I first heard the term “community” related to SQL Server back in 1999, when I participated in the original planning meetings to form an international user group, which eventually became the Professional Association for SQL Server (PASS). Although I had been participating in online help forums, starting with CompuServe in 1992, and had been given the Microsoft MVP award every year since 1993, I never really thought that what I was doing was related to community. I just liked reading about what other people were doing with SQL Server, and because I had experience with Sybase going back to 1987, I found that there were many questions I could answer. I discovered that I really enjoyed helping people out.  I liked the idea of a user group organization, primarily because I thought the idea of a big conference devoted just to SQL Server sounded like a terrific idea.

So when people at the original PASS planning meetings talked about the SQL Server community, I assumed they were just talking about all the users of the product. But since that time, community has been used more and more to describe something different, and truth be told, I’m not sure exactly what someone means when they say it. Microsoft has been using the term and has quite an online presence for its technical communities at http://www.microsoft.com/communities/default.mspx. Microsoft also uses the term when describing the MVP program at http://mvp.support.microsoft.com, and refers to its MVPs as “community leaders,” even if all an MVP has done to earn the award is sit in his/her office and answer questions on the public newsgroups. Microsoft even has employees whose jobs are to interact with and support the communities for various products.

I’ve noticed an overuse of the word “community” lately in conjunction with online gathering places such as Facebook. Through Facebook you can join one of thousands of groups, usually based on some shared interest, whether professional or personal, presumably for the purpose of social interaction. These groups are referred to sometimes as communities. Joining a group makes me think I should participate in it, and I just don’t have time to join online chats, even if the topic is fascinating to me. I don’t have time to visit my friends right here in town, and spending time interacting online is the last thing I want to do.

However, just this past week I was in the UK with my friend Tony Rogerson, presenting a series of seminars. He talked about how we might advertise future seminars, and the trick was reaching the people who didn’t participate in community. (“There’s that word again,” I thought.) But as Tony went on talking, I realized that he didn’t really mean anything organized. He just was drawing a distinction between two types of SQL Server users. One type is the users who just do their jobs as best they can and possibly check the SQL Server documentation or Google when they have a problem they can’t handle. The other group is made up of users who try to find out more about the resources available before they have a specific need. They visit the online help forums just to see the kinds of questions people are asking, they might attend a conference or seminar occasionally, they might belong to a local user group, or they might even just go out for a beer with other SQL Server professionals and talk shop every once in a while.

It’s really just a difference between being reactive and proactive. People involved in the SQL Server community know what help is available before they need it and realize they don’t have to deal with every problem all alone.