In my first blog post in this series on contributing to SCN I wrote about making the decision to contribute to the SAP Community Network (SCN). In this blog post I'm going to take a look at some of the ways in which you can contribute to SCN. From what might qualify as a contribution, through to the different ways and mediums that SCN can allow you to create and publish your contributions. Finally we'll take a look at some ideas for the sorts of things you might like to consider for your next or even first contribution.
What qualifies as a contribution?
Before I delve into the technical options for how to contribute I thought I'd try and define what I mean by a contribution.
Contribution: an active participation that creates new content that others may find beneficial.
For me it's about communicating an idea, concept, question or opinion to someone else. It's about having a conversation.
Simply reading what others are contributing is very much a passive activity and is in effect just overhearing others having a conversation. Starting or joining in a conversation is what makes you active - even if no one is listening … yet.
Whilst many conversations can be private and SCN to an extent supports this through some of its privacy controls, I think the most valuable conversations (and thus the contributions with the most potential value) are the ones that can be accessed by the whole community. I personally partake in private interactions and indeed conversations on SCN on a regular basis but my focus for this series of blog posts is directed towards a more public level of contribution. Private contributions inherently have a high level of value to those taking part but the greatest growth and value come from the more 'open' contributions.
What contribution mediums are there?
SCN has a number of ways in which you can add new content. Jason Lax created a great document on comparing some of the different mediums and whilst a significant proportion about what I'm about to write about is covered in that document I'm going to cast my gaze a little wider and also offer up my own perspectives on choosing the right medium.
Before I delve into these options I guess the concept of "spaces" deserves a special mention. Spaces are the way SCN divides its content up. If spaces or some other categorisation/taxonomy didn't exist, SCN would just be one big bucket of SAP content. Spaces categorise content into particular areas of interest. You can have spaces within spaces and so you can have what are in effect more general spaces with specialist spaces within them. It's the same concept as folder structures in a file system.
By categorising the content in this way it allows SCN users to better find and track content that interests them. In fact SCN provides features to allow users to follow spaces and be notified of new content so it makes it really simple to stay up to date with the areas the user is particularly interested in.
Content resides in a single space in SCN, so it is important that if your content requires allocation to a space (almost all do), that you choose the right one. If you can't find a suitable space, there's always the option of publishing the content in your own personal space, but that reduces the chances that users will discover it as easily and so degrades the value of the content.
As you may well have already realised, this content is an example of a blog post. Derived from the term "web log", blogs originally started out as online journals, but they have evolved into a much broader medium that content creators use in a wide variety of ways. However the SCN platform provides a number of mediums that lend themselves to many of these potential uses so the use of a blog post in SCN is probably much narrower than the uses you might find on a blogging platform like Wordpress.
Blog posts are not really intended to be used as a place to ask open questions (see discussion posts below) though asking questions can often make up some of the foundation points of a post. They are also not really a place to provide definitive documentation (see wiki pages and documents below) though again providing elements of documentation within the post is something that can be substantive to the post. Whilst there's nothing to stop you using them for these sorts of purposes (well apart from the moderators who do a great job pruning out some of these sorts of uses) on SCN blog posts provide a place to create what I think could generally be viewed as "interest articles".
The sorts of things I've seen that seem to work well are:
- Outlining options for key decisions.
- Describing a process or methodology.
- Defining a concept or idea.
- Suggesting good practice.
There are surely a myriad of others and some of the best posts probably do purposefully pose questions and provide elements of documentation but in the end I think that it's more focussed on the type of thing you might read in a trade magazine.
Discussion Post (Forums)
Discussions might also be more familiar to some as forums or bulletin boards. They are a place to enter into discussion with other SCN users interested in the same field. Discussion posts often take the form of questions which the community then attempt to answer. However they can just as easily be topics for open discussion with no right or wrong answer.
I think I'm pretty safe in suggesting that the vast majority of contribution to SCN happens on the discussion boards. Every new topic posted and every response is a contribution to the collective knowledge held in SCN.
SCN also allows users to create simple surveys called polls. These are a way in which an author can request a response based on a limited set of answers (a maximum of 10 options). Unfortunately at the moment most users will only be able to create polls in their own personal space as moderator access is required to create them in a more public space. However if you want to use a poll then consider creating it in your own space and providing a link to it from whatever other medium you are creating content in.
Wiki is Hawaiian for "quick" and was conceived as a quick way to update basic web content online without having to have any understanding of HTML. Over time wikis have developed and the line between them and more fully featured content management systems has blurred significantly.
Unfortunately at the moment the SCN wikis are not fully integrated with SCN, but it does come under the same banner (from a legacy incarnation) and at some point SCN will surely receive a tighter wiki integration.
Wikis are ideally suited to providing a structured collection of 'pages' on a topic. Each page provides simple formatting options and is very much suited to things such as FAQs, general system documentation and how-tos.
SCN wikis are open and the content can be edited by any user. So they are a little unusual in this respect in that you have no way to ensure that your content persists. However it gives a greater longevity to the information in that anyone can update it to reflect the most up to date information.
Documents are very similar in many respects to wiki pages. In fact when I first came across them I struggled to identify why they were useful over and above a wiki. There are however some key differences:
- Documents are tightly integrated with SCN.
- They appear in search and filter options for spaces and authors/users.
- They can make use of security options.
- They can optionally include comments.
- Documents offer greater formatting control than wiki pages.
- Wiki pages could be considered easier to edit though the WYSIWYG interface for documents makes this a highly contestable standpoint.
So when should you use a document rather than a wiki page?
To me documents make a great place to store meta information about SCN. So things like the rules of engagement or other things that might once have appeared as a sticky topic on the forums on the previous incarnation of SCN are ideal document candidates. The option to lock the editing of the document (e.g. to space moderators) is also a useful option.
Of course this security and the more isolated/stand-alone nature of documents (as compared to a wiki page) mean that they are well suited to white-paper type pieces. While they could potentially be put out as a blog post I think the formality of calling it a document rather that a post somehow appeals to my professional-side and in my mind it just seems a better match.
I would always try to put SAP systems documentation into a wiki rather than a document as this is the more open medium and is naturally oriented to linking related content together. However there are limitations in the current wiki formatting (try adding an image or complex table structure) and so this might mean that I have to use a document to actually create the content in the format I want.
It's also worth noting that the security options and comments feature allow some flexibility in using a document as a collaboration tool. Whilst there are a wide range of other tools available this might be useful for community driven collaborations.
Like wikis, the Idea Place is something that is currently somewhat separate to SCN. Whilst I'm pretty sure I've seen some discussion around wikis being on the roadmap for integration into SCN I haven't (yet) seen anything about Idea Place. However it does have "SAP Community Network" as its sub-title on the main page so that's my justification for including it here.
So what is it? Well Idea Place is quite similar to SCN in that is is categorised into sessions (a similar concept to SCN spaces). Within each session, contributors can add new ideas for SAP to consider in inclusion in their product range. Idea Place users can vote ideas up or down which gives SAP an idea of how wanted a feature may be. Idea Place also allows users to add comments to particular ideas. These can help flesh out and tweak ideas by making additional suggestions as well as simply clarifying requirements.
To me Idea Place feels very much like a discussion with an addition of the voting up/down feature, but it's exactly this feature that makes it so much more suited to this community driven feedback to SAP.
As the name suggests, direct messages are a feature of SCN that allows you to send a message (which can include an image) to a specific set of users within SCN and as such can be considered private (though I would note that I private does not mean secure). So this makes them useful for collaborating and keeping up with colleagues on SCN in a similar manner to e-mail.
In terms of contribution it does create new content, but it's walled off and I think whilst it can be useful to aid collaboration in creating more open content, it probably shouldn't be viewed as a good form of contribution to SCN.
Status updates are a much more public sort of message and like direct messages are not associated with a space. Instead they are associated with the author. A status update is visible to everyone but is probably only most likely to be read by people who follow you. It makes a nice platform to do things like say you've just posted something, achieved something, completed something or even just a way to say a public thank you to someone.
Comments, ratings and likes
To round off this look at the different contribution mediums I thought I'd take a look at comments, ratings and likes. These options appear off the back of several of the mediums already described (though in some cases they can be purposefully restricted) and so it seemed sensible to take a look at them at the end.
Comments are very similar to discussion topics. It's a mechanism that allows other SCN members to add some additional content to things such as blog posts and documents. You can use them to provide feedback, offer counter points, supporting arguments, ask questions and a million other things besides. It is comments that allow you to interact with not only the author but other readers too.
Alongside comments are likes and ratings. Now strictly speaking they don't quite fit into what I would call a contribution. I'd instead call them limited contributions or perhaps indicators. Likes are a really simple mechanism whereby if you found a piece of content likeable (informative, well written, useful, humorous, etc.) you simply click on the like option. The ratings system is similar except that you assign a score (1-5 stars) to the content.
Currently there's no consensus about when you should like or rate or do both. The ratings system is likewise flexible to interpret. Does the star system work like hotels (in which case one star is a sign something is not particularly good), or is it more like restaurant stars (one star would actually indicate something is actually very good)?
So whilst likes and ratings don't directly create new content, they are a useful way to guide others to worthwhile content and it can also provide encouragement to the contributor that their content has value and so this increases the chances that they will contribute again.
Note also that the Discussion system has an additional "helpful and correct answer" system that serves a similar purpose for questions (as well as helping people who find it through search know what sort of answers exist). It does not suffer the same ambiguity as the ratings system but again is valuable for providing positive feedback.
What can I contribute?
Hopefully you've actually got a few ideas now about what sorts of things are contributed on each of the mediums - or at least my view of what is. So the question is what can you now contribute? Well the here's a handful of ideas:
- Ask a question on one of the discussions.
- Answer a question on one of the discussions.
- Write a blog post about something useful you've learnt or an opinion you have.
- Leave a comment on someone's blog post (maybe this one?)
- Update your status to tell everyone about your latest success.
- Add an idea to Idea Place.
- Add some documentation to a wiki or update some out of date information.
The whole ethos of SCN is built on the idea of the community sharing their knowledge and experience. If you've read this far I'm sure you have something unique to offer that someone out there is going to find really useful.
I've created a document (that anyone can add to) of some ideas for each of the main mediums. So if you're stuck for inspiration or think you could add a few extra 'generic' ideas, why not take a look?
So in my first post I hopefully got you ready to contribute. In this post I've tried to give you an idea of what constitutes a contribution. From a simple status update or comment to asking a question or even writing a blog post or some documentation. It's all adding something new and valuable.
So what types of contributions do you think work well and which ones not so well? Are there ones that really there just aren't enough of?
By now I hope that you're all fired up and ready to make some contributions to SCN. But maybe there's some doubt lingering or even beginning to appear? I mean how much should you actually share on SCN? Should you be giving away your valuable knowledge and experience for free? That doesn't seem to be sustainable career-wise … or is it? Well that's going to be the topic for my next blog post in this series.
The following resources may also prove useful.