I had the opportunity to have an interview with Susan Salgy, of the Cool Solutions website, the heart of the Novell community riviera … the centre of the Novell support universe … the ultimate place to publish yourself, your ideas, and where to discuss with others, blog, tools, articles, tech tips, you’ll find at the Cool Solutions website.
Gert: Tnx for sharing time for an interview. Please introduce yourself. Who is CoolGuys, who are the CoolGuys, when and where did it start?
CG: … This whole thing began in 1996. I (Susan Salgy) was the manager of the GroupWise documentation team, and we had just completed a major release and had a bit of time on our hands. We were located in the basement of Bldg F on the WordPerfect campus in Orem, Utah. I realized that my team of writers and editors had a great deal more information about GroupWise features than could possibly fit into the printed manual, so I wondered if we could start an online magazine that would give us an inexpensive way to publish this additional content.
My boss said to go for it, as long as it didn’t cost money ;-). We enlisted a friendly designer who was also in a bit of a lull between projects, and he came up with the design and logo. We named it Cool Solutions, because we set out to write the entire magazine in a nicely conversational voice, presenting solutions to problems people might be having, but in a cool (non-official-sounding) way. This was a joyous decision for the writers, who were somewhat suffocated by the strictures of manual writing.
The editorial team had several women and men on it, but since most of our target audience was male, we decided to become the CoolGuys. (Figured no one wanted to admit they needed directions from a woman…) We launched GroupWise Cool Solutions on 21 December 1996, and haven’t missed a day since. The ZENworks team spun up a sister mag the next year, and within short order we were supporting all of the Novell product lines.
Side note: we started with every intention of creating a magazine — we write it, you read it. We even called it gwmag in the URL. But it quickly tipped over into being an online community (the genre didn’t really exist yet, but that’s what it was) when the readers began to assert themselves, via email, by asking questions that drove content development, and by offering to help supply the answers. Of course, in those days we didn’t have community-building software like we do now (Drupal), so it was all done manually with static files and good old-fashioned HTML. But we believe it became a community when the readers started actively sharing.
Letting the users drive the content turned out to be a mother-lode of customer insight for the engineers. We’d send them hard questions that came in, and they’d start to conceive enhancements they could add to the product that would obviate the problems implied by the questions. I remember the engineer who was over GroupWise calendar — he told us that before he could tap into the customer needs like this, he was “designing in the dark.” In a very real way, I’d say that GroupWise has customer fingerprints all over it.
Gert: What do the CoolGuys for Novell, for the Novell community, and Novell partners?
CG: … Our job is to maintain the Cool Solutions site, and work with our sponsors, members and contributors to make it a rewarding, fun, and non-threatening place to build and share expertise.
Gert: Is Cool Solutions independent or is Novell an employer? What are your other connections or relations besides Novell?
CG: … Cool Solutions began as a skunk-works job in the documentation department, but after a few years we were invited to spin off and become an independent vendor. We started WebWise Solutions in 2001, and have been contracting with Novell to manage Cool Solutions ever since. Our success has led to relationships with several other enterprises, all of whom are routinely made jealous by the depth and breadth of Cool Solutions content and membership.
Gert: How do you contact people in the community? How can the community be more participating in the Cool Solutions website?
CG: … The community comes to us, basically. We are part of the Novell and SUSE global navigation, so people looking for a community to support them can find us by looking at the nav. We get a lot of first-timers via Google searches as well. And the GroupWise product actually links to us from the Help menu, so a lot of users find us that way. The Forums are a very active referring source. Our authors are often prolific Forum posters as well as Cool Solutions contributors. There are also several Novell employees and partners who submit blogs, articles, and tools, and will tweet about their posts.
I do feel bad when I find pockets of people who should know about us, but don’t. There is an unbelievable wealth of information from the school of hard knocks in Cool Solutions, and it’s a shame that people have to reinvent the wheel if they don’t know to look here.
Gert: What is on your wish list? IMO your field is all about the online community. Hence, more members, more features, new social media tools, etc.
CG: … We think the impulse to share with a community of like-minded people is universal and deep-seated in the human psyche. The tools are always changing, but that impulse is constant. So whether it’s Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Pinterest, or the next big thing, people who are wired to commune, will commune. Cool Solutions just happens to have been rather early to the game — one of the first bona fide web communities built to support enterprise software. Wish list? We always want more members. So we don’t necessarily need a lot more features, just more content. Content is king. It’s the main reason people keep coming back.
Gert: What are the most used features on Cool Solutions? Is it what you expected when you started the current environment?
CG: … By far the most popular content set is Cool Tools. http://www.novell.com/communities/cool-solutions/tools It’s insane how much traffic we get in there. We had no idea that would be the case. In the early days, we mostly had tips, articles, and Q&A written by the doc team. Then we started getting questions from real users, so our Q&A became responsive to real customer issues.
Then a guy wrote in to our email@example.com mailbox and said, “I’ve gotten so many great ideas I thought it was time to give back.” He attached a detailed article about how he had solved some gnarly configuration issue (complete with screenshots). That opened the floodgates. As soon as we published that, with tons of props to the author, more and more people began doing the same thing. We called those articles “From the Trenches” to distinguish them from the tested and reviewed content my writing team was posting as Tips and Articles. Then some people started sending in little scripts, utilities, ZENworks Application Objects, macros and other things that they’d made for their own use and wanted to share. That was the start of Cool Tools.
Since we had zero budget, we started begging the events team for leftover swag from tradeshows, and we’d send things to people who did exceptionally good work. At one point we inherited boxes of Novell t-shirts that no one wanted, and we began sending a t-shirt to anyone whose content we published. This was a beautiful thing. It is absolutely staggering how much work someone will do for a 100% cotton t-shirt. We had 10 different colors, and would keep track of what color someone received, so the next time they submitted they’d get a different color. This resulted in several people writing multiple articles just so they could earn the full set. People are awesome.
Gert: Quick list … (please answer short)
What time do you start?
CG: … 8:30 am MTN
What is the CoolGuys way to work? IM, email, conferencecall, videochat, shareable whiteboards, etc?
CG: … We run the whole thing using GroupWise and Novell Messenger. We’re big users of Shared Folders and Proxy.
Do you guys hang out after work or is more or less everyone a little bit aware of other colleges life outside the office?
CG: … We pull long hours at work, so we respect each other’s home lives.
If Novell would not have you, where would you be?
CG: … We have several other enterprise clients, but we’d hate to leave Novell. It is the mother ship.
What would be another good name for CoolGuys? I can think of Novell WebMaster, Community Connaisseur, Vision-revision designer-redesigner, Yet another coffee addict, Yoda’s online design artist?
CG: … CoolGuys works pretty well. It’s not pretentious. It’s not too hard to type over and over. It fits the brand. It’s cool. (And there is that tattoo…)
Gert: What has changed for you since Attachmate acquired Novell? I hear lots of positive things in the interviews.
CG: … Nothing too much has changed yet. Attachmate has been very supportive of keeping the customers happy, which is our whole raison d’etre. We love their renewed focus on getting back to the basics for the classic Novell products. This is a brilliant move, because we see tremendous passion for those products in the installed base. We love NetIQ’s “relentless focus on customer success.” We don’t think you can go wrong if you keep that goal in front of everything else. (And our readers will tell you, when we help them succeed, they will move heaven and earth to keep your products in their environment.) We love SUSE’s open source spirit — it is how we have always approached Cool Solutions content. Free, open, uber-adaptable. Green.
Gert: Do you guys use GroupWise ? If not, why not? If yes, how do you share your data, with or without GroupWise?
CG: … Oh my, yes! We love it. There is simply no substitute for Retract, when you need a do-over.
Gert: What is the future of Cool Solutions?
CG: … We hope to continue Cool Solutions as long as there are customers who don’t know how to do everything our products can do.
Gert: Is Facebook a competitor? If so. What do you do or can we do about that?
CG: … Not really. We know our users use all kinds of social media sites. Always have. It doesn’t really stop them from using Cool Solutions when they need what we have to offer. It’s actually helped in some cases, where our contributors will tweet or post in FB about a contest they won, or content they published on Cool Solutions. Helps spread the word about us.
Gert: Where can we meet you guys?
CG: … We come to BrainShare every year, and we might make it to Orlando for SUSECon in September. If you’re ever in the Novell offices in Provo, Utah, come on up to the 8th floor and say Hello. We’ll give you a t-shirt, for sure.
Gert: What are the most active members on Cool Solutions?
CG: … The prize has to go to Geoffrey Carman. He is an amazingly prolific article writer — he has written something like 200+ Identity Manager articles that have been instrumental in helping newbies tap into the power of that incredibly powerful (but admittedly complex) product. He is our top point earner of all time: currently has 160,650 points. (The next closest point earner has 22,020 points. Yeah. Magnitudes.) http://www.novell.com/communities/user/555
Our most active Novell employee is Dean Lythgoe — the head of GroupWise Engineering. He truly understands the power of a consistent, informational, transparent blog. He takes each comment seriously, and actually cares what the community thinks about GroupWise features and futures. We believe that bloggers are born, not made. Dean is a born blogger. http://www.novell.com/communities/user/9031
Gert: Could GWCheck and Cool Solutions form a common platform for GroupWise? If so, how, or do you like the idea? Has this been offered by Novell Partners before?
CG: … We love your work, and hope you keep on going for many years. You do tremendous good for the GroupWise community. But since we are part of the official website, and are funded by Novell, we must remain partner-agnostic. We happily work with all of the PartnerNet members to get the word out about all the cool things you have to offer.
Gert: Is there something that isn’t discussed yet, that you’d like to bring to the front?
CG: … Just to say, we are grateful to all of the customers, employees, and partners who make Cool Solutions cool. The culture of any given community (virtual or physical) isn’t something that happens overnight, and in a vacuum. It is created by each individual who posts a comment, rates an article, emails articles to a friend, takes a survey, enters a contest, or submits content. Over the past 16 years, together we have created a culture of civility, helpfulness, and sharing that harnesses great ideas, no matter where they come from. We have some of the nicest people in the world in Cool Solutions, and a lot of them are wearing t-shirts.
Thank you, to all of you.
Gert: I repeat: thank you, to all of you ;-P
© GWCheck.com june 2012