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My DNN Road Movie. Part 2: What Happens in Vegas

In my earlier post I delved into how I got into DNN late 2002/early 2003. In this post I continue where I left off at the end of 2005.

By 2006 you could say that a certain maturity had come to the DNN ecosystem. This was no longer a fringe platform. DNN was the uncrowned CMS-on-.net king. And more and more people flocked to the platform with a professional interest and basing their livelihood on this. Like myself. I think it was roughly at this time DNN Corp was founded by Shaun, Nik Kalyani, Scott Willhite and Joe Brinkman. It had taken over from Shaun’s own vehicle (Perpetual Motion Solutions, remember that name?). And they employed Charles Nurse as full time resource. This marked the beginning of a transitional period in many ways. DNN Corp began to look aggressively for funds and launched several programs targeted at people like myself with the objective of getting me to pay for the platform. I was very clear that although my earnings were ‘nice’, I wasn’t in a position to go there (I remember becoming a “Bronze member” of some program at the time). Nor did I feel this was the right approach. I wanted to contribute in hours and experience, not money. And I was more than happy to pave the way for them to target my customers. But the only really successful entity at the time was Snowcovered, that had by that time established the de-facto DNN App Store. From informal conversations with customers I understood that they complete ignored the DNN site and spent most of their time on the Snowcovered site. DNN Corp would later attempt to compete with Snowcovered, but this attempt failed, never gaining significant traction. Snowcovered would be the first acquisition of DNN Corp as soon as they were funded. Looking back it was a time of a somewhat antagonistic relationship between DNN Corp and the commercial vendors. This irked me as I felt everyone should be able to make a living, here. I’ve always seen it through the prism of a team effort. They work to improve the platform, we work to make sure kick-ass modules/skins are available for it, and “integrators” work to put it all together for end users. There is a strong interdependency here and I found it unhelpful to frame things hierarchically (i.e. X depends on Y so should be paying part of their revenue toward Y). Without any of the three the project would ultimately die.

And while DNN Corp was looking for a way to monetize their work, it became clear something had to change. Into this turbulence stepped a company called Flatburger. They had devised a solution to do code obfuscation, copy protection and feature usage feedback for DotNetNuke modules. Their intention was to start a store of their own, competing with Snowcovered. They invited roughly the top 20 Snowcovered vendors and flew them out to Las Vegas. I was one of the invitees. It’s not every day that you get a call by someone offering you a trip to Las Vegas. It certainly was the first time it happened to me. I hadn’t set foot on American soil since 2000 and I’d never been to Las Vegas. So I gladly accepted the offer. And for the first time in my life I met my ‘colleagues’. I say colleagues as it felt like that. These were people working on the same project so to speak. None of them were direct competitors of each other I don’t think. It is where I got to meet a bunch of guys from this ecosystem that instantly became very good friends. People like Kelly Ford (the “XMod guy” from DNNDev), Chris Chodnicky and Kevin Schreiner from Bi4ce (now r2i), Malik Khan (Point Click), Brad Schafer, Scott McCulloch, Tony Valenti (PowerDNN), Will Morgenweck (Active Modules), Jeff Smith (Venexus, now VivoWare), Tracy Wittenkeller (T-Worx) and probably some guys that, once reminded, I will slap my forehead and exclaim “how could I have forgotten them”. It was the who-is-who of the DNN ecosystem. Notably absent were DNN Corp who declined to be part of this party. In the end the Flatburger project didn’t pan out the way people wanted and it fizzled out over time. But the opportunity to meet up in person and make new friends was priceless. And to this day we still refer to this event (“remember Flatburger?”).

The view from my hotel room and my first view of the strip. Fatburger?!?
The view from my hotel room and my first view of the strip. Fatburger?!?

2006 was also the year I entered the French DNN User Group. Although I’m not a native French speaker and my French is a bit shaky (certainly in those days), I have an affinity with them as I live in a French speaking region. It is also one of the oldest user groups and one of the more successful. They managed to release a French version of DNN 1, meaning they did this before static localization was even introduced and this had to be done by hand changing the code of the whole platform! Benoit Sarton, David Thomas, Gilles Le Pigoger, Jean-Sylvain Boige, Thomas Chailland … they’ve all done a tremendous job over the years for DotNetNuke in France in particular and have done us all a great service (Gilles is currently the guy behind the core DNN Store module). In 2006 Aricie, a DNN service company, offered to host the French user group meeting at a nice castle in the South of France. And it couldn’t get more French that this. The chateau, the fine food and wine (and my headache as I’m struggling to follow the conversation), the warm reception by our hosts. Come to think of it, I’ve been pampered quite a bit in 2006. It was a fun meeting and in many ways it formed my future interest in internationalization issues in DotNetNuke. Because for the very first time I was confronted by a group of people who had some very valid and serious misgivings about the platform regarding the ability to get it to work in the French context. As someone who was “close to the core team”, I was seen as a potential bridgehead for the French into this bastion that might help with some of these concerns. And I was eager to help where I could although I wasn’t part of the core team myself. But it would shape my future motivations.

In early 2007 we (the French DNN community) met in Paris. The earlier meeting in the South had left us wanting more and Microsoft kindly offered us their offices to hold such an event. About 50 people turned up and again I was struck by the passion for DotNetNuke and the valid concerns raised by these DNN enthusiasts. I remember the very lively presentation of Gilles’ WWStore module Benoit and Gilles were invited soon after I joined. And again I left the meeting with the impression that DotNetNuke had extremely passionate followers that guys over in the US were largely unaware of. There was an urgent task to wire this together somehow. To get communities like the French one a voice over in the US and have them recognized and supported by the platform.

Later that year I had also entered the Dutch DNN user group (led by Leigh Pointer) and presented at a Dutch event for developers. This community was quite different from the French. I read a statistic once that 80% of Dutch nationals are comfortable conversing in English. Whereas the French community seemed to have a strong desire to have French events, the Dutch community didn’t care much about language. It was thus also harder for them to build a community as everyone chatted on dotnetnuke.com anyway. This is, as I currently see it, the biggest stumbling block for a Dutch User Group. The fact that everyone blends into the international/English community eliminates the desire for a specific Dutch angle to this (note I’m talking about the DNN professionals here. The end users still wanted their website in Dutch, meaning there was still work to do to create a Dutch language pack). At the time the Dutch community was driven by Leigh Pointer. He hooked this user group up with a .net user group called SDN (Software Developer Network) which organized national developer events regularly. For years SDN would offer a specific DNN track at their events (and would host the OpenForce EU event) organized by Leigh, Stefan Kamphuis and Erik van Ballegoij.

Leigh Pointer, Erik van Ballegoij and myself in April 2007

Leigh Pointer, Erik van Ballegoij and myself in April 2007

Those three guys (Leigh, Stefan and Erik) of the Dutch Usergroup were part of the DNN core team (compare with 0 members from the French community). We quickly discovered we were on the same wavelength regarding DNN and it wasn’t long before I was invited by my newfound friends to take ownership of one of the core modules (Newsfeeds) and to join the core team. Yay! On the inside now. As I mentioned before, one of the first things on my todo list was to follow through on my promise to act as a bridgehead for the French. Gilles was given the lead of the core Store module and merged his WW Store codebase there. Both Gilles and Benoit were invited to join the core team soon after.

DNN UG meeting in Paris – March 2007 Benoit, David and Gilles
DNN UG meeting in Paris – March 2007 Benoit, David and Gilles

2007 was also the year of the first OpenForce conference as part of the massive Dev Connections conference in Las Vegas in the fall. I attended this as one of the speakers! And for a second year running I found myself flying out to Vegas again. This time for a much less intimate, but a much higher profile event. And this time on a much different footing with DNN Corp. Even though DNN Corp had not yet found its financial footing, the disruptions of 2006 were behind us and we looked forward with renewed optimism. And I’d spent most of the previous year contributing to the project through the user groups and the core team.

OpenForce 07 In the Mix with Malik and Scott Schecter.
OpenForce 07 (Picture by Malik Khan). For fun: the people on this photo are Nik Kalyani, Steve Fabian, myself, Shaun Walker, Erik van Ballegoij and Cathal Connelly with someone else in between, Scott Willhite, Chris Hammond, Vicenc Masanas, Sebastian Leupold, Joe Brinkman (barely visible), Lorraine Young and husband Phil Beadle. In the Mix with Malik and Scott Schecter.

It was an unforgettable event. I got to meet the founders and other key players of the platform and hang out with them. And a bunch of us got to spend an evening in the ultra-luxurious “Mix” restaurant on top of THEHotel. Wow. My presentation? It was about “content localization”. This is the ability to offer the web site’s content (as opposed to the labels of the management UI of the platform which fall under “static localization”) in multiple languages to end users. It is purely the domain of multi lingual sites. And I had taken up the cause of content localization in earnest. At this conference I presented a way in which a module developer could implement static localization inside his/her module.

To be continued ...

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