Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Do You Bleed Yellow?

I've been thinking about evangelism a lot lately, mostly as it pertains to my livelihood...that is, what I do for a living every day. I've been working with Lotus technologies for over 10 years now and I have to wonder sometimes if I need to be looking at other things. I'm certainly not adverse to learning new technologies. In fact, I think it is a great idea to expand your horizons. However, I'm passionate about Lotus because I've seen the transformative effect it can have when used correctly. Microsoft understands the benefits of evangelism. In fact, they have people with this job cool is that! They embrace their community of outspoken advocates and I have to pause and wonder why IBM doesn't seem to do the same.

Merriam-Webster defines an evangelist as "an enthusiastic advocate". I think it is fair to say that many of us in the blogging community (not just those who blog, but those who read and comment as well) are "enthusiastic advocates". In my case, I consider it a personal mission inside my company to "spread the gospel" that is Lotus Notes. It was this zeal that led me to get involved with blogging, take a chance on presenting at professional conferences (despite my fear of public speaking) and basically spend a lot of my free time trying to give back to the community. At work, I started the "Lotus Notes Power Hour", which was a volunteer effort to help people become more proficient with using the Lotus Notes client.

So the reason I've been giving this a lot of thought is the changing nature of the environment at work and what I see out in the business community at large. As many of you know, my company is in the midst of a large merger with a former competitor and with that brings many challenges. One of those challenges is that our technology landscape is morphing and I'm not sure what part Lotus technology will play in that space. Certainly we are evaluating the messaging platform, but this decision then tends to lead to a more thorough examination of the nature of collaboration within the group. Already we have been told that we want to start focusing our energies on building web-based applications (which is something we already do but usually make them client facing as well) and that leaves prospects for bringing in Notes 8 fairly bleak. It's in this time of uncertainly where it becomes even more important to be a "Lotus Evangelist" (boy I'd love to have that as a real job title!). What would thrill me would be some heavy-duty support to go along with my personal drive.

I'd really love to see Lotus reaching out more to the technical community to empower us to fight the good fight. I hate to use them as an example, but Microsoft has a great program called the Microsoft MVP (Most Valuable Professional). Now just the title itself conveys the idea that "hey...these Microsoft guys think I'm alright". MVPs are "exceptional technical community leaders from around the world who are awarded for voluntarily sharing their high quality, real world expertise in offline and online technical communities. Microsoft MVPs are a highly select group of experts that represents the technical community's best and brightest, and they share a deep commitment to community and a willingness to help others." What an awesome thing to aspire to! I visit several forums and websites that are not IBM/Lotus related (Tablet PCs for one) and it is clear that the MVPs who participate have a wide breadth of knowledge and tools made available to them as a result of the program. They have subscriptions to MSDN, a relationship service that allows them to gain access to other users within and outside of Microsoft and even the MVP Global Summit.

Now I may be completely off base, but I don't know of a similar program from Lotus. I know they provide a lot of support to business partners, but there are still many more of us out here that want to help get the message out. There are wonderful resources like OpenNTF, the Taking Notes podcast and others that are great examples of evangelism in action. Wouldn't it be incredible to see some serious commitment to these efforts from Lotus? How can we help them help us? Even within IBM itself, wouldn't you like to see more people with the title of "Lotus Evangelist"? A quick search on Google reveals 43,000 hits for "microsoft evangelist" (many more if you exclude the quotes) but only 28 for "lotus evangelist" and 237 for "ibm evangelist". Hmmm, that's quite a disconnect. Is it indicative of the industry as a whole? I often tell people that I "bleed yellow", but should I worry about hemorrhaging?

Don't get me wrong. I think many of the things Lotus and IBM have been doing lately are definitely steps in the right Mary Beth Raven and her team such prominence in the design of Notes 8, using her blog to reach out to the community during the development process, Bob Balaban wanting to make Notes a "kick-ass appdev platform again". But...these are mostly efforts within IBM/Lotus itself. By enlisting the aid of the loyal masses, I think they could help make Bob's dream a reality in a much more profound and far-reaching way.

What do you think?

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