This is in response to Ed's post. It got to be a little long, so I figured it was best posted here.
Note: the references to John and Charles in my response refer to John Head and Charles Robinson, who are amongst the commenters in the thread.
I'll chime in here with John. I've been part of the BP Forum community since 1993. Thanks to a community member who just posted some stats he has been collecting since the 1996 edition of the Forum DB, I know that I'm the second most active partner there, having made more than 8,800 posts over the past 11 years.
I am not opposed to exposing the Forum to the web, so long as it is done right. It is worth noting, however, that there is no proof at all that the decline in participation in the Forum over the past several years is due to its lack of a web UI, or that adding one will revive it. Still, I'm not one of those BPs who opposes bringing the forum to the web.
But first, let's get a couple of things straight: the Forum community has thrived with a Notes client only interface for 15 years. It has thrived with the requirement of server cross-certification for 15 years. It has thrived with the requirement of (gasp! -- especially for Charles) replication for 15 years. It thrived without a mailing list interface or Usenet interface when those were considered the state-of-the-art for most of the world, and yes... it thrived without a web interface before there even was a web! And it continued to thrive for quite a few years after a web interface has been possible. And while talk of adding a web interface has been around for almost as many years as there has been a Domino HTTP server, it hasn't happened.
There's no single reason why it hasn't happened.
Some of partners in the Forum community are very, very protective of the idea that all participants in the Forum must be committed to Notes -- not just to Lotus, not just to Domino, but to Notes. There is still a small core group of BPs who feel that way, and the ascendancy of Hannover is actually giving those BPs hope that Notes is once again going to be the premier differentiator between the truly committed Lotus partners and "the rest of the BPs".
There are others members of the Forum community who, while less strident about the pro-Notes client aspect, are very concerned that opening up participation via the web will somehow "damage" the community. This group is the larger source of resistance within the Forum community today. Within this group, there are some with a strident "any change will damage the community" attitude, some with a "show me proof that it won't damage the community" attitude, and some with a "it may or may not be worth the risk" attitude. BPs who fall into this group perceive the likelihood of damage to the community in two ways: The first way would be due to the reduced capabilities of the web version, resulting in a two-tiered social structure of those who can use certain features and those who can't, thereby causing ongoing tension. The second way would be due to the attitude of those who invest less effort in connecting to the Forum without having to cross-certify a server, with the assumption being that they they are more likely to be lurkers or "hit-and-run" posters, rather than committed to active collaboration.
Overall, IBM has been very respectful of the wishes of the community. They could have forced the issue and funded a web conversion years ago, but they have been mindful of the value of the Forum, and possibly a bit afraid to alienate certain members who can rightly be considered some of the longest-term and hardest-core devotees of the Lotus brand. I believe that IBM still respects (and should respect) the desire of the Forum community to preserve Notes access while taking steps to avoid splitting the community into two tiers of "have Notes" and "have Not". But doing a port of the existing Forum to a dual Notes/web interface, preserving all features for Notes users and exposing as much of the functionality as possible as transparently as possible to the web with a half-decent web UI... that's going to be a pretty significant project. This is not a new idea, and there's little doubt in my mind that IBM has probably checked into the cost on an occasion or two and found that it was more than they want to bear.
I used to be one of those partners who opposed exposing the Forum to the web, though I was never one of the strident group. I am not opposed now. In fact, it's been quite a few years since I dropped my opposition. I do believe that exposing the Forum to the web will change the community significantly, but I don't necessarily equate that with damging it. IBM can bring the BP Forum to the web. There's no question about that. Some investment in development and servers, and voila! It's done. But it will take more to bring the BP Forum Community to the web. That's where the "not necessarily" comes into my thinking about whether the community will be damaged.
It took work to form the community in Notes! During the years of explosive growth of Notes, a couple of IBMers put a large amount of effort into promoting the community, into establishing norms of behavior, enforcing those norms (even to the level of expelling a few members), and encouraging a self-policing ethic that (usually) really worked. The IBMers who did this -- at first -- were doing it on their own time, and eventually they lobbied successfully to have it become part of their formal job.
To bring the BP Forum Community to the web, this will have to happen all over again. It will require IBM to expend resources to make it happen technically, and it will require IBM to expend resources to manage the transition of the community.
So, I put it to you Ed: does your belief that the BP Forum should have a web UI extend so far as to believe that IBM should fund not just the technical work, but also the social work in managing of the community's transition?
1. Adeleida02/26/2007 12:35:36 PM
I support this view fully. About four, five months ago, I finally got the Notes.Net onto a local replica and started using it from Notes as opposed to the Web. What a difference - wow, it is fantastic. Then my hard drive crashed and since then, I have not gotten a recent replica onto my laptop again (bandwidth is so poor in Africa, I have to get this done by the local IBM office). The result? I just pretty much stopped posting there and I search it with far less enthusiasm than before. The Notes client just works so much better for this type of thing.
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