How many of you work only with Microsoft SQL Server? No other technologies – not Windows, not IIS, not Visual Studio, not Java, not JQuery, just purely SQL Server and absolutely nothing else?
Show of hands?
Not too many, I bet. Heck, my job title is SQL Server Expert, but on any given day, I’m all over the place – working with everything from SAP to Visual Studio Data Dude to Microsoft DPM to Quest tools like Toad and LiteSpeed. These days, database guys have to wear a lot of hats.
Next question: when you have a technical problem, how many times can you say, “I know for sure that this is due to SQL Server, and nothing else – not SAP, not BusinessObjects, not Crystal Reports, not any of my third-party tools, just flat out SQL Server?”
Well, if you ask a developer, sure, it’s always a database problem, but in reality there’s a lot of places we have to look before we can point the blame at SQL Server. So when you have a technical question that you need to post, where do you want to post it?
- A pure Microsoft SQL Server forum
- The application vendor’s forum (SAP, BusinessObjects, etc)
- A forum that handles all technical questions for all software
I used to believe that pure Microsoft SQL Server forums like SQLServerCentral were the best way to go, because that’s where the best SQL Server experts hung out. Over time, though, I’ve realized that my problems have lots of causes, and they’re not always SQL Server. Often I need help from experts in other fields, and I want to use the same forum instead of having to research the right forum every time. Quick, what’s the right forum to post a BusinessObjects question? Do you have an account there? How long would it take you to set one up? What if you post to the wrong forum that nobody ever visits?
Enter StackOverflow – Tagging, Not Groups
That’s where StackOverflow comes in. You can post a question with a lot of components – say, a Crystal Report running in IIS called by Visual Studio querying a SQL Server database – and tag your question with several keywords like CrystalReports, IIS, VisualStudio, etc. Experts in each field will see your question, contribute responses and help you get to the right answer no matter where the underlying problem lies.
Want to see it in action? Check out this StackOverflow question about LINQ to SQL, which ended up getting answered by Jeremiah Peschka. If this question had been posted in a purely SQL Server forum, the answer might not have been as good, because not so many DBAs have LINQ experience.
Not everybody sees the universal-forum approach as a good thing. Yesterday, Tony Davis wrote a blog post called Building Technical Communities where he argues:
“Whereas one can argue that everyone’s opinion is of equal value, it is more difficult to believe that expertise is so widely distributed.”
I disagree – in fact, I find experts everywhere. And even worse, I find people who proclaim to be experts when they don’t know their rear from their elbow, but they just happen to have a high number of posts on a given site, so they get a lot of credibility. If I ask a question in a purely SQL Server forum, I might get somebody who professes to know a lot about Crystal Reports, and says it’s a Crystal Reports problem – but he might not have an idea. Sure, he’s got a lot of posts, but what does that actually mean?
Web 2.0 != Bad Advice
Tony goes on to suggest SQLServerCentral’s forums are a better place to get your answers because:
“Recently, I’ve read about several cases of people getting misleading advice from one of the numerous user-powered medical websites that have sprung up. I’m certain that the same thing happens in technical communities, and also that the “web2.0″ style ones are far more prone to it than traditional forums.”
We definitely agree that bad advice happens in technical communities, but I’m not sure where he’s believing that “web2.0 style ones” are more subject to it. I’ve found quite the opposite – people with high reputation rankings on StackOverflow didn’t just get there by posting a lot, but rather by providing answers that the community valued and uprated as legit.
But speaking of ratings, Tony even goes so far as to slam StackOverflow’s post rating system:
“In a forum, approval or disapproval takes the form of a discussion (a thread) where you’re required to state your case clearly, and with proof, and so is subject to true peer review. You cannot correct someone else’s advice anonymously. Hitting a “tick” or “thumbs down” button requires no such effort and plays to the “herd instinct”: applaud the “leader” when others do so, and “go in for the kill” when you spot a straggler.”
I’m confused. If I read Tony’s criticism correctly, he’s saying that just marking a post’s rating without fully justifying your case is wrong – but look here:
That would be the pot calling the kettle black….
Side note – yes, I’ve been pimping StackOverflow a lot lately, and yes, I even have an entry on their “about” page now, but no, I’m not getting paid. As the Editor-in-Chief of SQLServerPedia.com, I have every reason to keep my mouth shut and not tell you about StackOverflow.com, because I should want you to only come to my own site in order to get your answers.
I pimp StackOverflow.com because if I was a DBA wearing a lot of hats, I’d want to know about it.
I think the assumption you’re making is that only SQL Server experts hang out at SQL Server sites. I don’t think that’s true. There’s really a broad variety of skill sets on most technology specific sites.
Many people like to be experts. For example, being the best .NET person on a SQL Server site has a certain cache. Any decent sized tech site will have a variety of people like this.
At least that’s what I’ve seen from running SQLTeam.com.
I’m on SQLServerCentral’s mailing list and I read their articles, but I prefer http://www.sqlteam.com for help with my SQL questions. I’ve never seen a forum with more helpful people before. Also, SQLServerCentral is usually covered in bright red ads which is annoying.
I may use StackOverflow for Crystal and other questions when they arise.
If I thought I could get 7 or 8 of the geniuses from SQLTeam to go to StackOverflow, I’d switch immediately because of the functionality.
Bill – it’s the opposite, actually: I believe the experts go everywhere. After all, I go to StackOverflow, and it says Expert on my business card, so there you go. 😉
Self-proclaimed experts are a dime a dozen. SQLTeam’s forums are frequented by people with actual expertise.
Adam – to make sure I understand your criticism, are you saying that StackOverflow.com doesn’t have any experts, or that I’m a self-proclaimed expert?
I’m totally okay with the latter – I don’t believe 99% of what I read on the interwebz either – but I would have a serious problem with the former. Take a gander through the StackOverflow.com users page, and there are a lot of people I really admire on there.
Ok, foot in mouth, but I’m going to speak anyway. I am not speaking in favor over one site or another but I do believe that by having all these sites you have a watering down of the talent base that is available. Check out some of the sites related to Oracle. How many sites do you find with “experts”? Check out http://www.asktom.oracle.com sometime.
However, when it comes to the MS community what do you get? Sorry Brent but even that advent of sqlserverpedia to me was a slap in the face to the other sites that are out there. To say that these things couldn’t have been incorporated into another already existing site is untrue and ultimately we have started to see professionals align themselves with software manufacturers. Sad. I know I watched a pimping recently where one highly respected professional was doing a presentation on some of the latest SQL Server 2008 technology and after about 30 minutes they jumped into the product sales demo. Makes me want to puke (note, I will say that Quest doesn’t do that for the most part, you know what you are getting). Is that where we are going? Quite honestly, and I posted this on a blog entry, I am not really happy that Red-Gate bought out sqlservercentral and Idera, sql-server-performance.
Anyway, I think you hear my point on this. There seems to be this great segregation of talent going on, not saying that there isn’t talent on each site, which is not going to be good in the long run for the growth of the SQL Server platform or any of the other technologies associated with it. A consolidation of the communities would tend to allow for greater influence of those that are really talented so that others can truly learn and grow.
I will be interested to hear your replies and thoughts on this.
David – you so TOTALLY hit the nail on the head on a lot of things. When I was talking to people about becoming editors, one of the things I talked about was that we do not want any sort of advertising in the content, period. No ifs, ands, or buts. I go out of my way to make it clear in the how-to-contribute-articles page:
Here’s a quote:
We’re not interested in articles that:
* Review a product – those are best suited for magazines
* Encourage the user to buy (or avoid) a commercial product – those are best suited for advertisements
* Are copy/pasted from any source that is even remotely copyrighted. If you didn’t write it yourself, it shouldn’t go here.
Having said that, if you want to write an article that explains how to use Microsoft System Center Operations Manager to its fullest potential, or best practices for Quest LiteSpeed, that’s acceptable. Just be aware that we’re doing this for the community, not to plug products. If a product smells anything like an ad, it’s gone.
End of quote. I really want SQLServerPedia to adhere to the same quality of editing standards that Wikipedia would. Zero commercial articles, period. Ads in the side? Sure. Ads in the content? Absolutely no way.
And you hit the nail on the head about Red Gate/SSC and Idera/SSPerf. From the inside, I can tell you that this is happening because ads are getting ridiculously expensive (you would be stunned) and they’re not paying off. As an advertiser, Quest can’t push around magazines or web sites to say, “Carry more in-depth technical content.” We can’t tell people how much to spend on R&D, or how to direct their content. But when we own the site (a la SQLServerPedia) we can enforce our editorial standards – meaning, a really clear delineation between spam and content.
I personally stopped going to a couple of the SQL Server sites long before I worked for Quest. My trademarked phrase is, “That site looks like a pinata – there’s big multicolored colored ads all over the place.” Those sites are going to die off as DBAs lose interest, and when they do, I want to be there to help.
Great response and I had read the information on sqlserveerpedia so, I appreciate the perspective with which you are coming at things. I am still hoping, maybe foolishly, that somehow there can be some consolidation with what is available and established today.
Looking forward to meeting you in person at the PASS conference. Sorry, I will have to find you, I’m not nearly as popular as you so, my picture is not all over the web. 🙂
Guys, I’m 99% sure that Idera didn’t buy sql-server-performance.com. I’d be curious where you heard that.
It’s interesting to read the comments on articles and advertising. On SQLTeam.com I’ve avoided articles that promote products or even hint at promoting products (except for a few software reviews back in the day). I’ve also tried to keep the advertising discrete and focused on SQL Server.
Now if I just had more time to write articles…
When you go to the page at the top it says, “Site sponsored by Idera” which, you are correct, this doesn’t necessarily imply that this is a purchased site but how does one sponsor a site and not have some greater influence on the site than they had as an advertiser. Seems to me some clear alignment.
Thanks for the correction on the purchase. I certainly don’t want to misrepresent anything.
Ah. If you go to my site (http://www.sqlteam.com/) you’ll also notice that it’s also sponsored by Idera. I put my sponsorship below the menus though.
A site sponsorship is just like any other advertising unit. They pay a certain amount to be there for a length of time. The difference with a sponsorship is that it appears on every page and is there for a set duration (six months on my site). They don’t get any influence in how the site is run or what’s published on it. They haven’t asked for any influence and didn’t expect it when they purchased the advertising. In fact, Quest was my very first site sponsor when I started offering the ad unit. Red Gate has also been a site sponsor.
While I can’t guarantee that SSP is run the same way my guess is that it is.
Oh yeah, absolutely, I know Idera didn’t buy SQL Server Performance. I understand that it’s ad-sponsored. That probably wasn’t clear in DavidB’s comment, but yeah, we were just talking about the ads. (I’m a big fan of SQL-Server-Performance, and I look forward to their newsletter every day!)
My two cents…
I agree with Bill that there are folks who aren’t just SQL Server experts on the SQL Server sites. For instance, when I post, it’s usually on SSC, mainly because I’m comfortable with the interface and it’s ingrained in my brain since a lot of my work has gone up there. There I have found other folks dealing with AD, with Citrix, with clustering, with .NET, etc. I’m more a lurker on SQLTeam.com but when I do go there (or SQL-Server-Performance.com), I notice the same thing. These sites tend to attract people who have a passion for that particular technology, but that doesn’t mean that’s all they do. My day-to-day job is Active Directory and server/perimeter security. However, I do love SQL Server, so when I have time, you’ll see me pop in there. And that means i can offer a perspective from that viewpoint.
As far as the expert title, you’re right, a lot of people lay claim to it, but whether or not they really deserve it is in doubt. That should really be for others to decide. I see Bill Graziano and Adam Machanic have posted on here and those are two guys I certainly consider experts. I don’t know anyone who will argue that they aren’t (except maybe Bill or Adam).
Matter of fact, though I focus on security, Adam edited one of my articles and pointed out a weakness in row-level security implementations within SQL Server that I didn’t know about (something Steve Kass wrote about initially, I think). And I’ve referred to Bill’s presentation on what he wished developers knew about SQL Server more times than I can count. They might be on Stack Overflow, but I know to look for them on SQLTeam.com and SQLBlog.com.
Funny that you said that Bill about your site being sponsored as well, as I don’t have time to frequent all the sites and unfortunately yours is one that I don’t get time to go to. I will have to try to get that into my list as the times I have been there have been helpful. 🙂 (Sheepish). With that being said, I had just gone to your site and realized that you too had the sponsorship there. Obviously some bad assumptions on my part and I do appreciate the correction.
Side note and clarification, I do like sql-server-performance, and use sites that are owned / sponsored by third party software companies.
All that being said, at some point as a community we really should be looking towards consolidation. I had actually hoped that PASS would head that up but that is not something that has happened up to now and it may not really fit with the charter. I don’t know. Bill, I’m sure that you would have a better feel for that.
Thanks again for the feedback and correction to both of you!
Speaking as the owner of SQLTeam: I think the big issue with consolidation is that the various sites have to want to be consolidated. While you may want fewer SQL sites to visit I want to keep running my site. 🙂 And many of the software vendors have decided they get good will by launching another site. And as you see … more and more sites keep popping up.
Speaking as a member of the Board of Directors of PASS: Hey! Did you see our new, improved web site?!?!?!!? 🙂 I don’t think there is much anyone can do about consolidation until the existing sites want to be consolidated or people start visiting fewer sites. I know that right now that’s not on our radar. We have plenty of other areas to invest in. 🙂
Speaking as me again: One thing that will make consolidation hard is people’s desire to be known and to belong. Being part of a smaller site where you “know” many of the regulars really adds to the social side of things. That’s much harder if there are fewer larger sites.
Support for a related wikipedia article (see older revisions) that includes a criticism section on the matter.