my forte. I know how to learn new stuff, but it’s always nice to get some feedback from people who know more than you. Over the last few years there have been a number of specific cases that spring to mind.

  • When I started getting involved in WebLogic administration I reached out to Simon Haslam, Jacco Landlust, Chris Muir and Marcus Eisele for some advice. I had RTFMed and I kind-of knew what I was doing, but I just wanted someone with more experience to validate my approach. Their feedback was, and still is, really valuable.
  • On the Nordic Tour a couple of years ago I spent some time speaking to Lonneke Dikmans about SOA. Our company were starting down the path of SOA and although I was not directly involved in the project, I wanted to know more about the issues we might encounter. Lonnikke was the perfect person for me to speak to.
  • As I started to take on more MySQL work, including some upgrades from early releases of 4.x to 5.6, I reached out to Ronald Bradford and Sheeri Cabral for advice. In some cases they confirmed what I already knew. In other cases they completely altered what I had planned.
  • Our company have recently signed a deal to move to Oracle Cloud Apps. I know almost nothing about them, but fortunately the ball-and-chain does. I’m not directly involved in our Oracle Cloud Apps migration project, but as I said before I like to know what problems may come my way during the process, and Debra is a great source of information.
  • Even when I’m dealing with database stuff, which I think I’m pretty good at, it’s always nice to have access to other opinions. The number of people I’ve had help from in the database world is to long to list. Just a few days ago I reached out to Richard Harrison about a problem I was having and in one email exchange he solved it for me. That probably saved me hours of messing about.

This is not about expecting help. This is not about trying to offload my responsibilities onto others. It’s mostly about getting a second opinion and the odd bit of advice. More importantly, the other people in the community need to know that you’ve got their back too. This has to be a two-way street!

Access to the community “Hive Mind” is a wonderful thing and will make your life so much easier! Get involved!



Twitter : Is it a valuable community contribution?

During a conversation with Zahid Anwar at OOW15, the question was asked, is Twitter content a valuable contribution to the community?

The following is *my opinion* on the matter. Other opinions are valid.

The sort of tweets I see fall into the following basic categories:

  • Technical Questions and Answers. When these are done well, they are really useful and a quick way to get to the bottom of something. When answers come as links to content, that’s really cool as there is some depth to the answer. An answer in 140 chars is not always so good, and is often missing vital information that usually starts in a flame/caveat war. Though I do think of this as a useful community contribution, I think this sort of thing is better dealt with in a forum. I guess you could maybe Tweet about the question to raise some attention, but that feels a bit like the “URGENT” prefix to a question, which turns many people off. 🙂
  • Notifications. Tweeting about your latest blog post, article or video is part of getting your message out to your followers, but the tweets have little or no value in themselves. It’s just self promotion, which we all do. It’s the things you are promoting that hopefully have value, not the tweets themselves. In this sense, the tweets are not a valuable community contribution.
  • Content Aggregation. Tweeting other people’s content is a good way to introduce your followers to it and “spread a specific message”. I do this when I read something I really like, or if I am trying to help promote someone who I think deserves more attention. I think you have to be careful not to become a “blog aggregator by proxy” and blanket tweet everything you come across, or the value of your tweets drops. It just feels like lazy way to look busy. Just my opinion though. I’m sure there are people out there that love it.
  • Random tweets. These can give you some insight into the individuals that make up the community, which I like, but there is no long term value in these, even if they are fun. 🙂

If you are trying to get on to a community program, like the Oracle ACE Program, *I would* rate twitter contributions quite low. I would focus on stuff where you are providing original content (blogging, whitepapers, books, YouTube etc) or directly helping people, like forums or presenting. Short-form social media is a nice addition, but it’s value is rather limited in my opinion.

Remember, it’s just my opinion, but I’m interested to know your thoughts.



Update: I think it’s worth clarifying my point some more. I don’t have a problem with any of these types of tweets. I do them all to a greater or lesser extent. The point I’m trying to make (badly), is the content that is pointed to is the “high value” in my opinion. The “pointer” (tweet) is of far less value. If someone came to me and said, “I tweet a lot about other people’s content, can I join your community program (if I had one), I would probably say no and encourage them to produce their own content. That was the context of the conversation that initiated this post. 🙂

Internet Communities Are Selfish. Deal with it!

The Community?

I was reading Heli‘s blog post called The Oracle Community this morning, which directed me to posts by Jari Laine and Denes Kubicek. I think everyone that is involved in any type of community hits this issue at some point. For internet communities, it’s probably a much quicker realisation.

Very early on in my internet participation I read about things like the 1% rule and the 90:9:1 rules. I like to think I can make a difference and encourage more people to get involved, but the reality is, that’s not going to happen.

The latest example of this is the Oracle Developer Choice Awards. There are some great people nominated, some of which you might not have heard of, but all worthy of nomination! In fact, being nominated is fantastic in itself, regardless of who wins. So with a well publicised vote and some great people to vote for, you just know there will be a massive number of votes right? Wrong! The number of votes is pitiful. This can only be because people can’t be bothered to vote. Like I said, it’s not for lack of advertising!

I had my own little epiphany last year before OpenWorld 2014. 🙂

Examine Your Motives

It’s kind of easy to rewrite history. I’ve been pushing out content for over 15 years. I’ve been involved in the Oracle ACE Program for over 9 years. So I’m all about community right? Not really. If I’m brutally honest, I do all of this shit for me! I like to do it. I find it fun. It’s part of my learning process. If nobody read my stuff I would still do it. I was doing it for years before I was even aware of a community.

Having said that, once I became part of the community, great things started to happen, so I am extremely grateful and I would recommend getting involved to everyone, but it would be wrong for me to make out I’m some sort of altruistic saint of the internet. I’m as selfish as all those folks that read everyone else’s content and can’t be bothered to vote for them!

Do It Because You Love It!

So this all comes back to the message I keep pushing. Do it because you love it!

Doing it for the money? I don’t think so! There are certainly easier ways to earn money, and much more of it. 🙂

Doing it to “get famous”? Famous with whom? Other speakers? 🙂 I walk around conferences and nobody knows who the hell I am until I get on stage and show a picture of my website. 🙂 My hit rate in a single day is more than many “famous” blogs have had in their entire lifetime, yet the vast majority of the people reading my content haven’t got a clue who I am. 🙂

If you write good content, people will find you eventually, but many of them will be selfish arseholes, just like me!


I push community really hard these days. I think it is a very positive thing for the individuals involved and the people who get to experience their content, but you will only stick with this stuff if you enjoy it. Forcing yourself to be involved when you hate it is not going to work out.

You’ve also got to manage your expectations a bit. When I started my YouTube channel I kind-of expected to be inundated with people wanting to be in a cameo at the start of the videos. In reality, getting people to send you a 2 second video of them saying “dot com” is like trying to pull teeth! 🙂 Yet another example of my unrealistic expectations. 🙂

If you are one of the nominees in the Oracle Developer Choice Awards, well done for a great achievement, but the result doesn’t matter and the number of votes is not a measure of your worth. You contributions and how you feel about them personally is all that matters!

I hope this doesn’t sound too damning. It’s not meant to be. It’s just a reality check. 🙂



PS. This is not a post where I am fishing for complements. I’ve not got time to read them anyway. I am too busy watching videos of kittens on YouTube and refusing click the “Like” link against them… 🙂

Changing my focus? (Update)

The day before I left for OpenWorld 2014 I wrote a post called “Changing my focus?” where I talked about the possibility of dropping out of the forum scene and focusing more on writing. It’s now nearly 3 weeks later, so I thought I would follow it up to let people know what is going on…

Pretty soon after I left for OOW14 I locked the forums on my site. I had a touch of guilt, but also felt a massive sense of relief. At that point I was working on the basis I would leave them locked for OOW, then reassess when I got back.

While I was at OOW a lot of people came and spoke to me about that specific post and it seemed to be universally met with positive feedback. In some cases with messages like, “It’s about bloody time!” Everyone seemed to reflect my own opinion that the main value I can add to the community is to keep writing articles, rather than act like a “Let me Google that for you” service. Thank you to everyone for your support, especially those of you who gave me this advice several years ago! You know who you are. All I can say is you are much wiser than me. It takes a while to get into the right mindset so you can see the bloody obvious. 🙂

So what have I decided?

  • The forums are still locked and will remain so indefinitely. They are still available to view via the “Misc” tab, but I have removed the tab to them from the main website.
  • Blog comments are locked after 30 days. This alone has *massively* reduced the amount of spam I have to deal with.
  • I’m going to be very hard-nosed about dealing with people asking for help via other methods, like email and social media. The delete key is going to be used very extensively!

One of the things that really swung the balance was a comment made by someone who said, “The Oracle community is very selfish”. I won’t attribute that comment for fear of starting a flame war. 🙂 That is not to say the people contributing to the community are selfish. Far from it. But it does seem a section of the community is incredibly demanding, yet give nothing in return. Very soon after this comment was made, I received an email asking me what was wrong with the forum. The person in question hadn’t bothered to read the big red text on the page saying the forum was locked and hadn’t bothered to click the “read more” link that explained why. That kind of did it for me. I can’t deal with these zero-effort people any more…

I’m sorry if you are annoyed by this, but that’s the way it is going to be…

On the positive side, the time I’ve freed up has been put to very good use. As well as the new articles that are appearing on the front page of the website, I’ve written a couple of backfill articles on old features that somehow I’ve never written about before. I’ve also started to update the Oracle 12c installation articles so they are in line with The OL5, OL6 and OL6+RAC installation articles are complete. In all cases, there are hardly any changes, but the paths and images have been brought in line with the new version so people don’t get confused. The other installation articles are on the to-do list. 🙂

I’m also planning to start some beginner-style articles, like the one I did for PL/SQL. Quite light and fluffy, even by my standards. I guess this is really to appease my guilty conscience. 🙂 There are a number of areas I can think of that need this sort of introductory stuff before people can graduate on to doing the cool stuff…

So there it is. Onwards and upwards!



Participation Inequality in Clubs and Communities…

The subject of parental participation in kids clubs came up in conversation today and it reminded me of the 90-9-1 rule and a recent post about the usage of Twitter.

I’ve been involved in a number of clubs and classes since University, and in recent years I’ve been witness to the clubs that kids of my friends and family attend. In most cases, they follow a similar pattern. There are a very small number of highly motivated people who keep the club functioning. A slightly larger number of people who hang around in the periphery, stepping in from time to time to help out, but shying away from any formal commitment. Finally you have the vast majority of people who do nothing but drop off their kids and let them get on with it.

Sound familiar? 🙂

I’m sure you’ve seen a similar pattern yourself in clubs, online communities and even in companies you’ve worked for.