No matter the situation, there is a massively critical element to that situation that is more important than any other... What is that you may ask? In a word, communication. If communication is not a primary focus of a community, all kinds of issues arise. We can laugh them off, or ignore them, but accurate and timely communication is the best way we can effectively build anything involving more than one person.
Current State of Communication
Soon after the first release of DNN, our primary mode of communication quickly became the Forums module on what would become DNN Corp’s website and now on our own community website. I'll spare you the complete history lesson, but we've also adopted and—in some cases, abandoned—other communication tools too. Some of them include the ASP.NET forums, Codeplex, GotDotNet, SourceForge, GitHub, Facebook, Twitter, and Slack. (I’m sure I’m missing at least one or two others.) Each has had its day in the sun, but in pursuit of the next new and shiny tool, we're left with well, our website.
Today, that shiny new tool is becoming Discord. You probably didn't even know that. If I were to use a single word to describe the state of communication in the DNN community, that word would be fractured. Everyone is talking in their chosen place and not looking anywhere else. We're all losing out.
It’s no wonder that one of the most common questions I get at a conference is something like, “How do I know what’s happening in DNN?” Sadly, no one knows where to look anymore.
The problem with adopting these third-party tools:
- We don't own the data, and we’re at the mercy of the provider. Our base of knowledge can (and often does) disappear at any time.
- The data doesn't help people find actual answers. People Google for something first. They don't search chats.
- Tools like Slack and Discord generally just appeal to technical users, and the rest of the community is excluded. The DNN community includes more than just developers. Our communication approach needs to reflect that.
- Our community website is and should always be our home base. This is where users of the DNN platform should be coming to find help. They should never ever have to go to a different platform to get information or assistance with DNN.
- Other chats/channels are not easy to find. Even when a link somewhere exists, community members need to know that they should be somewhere else.
- Quantifying communication becomes to appear diluted or even non-existent to decision-makers and other evaluators that might be deciding whether or not to choose DNN. Since the conversations are happening somewhere else, they might incorrectly believe that DNN is lacking in support and activity - and hence, choose a different solution. This is bad for all of us.
- None of these tools help new developers or new businesses find DNN. They barely are known to existing community members. I regularly hear that people are not aware there’s a community Slack workspace. Still...
I could go on, but that list is pretty formidable already.
If anyone in our community can't find a way to talk about DNN, then the issue noted above will only continue to grow in scope.
Why Use Forums?
A popular forum run by a vibrant open-source community is one of the hallmarks of a worthwhile solution. If decision-makers are looking at open-source, and particularly DNN as a CMS solution, they want to be reassured that they are making a wise investment. That, not only is there a thriving community embracing them, but also that the community itself is using the solution.
I mean, think about it...
If the community that builds and supports a CMS solution uses a different platform for communication, what signal does that send?
A forum helps to raise our SEO in multiple ways, but especially by having a native and organic way to keep generating valuable keywords in real-time, from our own community members.
It's self-service. We get all of the benefits without having to do a ton. People will be posting on their own accord.
Everyone seems to know how to use a forum, and it's a great way to have a true discussion. You don't get lost in threads, don't deal with reply to all, and you can rely on knowing that you know where the answer is next time.
In short, if we're not sharing ideas together, all of us, then we're not actually sharing ideas at all. It's a siloed discussion. Stakeholders of all kinds miss out, including developers, designers, content editors, and maybe even you.
How Can We Fix This?
I'm only one person, but I'm also tasked with the responsibility of improving awareness for the DNN ecosystem. We have a whole group and everything.
Over the past few years, our group has been discussing all kinds of ways to improve things. However, being a 100% volunteer-driven effort, we must be creative and we must be deliberate about what we can do, can't do, and can do now versus later.
Since communication seems to be the core issue with almost everything we continue to discuss as a group and even across various channels out there, this is where I feel the DNN Awareness group needs to focus most of its attention.
The first and most obvious place to look is back at ourselves and how to do something small enough to accomplish with the resources we have available, but also strategic enough that it has hope of having an impact.
After having private discussions with various people - both inside and outside of the Awareness Group - I've fine-tuned our direction again to focus on our website still, but now with a hyper-focus on the Community Forums module.
The intent here is to try to create a spark. With your help, we hope that we can do that...
Community Forums Module Roadmap
Now, for the topic you're probably here for...
As mentioned above, the goal here is to update the Community Forums module incrementally, in ways that continue to make sharing of information easier. We want to remove barriers and make our community more engaging and inviting.
You’ve probably noticed a recent surge of activity and new releases for the Community Forums, and we have an informal team for the Community Forums module, currently comprised of Timo Breumelhof, John Henley, and myself. Timo and John have been particularly instrumental to recent updates in the module and passionate enough about the module to keep helping. Others have helped too, and I greatly appreciate every single effort, from every one of you. Of course, anyone can be on this team, like any other in DNN. All you need to do is ask to join and help us. You don't need to write code, either. We can use designers, writers, and testers too.
Our roadmap is focused on two things... User experience, and content control.
In the user experience category, we have identified the following updates for the module:
- Improved Module Experience
- Improved Template Engine
- Improved Content Editing Experience
- Remove Unused or Low-Value Legacy Features
When we are thinking about the content control experience, we have identified the following enhancements to be made:
Any single update mentioned above is meaningless on its own, but together, these updates should resolve a lot of complaints voiced over the years, regarding the root issue of needing better communication. For example, it may not sound like it, but the digest alone could fix a ton of issues with awareness of DNN news - but coupled with a better user experience, there's going to be much more news to report.
I know some of this is pie-in-the-sky dreaming, and some people may disagree with this direction completely. This is the beauty of any community, including our mostly online, open-source community.
No one is 100% right, and we all need each of you to be able to, and actually have the chance to, voice your opinion to the people that can affect positive change. So, please do leave a comment here if you'd like, and you can also contribute your thoughts directly to any of the updates outlined above. Your feedback is critical to any updates we make moving forward.
Help DRIVE the Change You Want to See in Our DNN Ecosystem!
Thank you in advance for your valuable time. YOU are the DNN community, and YOU are why I continue to love DNN and look forward to its future.