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December 2008

Lessons from the Upgrade Trenches

First things first

First of all, I owe all of you an apology. I have been operating in stealth mode these past several weeks. Ok, who am I kidding; it’s been well over a month. And for those that were looking for more from me, I apologize. My only defense is that there's a really good reason, I swear. And it's got everything (yes, really, everythign!) to do wtih the mega-upgrade we just completed for EMC|ONE. After a few speed bumps, we are up and running succesfully and I'm happy with where we are - now.


As you may recall, we’re running Jive Software’s Clearspace platform for both our internal community (EMC|ONE) and our external EMC Community Network (ECN).


The good, and it is very good

Overall, I’m quite pleased with the upgrade coming out of it with a few “wish list” items (see more in The bad below) and a really, really big “what the heck were you thinking!?” item (see more in The downright ugly below).


We got a lot of what we were hoping for in this upgrade, and for that, it was worth it. What did we get, exactly?


Well, we got the ability to easily customize our home page of EMC|ONE, whereas before it was just the out-of-the-box fire hose of content and communities. Think all 130+ communities scrolling for pages on the left, and ALL of their most recent posts mixed together on the right two-thirds of the page. Not exactly optimal, especially for new users first coming to the site. Now we can change the page whenever we want with widgets and customized layouts. Total thumbs up on adding this functionality!


We also got a customizable home page for each end user to design as they like using widgets. They can also set it as their default. This was a major ask from just about everyone in our community. So, total thumbs up on this one, as well!


We got way more people functions – more robust profiles, friends, status updates (think Twitter), and social groups.  All very good, and highly desired by our community.


Finally, we got a much improved and much easier to use text editor, which presents our users with a more intuitive interface and allows them to use keyboard shortcuts they already know for formatting. Very nice, guys!


The bad, otherwise known as my wish list

Along with the good, we lost a couple of things that I wish we hadn’t. Not sure why the decisions were made to remove them, but I’m not alone in missing them.


We lost the ability to easily track the number of views and number of comments on any given post within a community. This used to be a key tenet of one of the widgets available for community design, but has disappeared and is causing some major bumps in the road for some of our community managers who liked to gather these kinds of stats to see what was working and what wasn’t in their venues.


My personal philosophy is that it’s more important to take into account who is saying what about your content and conversations than how many people viewed it, but not everyone using EMC|ONE as their information portal for all things EMC agrees.


We lost the ability to aggregate more than one blog into a given community or space. As we all know, it’s nearly mandatory to follow more than one blog, and you will find more than one valuable blogger on any given topic that you’d like to enable your readers to have access to by simply aggregating a feed into the community you manage. Sorry folks – not anymore. It’s a strict one-to-one ratio now, no exceptions.


I miss it. I loved this functionality. Unfortunately, there’s no good workaround for it right now, either. Apparently, I’m not the only one that misses it - I did hear there might be a possible widget under wraps that may address this wish list item in the future. That would be a swell Christmas present.


The downright ugly, which I have recently been referring to as "what were you thinking!?"


Blogs were not a smooth transition. Personal blogs remained largely untouched, but boy did we get killed with the community blogs that we had on EMC|ONE.


The title of this section says it all – it was ugly, downright ugly, and that has not changed much. Admittedly, it was ugly enough that I lobbed off a few “what were you thinking” emails to our lovely vendor last week and this week.


Why was it ugly? Not only did we have to re-assign every blog to the community it was appearing in, but the process renamed the blogs, re-assigned a new URL to the blogs, and wiped out the author list. Wouldn’t have been great had I know this before the re-assignment, but at least I could have prepared for it. We launched with people not being able to find their blogs, not being able to write to their blogs, and having to scramble to fix things only to find that there’s no “undo” if we make a mistake (I’m only human) thanks to those darned software bugs we all love so much.


So where does the “what were you thinking” come in? Communication, my dear friends - had I known these things before re-assigning the blogs to their homes, I would have definitely thought twice about doing so. Not knowing it ahead of time has caused me to down more chocolate and coffee than one woman should ever have in a 24 hour setting. I’ve also uttered the cliché “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” more times than I care to admit.


And then there’s the question that I might never know the answer to – why oh why did you break what didn’t need fixin’? I loved, the community loved the old blog functionality. What were you thinking breaking it? Sigh.


What sayest the community?

For the most part, the feedback around the upgrade has been positive. There has been some frustration at first with the “new” functionality. But, once folks calm down, they realize all the basics are the same, and they can choose (or not) to take advantage of all the extras at their own pace.


Why so successful? Well, we put out a call to our community for volunteers for testing. There were some annoyances found, some personal nits, but no deal breakers. I think it’s a success because we involved our community. We asked them point blank for their honest feedback, and they gave it to us. And it helped to make this great big endeavor work. And now we all get to reap the benefits.


The final verdict


So, if given the opportunity, would I do the upgrade again? Yes. But I’d make a few changes to how I approached things. I guess that’s what it’s all about, isn’t it? Learning from our mistakes and improving upon our weaknesses.