Responding to a recent post in MIDRANGE-L about iSociety, Joe Pluta wrote …

What a shame! I remember the enthusiasm in the i community when isociety was rolled out. If there is anything that I can do to help please contact me offline. I am more than willing to do whatever I can.

I don’t think any “grass roots” effort is going to get any traction without at least nominal participation from IBM. midrange.com is one of the exceptions, and even so a small part of its success can be attributed to the fact that IBMers hang out here regularly and provide input and advice. That’s particularly true with the Rational tools, and of course Barbara’s indefatigable presence mentoring the RPG list.

IMO, the problem with every other IBM midrange collective has been a lack of a properly focused product. Almost every one of these things has been more about marketing, but yet it’s been pitched to the developers. Developers think marketing gimmicks are cute… for about a month. But when it becomes clear that that they are the ones expected to provide the content with little or no tangible return in helping them with their day job, such efforts usually drift off into the sunset.

Midrange.com is successful for at least two reasons. First and foremost is because David Gibbs personally has given his blood, sweat and tears to make it work. He didn’t rely on anybody else to make sure the system worked and has continued to update it from its early days as a bulletin board (it helps that he has ruled it with pretty much an iron fist when it comes to what is and isn’t allowed). The other salient point is that this is a forum in which participants get value immediately based on questions asked and answered. Real questions, real answers, real value. Most other IBM midrange related efforts have been “portals” or “aggregators” which is a fancy name for links. What exactly is the value-add of a link? Not sure. Google works pretty well most of the time.

What’s the answer? To me, the only thing that might fly would be a collaborative effort where people presented real world problems and then developed solutions that others could use. It would be the next step past the forum, but short of true open source development. Someone would say something like “Hey, how do I email a report?” and people would present their answers. Some might say RTFM for OVRPRTF *PDF and SNDDST, while others might provide a simple Java class. The problem of course is that there is little benefit for the folks that take the time to present the software.

That’s why a lot of open source IBM i stuff just tails off. There are only a handful of folks in our community who have actually provided that level of software, and you really have to take your hat off them. Folks like Aaron Bartell, Scott Klement, Giovanni Perotti and Per Gummendal are unique and special members of our community. And while I’ve left several off the list, there just aren’t enough of them to sustain anything past the forums stage.

So, the question is whether there is enough commitment among us, the IBM i community, to sustain anything other than forums, and if there is, how to do it. If IBM doesn’t bless it (and perhaps even if it does), then it has to have real value to the participants, and that’s a tough road to hoe.

Here’s a couple of things to think about: What would YOU want from such an effort? And what would you be willing to commit to make that happen?

About Joe Pluta:
Joe Pluta is the founder and chief architect of Pluta Brothers Design Inc. Joe uses WebSphere and Rational products extensively to modernize and extend IBM i applications. He performs onsite mentoring and speaks at user groups around the country.