In a recent blog post Brent Ozar questioned why PASS decided to relaunch the SQL Server Standard given the failure of other content related projects. A good question, so I’ll devote this update to answering that question as best I can and talking about our plans moving forward.
First though, a little history! The Standard actually got started back in 2003. Brian, Steve, and I were thinking on ideas to add value to SQLServerCentral.com and we had in mind a simple printed newsletter, but then Brian started looking at the prices of full color printing and the next thing we decided to try a magazine. Ambitious even then. One thing let to another and we ended up partnering with PASS, a relationship that continued through 2007 when we decided to refocus – and at that time we gave PASS ownership of the magazine. Steve did most of the work during our magazine years along with a great copy editor, but it was always a struggle to get content, I think we were paying $100 for an article at the time. PASS continued it for a while, but announced at the end of 2008 that it would be discontinued due to the rising cost of production. A bit sad to see it end, was good for PASS to have a journal.
Fast forward just a little to the beginning of my term on the Board and one of the things Wayne asked me to do was to see if I could still do something with the Standard in electronic version, in any format that would work. I thought about it some, discussed with a few volunteers and a few advisors, decided to try it as:
- One article per issue with a long term goal of 26 issues per year
- Increase the rate for content to something close to market value
- Have it staffed by volunteers and augmented with staff/contract help
- Provide a slow steady delivery of new content to sqlpass.org
What drove those? The first was sustainability. I knew first hand the kind of workload that managing a magazine generates, and I knew it was going to be very hard to get content on an ongoing basis. I also knew that I couldn’t define my portfolio as ‘just’ the magazine, we had other things to look at and clearly Wayne saw it as broader than that. Next was looking to involve volunteers. Back in the print days there was almost no volunteer involvement, and I think it’s good to involve people in PASS, let them earn some ownership. At the same time, it had to be something that a volunteer or three could manage, and something that looked liked a good challenge. It makes sense to have PASS members working on content and doing tech reviews, but not copy edit or layout, we could hire someone as needed for those skills. And finally, paying an interesting amount of money would make it easier to attract authors, because without content it doesn’t work!
But those were all a means to arrive at something I consider more important; giving our members a place to showcase their skills. Writing isn’t as easy as it looks, and there is a lot of difference in writing a blog or short article than a 4000 word article that will be picked apart by a tech editor and copy editor. It also means putting it in front of some very critical peers, so it takes a certain amount of confidence to give it a try. It’s ambitious, but I hope over time that getting published in the Standard is a nice career milestone, something that looks good on a resume and something seen as worth doing. That’s something a professional association should have and encourage.
Brent asked why this would succeed when other projects have failed. The answer is we don’t know yet. I’ve tried to build something that is as minimalist as possible while leaving plenty of room to grow (we can do more issues, and multiple articles per issue if needed), and I have dreams of adding back editorials, advertising, minutes of meetings, and more – if…we can generate the content on a recurring basis. I’ve tried to stack the deck a little, asking Grant Fritchey to take the lead as editor, because I know Grant is passionate and has a voice in the community, and supplemented that with Brad McGehee, another well known voice and a great person to manage the tech editing process. Maybe a better question is why earlier projects failed, and my answer would be a combination of things – a lack of a true champion, asking for donations of effort when other sites pay for the same effort, and no sense of making a difference.
We’re just getting started and we’ll have lessons to learn I’m sure, but I was thrilled that Tom Larock jumped in to write the first article for the revised format. It’s available for free download now (requires login) at http://www.sqlpass.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=bX8_hcbYJ7U%3d&tabid=236&mid=1275, and I encourage you to share it with others.
So you could say the Standard is a dream that we’re trying to materialize. We can grow the next generation of authors, we can add substantive content to sqlpass.org, give our members one more reason to read the Connector to find out about our latest issue, challenge our volunteers to make a tough project succeed.
What’s interesting about a project like this is we can’t make it succeed. If it was just a matter of hard work, well…then I’d make the bet without hesitation! But to make this work requires something tougher than sweat equity, it’s going to take us making the Standard a desirable goal for every author and aspiring author in the SQL community. An interesting project isn’t it?
And finally, don’t think I’m letting you off the hook here. People often ask me how to contribute to PASS, and here’s an easy opportunity – write something for us. No, we don’t take first time writers, but we’ll coach on you how to get to us, and we’ll do what we can to help you through the process. You can earn $500 for doing the work and you’ll earn it, and you’ll have made a positive impact on PASS. It’s coming up on time to write goals for 2010, so why not add this as a goal?