When I talk about the value of community for developers, I've been known to quote what I've come to describe as "Rumsfeld's Dilemma".
As we know, there are known knowns. There are things we know we know.
We also know there are known unknowns. That is to say we know there are some things we do not know.
But there are also unknown unknowns, the ones we don't know we don't know.
Actually, it's also how I described my first year of fatherhood, but that's another story altogether. For the things we know we don't know, that's really what search engines are all about. If you know you don't understand what ActiveDirectory is, you will go to Google or Live Search (or Wikipedia) and get up to speed on the topic. I'd like to think our forums provide that abilityas well. If you have a problem and can't find it through search, you post a question and someone from the community shares their wisdom. But things get interesting when you talk about things you don't know you don't know. Let's face it: how do you search for something if you don't know if exists. Well, that's what I think this new wave of on-line experiences (must...resist...saying...Web 2.0) provides. Blogs, tags, voting systems like Digg--they all illuminate what you didn't know needed illuminating. When I subscribe to certain blogs, I usually assume they are going to keep up on the latest trends. I didn't know about twitter, but by subscribing to Steve Rubel's blog, I probably caught on before many people. If you are an ASP.NET developer, how do you not read Scott Guthrie's blog? If it's important to .NET web applications, he's gonna be the first to know about it and he's not shy about sharing it. My favorite example is someone on our own team. I realized need to pay attention to Brad Wilson's blog a little more closely because he seems to catch on to things six months before I go on my little technical excursions. For example, when I started teaching myself Ruby and Powershell and knew what I didn't know, I kept coming up on Brad's posts even though he is on my team and I should've been paying attention in the first place (when I didn't know I didn't know). In Brad's case, I read his blog, but I guess I shouldn't have just been paying attention to the CodePlex-related stuff. 🙂
The value of getting information to fill the holes of knowledge is something the internet has always provided. But just like the friend that introduced you to your favorite rock group or favorite author, the internet can make the world's epiphanies your epiphanies. This may seem like common sense to any who has made the internet a part of their lives, but there's a lot of people out there who haven't reached this point. The on-ramp is easy. Subscribe to RSS feeds. Tag data and look at what other people are tagging. Find your on-line trusty source of cutting-edge info (hint: it's not CNN or CNET. If you've waited that long, it's too late) and follow what they are reading and saying. Truly reaping the most from the web requires a level of open-mindedness and willingness to trust the community to know more than you do. Then, and only then, do you overcome Rumsfeld's Dilemma.