Community involvement or free labor?

I’ve been following Andrew McAfee’s blog for a couple of weeks now, as a result of someone twittering a link to one of his blog entries. In his latest blog post, “Three Mantras“, McAfee discusses something many of the tech industry will recognize, self support systems. McAfee nicely summarizes the business opportunity to build around online communities as support subsystems.

I posted some of my thoughts on the topic in comments, namely the question of recognition and reward, not for participating, but for those that stay on and continue to participate. Initial participation is often self rewarding, we go look for help, experience or education in order to achieve some work related task. Need to get some help using a particular programming language or API – as Apple could have said “there’s a community forum for that!”

What makes McAfees blog interesting is his recognition of this phenomena, and his translation of it in to business terms and impact. For Dell, the guys that are part of the TechCenter have been doing a great job recently of creating knowledge and sharing it. They’ve recently run a number of demo and tech sessions on some of our key management technologies. You can find the Dell TechCenter here. It provides links into a wiki, Discussion Forums(just like the ones discussed by McAfee, the techcenter forum currently has some 34,000 topics) and the increasingly popular TechTuesday chats.

As I said in a comment to McAfee’s blog, this isn’t a new phenomena, as long ago as the late 1970’s I was first introduced to VMSHARE. A User run online bulletinboard/time sharing system aka forum to support and help users of IBM’s VM/370 operating system. While today there are many, many more forums, technologies and places to go for help, you can gain as much value from them today as I did then, because, and thats especially true for the Dell Techcenter, the people who participate are knowledgeable, dedicated and passionate about what they do, otherwise they wouldn’t do it.

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About & Contact

I'm Mark Cathcart, formally a Senior Distinguished Engineer, in Dells Software Group; before that Director of Systems Engineering in the Enterprise Solutions Group at Dell. Prior to that, I was IBM Distinguished Engineer and member of the IBM Academy of Technology. I am a Fellow of the British Computer Society ( I'm an information technology optimist.

I was a member of the Linux Foundation Core Infrastructure Initiative Steering committee. Read more about it here.

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