United SolidWorks of Contributors

Future SW Online Community 

With two recent surveys (1) (2) regarding the future of the online SolidWorks community as conceived by the SolidWorks Corp, it is becoming apparent that some plan is in the works for a new vision of this online community.  How is that vision shaping up for far?  SolidWorks’ Matthew West’s recent words seem to point to having “a  central repository on solidworks.com” where tips, tricks, hacks, tutorials, instructions, etc can be collected.  To me, this suggests an educational focus.  Mr. West continues, “I think it would be great for casual users and people who aren’t into the whole blog thing to have one place where they could find information generated by other users, and maybe even sign up for your RSS feeds.” 

Are SW Users Ready?

One problem right now, as I see it, is that there are hundreds of thousands of SolidWorks users, but only a small fraction of these seek out further SolidWorks information online.   For example, the SolidWorks Forum recently hit 50,000 users.  This was a celebrated number, but is a small fraction of the total number of SolidWorks users.  Even further fractioned is the number of those who actually actively browse the forums frequently.  And of those, how many actually participate in forum discussions?

No one should expect everyone to be online every week looking around through SolidWorks resources.  However, I think these numbers indicate that many people may not even know these resources exist; or that they have not realized the depth and value of such resources yet.  

Support from SW Corp

If SolidWorks Corp puts a concerted effort into promoting its new online community, it may have a higher level of success.  However, they already have one case study that demonstrated the difficulty of this task: 3D ContentCentral.  Even with a link built right into the SolidWorks software, I suspect the user contributed area of this site gets very little activity when compared to the total number of users.  This may be due in part to how the site is organized.  It is definitely better than before, but still lacks the intuitiveness required for content managers that house a large quantity of items.  But, this may not be the point.

Types of SW Users

So what’s really going on?  It almost seems that it is the experienced (power) users who come online seeking out resources.  These are people who may have a consulting business or they are their company’s SW guru (or future guru).   These are the people for who it is important to expand their skill set.  Should SolidWorks Corp online efforts focus on the average user, or should they focus on the power user?  I think they can support both.  They may have to do this with separate efforts.

A central repository of user provided content would best serve the power user.   SolidWorks Corp should invest in this.  It can be wiki-like.  Or, perhaps it can be more like an aggregator, similar to SolidMentor.  It would have to be organized, maybe like CADdigest.  Opposing views should be represented without prejudice.  I’m not talking about commentary (though that is important too).  I’m talking about opposing views in terms of methodology.  For example, some people prefer one particular methodology, while other methodologies that accomplish the same task are also available (and may be better for many scenarios).  If a wiki-environment is employed, debates regarding such will definitely unfold, as they do on Wikipedia.org.  Again, this would be for power uses.  I think the biggest obstacle is determining how to make such a site for the average user.   To do this, information will have to be easy to find.

Ease of Use

How does one set up content driven site that makes finding particular topics easy?  This is question I’ve asked myself about my own blog.  I see people come to this blog and look around.  I see the searches they do.  I am often frustrated at just how many searches are unsuccessful when I know I have articles that covered the searched keywords.  This is because searches are imperfect.  The results are often too exact.

Alphabetical listing by topics wouldn’t work.  For example, How-to articles are often far to complex to make such a system useful, as they often cover topics involving multiple concepts or concepts that cannot be reduced down to a simple noun phrase.  My experience with How-to books (home repair, etc.) is that they are more for casual reading to get ideas rather than actually being a go-to reference (such as encyclopedias).

The online community site would have to be heavily cross-referenced, whether it encyclopediatic (Wikipedia.org, SolidMentor), aggregational (Pulse, SolidMentor), or listy (CADdigest).  Most of the research in setting up such a site should be in the area human systems analyst to find out how people most intuitively use content managers.  If the content is user driven, the content itself be the least of SolidWorks Corp worries.

Depersonalization and Individual Ownership

So, this does bring me to a point recently brought up by Matt Lombard:  Depersonalization.  I look at this with two points in mind.  First, there shouldn’t be an effort to remove personality or individuality.  The singluar voice still has to be heard in order for a united site to work.  Second, how does one set up such a site without stepping all over copyright?  It seems to me that SolidWorks Corp may be forgetting they would have to respect the individual’s copyright over the material they produce. 

Do I want my whole articles published on some other site?  Maybe, as long as I received some benefit from it.  Each person requires something different.  I doubt there is a single method that will fulfill the requirements of any majority of individual contributors.   This cannot be like Wikipedia.org where all content is non-copyrighted.  This is because the content provided by the individual for the Solidworks community is Original Research, unique to that individual.  Wikipedia.org does not allow Original Research at all.  A united SolidWorks community sie would have nothing but copyrighted Original Research.  SolidWorks Corp will have to recognize this and work within the guidelines established by each contributor, just as they expect their user to follow legal requirements in the use of the SolidWorks application.  SolidWorks Corp cannot dictate to us on how the rules will be set for such a site.  They will have to find a consensus upon the contributors, somehow.  This is why I previously stated such a site is a risk to SolidWorks Corp.  How would they handle content if they do not own that content?  Also, how do they prevent bias from interferring with the content that is provided?

Where to Start

Maybe to start, SolidWorks Corp can set up a simple RSS feed page that links to the major SolidWorks blogs.  It should still be easy to use and in a format that can be easily referenced and provided to non-power users.  These qualities will allow a dynamic area that will benefit the power user and also provide value to others.

Other Solutions Needed As Well

Something that may be just as effective for the average user is an effort to work on the improvement of the documentation provided by SolidWorks Corp for its software.  Why must a user come online in order to find a tutorial and how-to guide for basic functions?  The information provided on some of the technical blogs should already be apart of the manual provided by SolidWorks Corp for its SolidWorks software. 

Discussion to Continue

So, that’s my thoughts about this at this moment.  I welcome other ideas, points and counterpoints.   If ideas come up that have merit, I will likely adjust my own input about this matter.  I’ve set this article as second in a series of article that will likely continue, called “Future SW Community”.  Let see where this discussion leads.


One additional point on a sidenote:  We need printed manuals!  At the very least, I feel there needs to be printed CAD Administrators manual that allows CAD Administrators and power users to have access to detailed information in offline settings for study and research.

That Kindling in my Heart

I must confess.  Up until just very recently, I considered Amazon’s Kindle to be a bit of a joke.  Think about it. Who wants to get a device whose only purpose is to read books?!  Well, I may have been wrong about this little gadget.

This is a feature packed tool that looks to be a serious attempt at moving books into the electronic realm without strapping the reader in front of a computer screen.  That said, I’ll reserve further comment about this gadget until I’ve actually tried one  Of course, this is where the first problem arises.  It’s a $400 gadget.  So the decision to buy it may be delayed by my willingness to pay that kind of price for a book reader.  However, even at that price, I am now tempted.

Why am I talking about the Kindle on a SolidWorks related blog?  Well, I recently came up with the idea (jokingly) to put the SolidWorks manual on the Kindle device in a sarcastic comment criticizing SolidWorks’ lack of printed manuals.  However, after looking into the gadget, and reading Matt Lombard’s insightful insider comments regarding this matter, I’m changing my consideration.  I seriously think it is a good idea, at least in principle.

If I do get this device, I will post a review.