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Sowing seeds: What is technology evangelism, anyway?

Today, I want to talk about grassroots adoption, when you’re trying to influence people around you to try out something new–a new tool, a new idea, a new way of working–without dictating to people. I hope that I can help you get a better sense of where other people are, what might be stopping them from moving forward, where you are, and how you can get better at helping other people learn.

I’m interested in this because as a technology evangelist, I’ve talked to a lot of people about social tools like blogging and wikis. Over the next few blog entries, I want to share some of the objections that I’ve come across. I also want to share some of the methods I’ve tried and observed.

But first, let’s talk about what technology evangelism is. You might be wondering why I use the term “evangelism”, considering its religious roots and sometimes negative connotations.

For me, evangelism has that hint of being more than just a dry list of facts. You want to inspire people to action, and you want to do this in a way that sticks even when you’re not around.

The technology you want to promote is not going to be a perfect fit for everyone or every time. Technology evangelism is not about convincing people that your way is the right way. It’s about showing people what their options are, helping them find something that fits them, and helping them learn how to make it part of their work or their lives. (I forget this sometimes, too.)

So if a technology isn’t going to be a perfect fit for everyone immediately, how can you encourage grassroots adoption?

One way is to scatter the seeds as widely as possible. If you reach out, you might find a lot of people who can benefit from the technology you want to promote. Help them, and their success stories and influence will help you reach out to even more people.

You might not have that option. You might have been asked to help a team get up to speed on a tool. You might want to explore a collaborative tool, but before you can take advantage of that tool, you’ll need to get other people on board too. (After all, you can’t collaborate on your own.)

This is where it can get frustrating.

Next post on Monday (or earlier =) ): Sowing seeds: Five common objections

Hooray Internet collaboration!

I hadn’t heard anything from my KMD2004 groupmates all weekend, so I
was rather worried about the integrative summary that we were supposed
to pass on Monday. I couldn’t find any drafts on the wiki or the
shared workspace. If I had to write everything from scratch by myself
just to make sure that we’d get it in before the deadline, I was going
to do so. They could always make it up to me for the next assignment.
;)

I wasn’t looking forward to working on a Sunday night, but I hadn’t
had the time to work on it during the previous week. Besides, I could
consider Saturday as my downtime day for the week.

I sent my groupmates e-mail telling them I was going to write the
summary, and I gave them my MSN and Yahoo! instant messaging details
just in case they were online on a Sunday night. I started a document
on Google Docs (formerly known as Writely)
and sketched the outline just like I’d blogged my way past a writer’s
block for my background article.

I was pleasantly surprised by the quick response of my groupmates. MJ
sent me an instant message on MSN. I asked him to reformat the
appendices to have consistent citation styles while I worked on the
summary. Dave came online after a short while. After some trouble with
the invitations, we managed to get everyone on the same page.

I set up a group chat using Bitlbee, the IM to IRC gateway that I use
to chat within Emacs. We coordinated our actions using instant
messaging while I fleshed out the summary. Dave couldn’t work on the
document right then, but he could look over my work to see where the
article was going. I added some notes about the structure of the
document so that we had a coherent, logical flow.

My computer crashed twice because I ran out of memory. (OpenOffice +
Firefox + Emacs = not good!) Good thing I was drafting the document in
Google Docs, which auto-saved the document every few seconds and
allowed people to keep reading it while I rebooted.

I sketched the document and condensed my paper before fatigue set in.
I left the paper in their capable hands, and I’m sure it will get done
by tomorrow.

I couldn’t imagine doing this without real-time collaboration tools
like instant messaging and Google Docs. Imagine what it would have
been like, having to e-mail documents around? It would have been such
a hassle for me to keep people up to date.

Hooray for Net collaboration and awesome groupmates!

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Random Emacs symbol: menu-bar-mode – Command: Toggle display of a menu bar on each frame. – Variable: Non-nil if Menu-Bar mode is enabled.