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The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users – 6 months review

As I sit here encoding a batch of the screen casts for The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users it occurred to me that the project has been available for roughly 6 months now. Back in late February we released the book as a self-published work. It was an experiment and one that I can honestly is a success — despite the fact that it’s unit sales might be what a traditional publisher might consider a failure. Let me explain.

I’ve worked with all sorts of publishers over the years. With 18 books written and 100 more edited, I’m not new to the game. I know that publishers have value. They get your book into the bookstores and getting your books into the book stores sells books. It’s an ego crushing thing to realize that the number of copies that you sell of a technology book is sometimes more dependent upon shelf space than it is your wonderful writing. Technical book publishers used to look at 20,000 or more units as being a good book. That number has slipped to 5,000 or so. Obviously they want more unit sales — but they’re willing to live with a lot less than they were used to living with because the market dynamics have changed. Without a publisher getting shelf space is nearly impossible. I didn’t even try. I just made the book available via the large Internet book sellers. This limits the number of units but is relatively simple to execute.

If you use the metric of 5,000 printed units sold then The SharePoint Shepherd’s Guide for End Users is likely to be a failure when it’s all said and done. Why? Well, part of that is the model. The book is a good book — I encourage people to buy it, obviously. However, it’s true power is seen in electronic form on a corporate intranet. To understand why, I have to explain a bit of the makeup of the book.

The book is 116 tasks. These tasks are generally 2-3 pages as you can see in the online sample “Connect Office to A SharePoint Site or Workspace” Because of this it’s a great reference. If you want to know how to do something you can typically find the answer in 2-3 pages. The problem with this approach is that it doesn’t “read well.” It’s not like a novel that you can read cover-to-cover. As a reference book it’s one that end users may take off the shelf every day. As a book to gain a deeper understanding of SharePoint — it doesn’t work so good.

However, the book was specifically targeted at addressing a growing problem in organizations. The problem is getting users the resources they need to be effective. The best way to do this in a large organization is to license the content for use on the Intranet. That’s exactly what we do for organizations. From PDF options to Word file options and to the advanced Wiki edition, organizations have licensed the content to reduce their help desk calls, improve customer satisfaction, and to support their goals of engaging their users. (You can read more about Increasing SharePoint Engagement in a Microsoft TechNet White Paper I wrote.)

Help Your SharePoint User

The Wiki edition includes the content in Wiki pages, printable word files, and a license to use a commenter web part to allow end users to comment on the content. It allows you to create an interactive environment where users can interact with the book’s content. (If you want to know more about licensing options, costs, or how the wiki edition works you can contact my project administrator at admin@availtekllc.com.)

In the context of corporate licensing the project has been a great success. Organizations around the world have licensed the content.

It is because the book was designed to be licensed to corporations rather than sold as individual units that I can say the project is a success. I should say that purchasing copies of the book isn’t a bad thing — particularly for smaller organizations where the licensing structure may not support their needs. If you’re in a smaller organization and are willing to write about your experience with the book, we can offer small quantities of the book at a discount over what you can buy it from an online book store. (Email to admin@availtekllc.com)

Although I’m happy with the success the project has had thus far I feel like we missed out on a key part of the need that we’re now going back and addressing . I mentioned at the beginning of this post, I’m in the process of encoding videos. By the end of the month we plan on announcing the availability of the Screen Cast version of the book. This license which is an add-on license for our corporate customers provides you with the same 116 tasks as the book — but in screen cast form. We’ve heard that many folks would prefer to watch the steps be performed rather than to read the steps. Certainly not having to scroll through a document is pretty important.

We’ve made some important decisions along the way. First, we’re doing these screen casts at 640×480 resolution — this is substantially higher than most other options. Why are we doing this? Simply, we want everyone to be able to see it. With screen resolutions climbing to 1024×768 or 1280×1024 it’s important to have a video with a native resolution high enough to be readable. We’ve also decided that we’ll be using the fantastic zoom functionality of Camtasia Studio by TechSmith to show you the important area of the screen at full resolution. In other words, you’ll see just what you need to see when you need to see it.

We’ve also decided that we’re going to focus on the quality of the deliverable and not just pounding out a set of videos. What does this mean? Well, first it means that the recordings will be done with a good microphone in a quiet environment with a fast machine. It also means that every video will be boxed in with an intro and outtro just like you would expect from a podcast or other program today. We added background music and titles to make the experience of the videos a pleasant one. Wanna see what I mean? Check out the sample task Create a Place for Teams to Work.

Since we’re still in post-production if you have any feedback that you want to offer please let us know. We’ve invested a substantial investment in these screen casts to ensure that they are heads and tails above the other content you might find both from a breadth perspective and from a quality perspective as well.

So getting back to the point of the 6 month review — we’re happy and grateful for the success we’ve had with the project and we’re ready to take it to the next level with the screen casts. We’re hoping that we’ll be able to help organizations better address their reference material needs for users.

I do have a small request for you dear reader of this blog (if you’ve made it this far) — would you forward this blog post to the folks that are responsible for purchasing or implementing training for SharePoint in your organization? I’m still finding folks who aren’t aware that the book is available — or that the content can be licensed for internal use. Quite literally this past week I had someone say to me that they hadn’t ever heard of the book. I’m not looking for everyone to buy a copy of the book or a license but I’d like for the people struggling with supporting their users to at least know that the resource is available.

Thank you — Rob