Monday, May 26, 2008

Travelling, sunshine, Skype and precious volunteers

The people who know me well are aware that I am not a beach bum and / or sun worshipper.
Of course I love sunshine, it is full of vitamins, brings people in good moods and adds a lot to the outdoor life.
But you will not see me in Spain nor in Australia during the Summer. Been there done that.
Spain is beautiful but too hot and too crowdie. I already live amongst 16.000.000 people in Holland and I am happy to escape for a while from so many neighbours!

Australia is absolutely beautiful. I travelled thousands of miles by car and train, visited a farm in the middle of literally nowhere, met great people, ate lovely food, even liked being hit by a Kangaroo but did not like the hot temperatures.
No, I prefer the Northern Countries like Northern England, Scotland, Scandinavia. I lived in Sweden for a short while and am looking forward to explore Estonia one day.

Up till now I did not go any further then Tallinn where I stay one week each month working from Skype’s office. But from what I see from Estonia looking down from the plane, I would love to spend time in the countryside.Tjep and I are planning a long weekend somewhere this year (don’t know when because we have a full list of what we would like to visit this year….)

Travelling to Tallinn is a real challenge. I prefer to leave Amsterdam airport on the Sunday evening because a) there are no or hardly any traffic jams on the Dutch road, b) I can be in the office early on Monday morning and c) even with an extra night in the Hotel it is cheaper.
Very seldom flights leave on time, either to or from Tallinn.I fly with KLM (excellent service!) City hopper though for very diverse reasons, there are always delays.
2 Months back we could no leave Tallinn due to leaking brakes and needed to spend an extra night in a Hotel.
We were told so when sitting in the bus to the platform where the plane was waiting.

1 Month ago, again sitting in the bus, we were again told there was a technical problem. “Oh no, not me again” was my first reaction. But fortunately they had a spare plane and one hour later we were in the air.
Yesterday though went as smoothly as possible; we left on schedule, arrived 2 hours later and half an hour later I was in my Hotel.

The weather in Tallinn is lovely; bleu sky, sunshine and happy Skypers around me.It is great to work with so many talented people who are also of diverse nationalities. Skype does not only connect people all over the world but people from all over the world are connected at the office by working together.

I am also proud to witness Tallinn transferring into a buzzing city. Flats and apartments are restored, new companies and buildings providing people with work and technology.In many ways Tallinn is far ahead of technology comparing to many other modern parts of the world. I already wrote about this in 2006 and 2007.
I feel extremely proud to work for one of those innovating companies! My work as Head of Communities and Forum Operations is a challenge on its own. Working with great people for great people is special and I am learning every minute of the day.

People always fascinated me. Skype users are a lovely mix of people all over the world, with colourful backgrounds, all individuals with their own experience, hobbies, interests, knowledge and so much more. Happy people who see life as a challenge, conquering problems turning them into positive energy.
Sad people who are affected by the sad things that happened to them in life. Using their bad experiences to attack others to feel good, to hide their own misery.
Quiet people with soft gentle characters, easily forgotten because they are hardly heard. People who shout to be heard or to hide their boring life or insecure feelings. But all are human beings and even the worst human being must have a soft spot somewhere for something or someone. All these people represent the valuable Skype users. Skype does connect people, it helps shy people to escape from an isolated life, lonely people to find friends or lost family members, to do business, to chat to friends scattered all over the world or even next door. It gives loved ones the opportunity to talk and see each other when they are separated for what ever reason.
Skype inspires people to blog and here as well you sense what drives people in life as described above. I am subscribed to many personal blogs and to Google which updates me as soon as Skype is popping up somewhere on the Internet.

Skype’s Community is also a colourful collection of all these people and they come for various reasons to the Community. Though the main reason is Support. There are various forms of Support. Like I mentioned in my previous post, the Community is not an OFFICIAL way of Support. With official I mean that the Customer Support department would monitor the Community for issues. This would be a very insufficient way to provide official support. Monitoring (read looking for issues) would be time consuming. Precious time that now is used to reply to tickets. One to one conversations wouldn’t be possible because people post / discuss in topics (threads), messages would get lost. Private information would be exposed which is the worst nightmare of every user. Support would not be able to ask for payment details etc. Sure, you could use the PM function but again, this would be extremely time consuming. I do not talk about the regular 1600 – 1800 new forum subscribers per week but about 5000 – 6000 support request forms (questions like "what is the large green button with the telephone icon for" till "my payment did not go through") per week via the ticket official ticket system.
The Community, and I repeat again is for, with and about users. It has been like this since the very beginning in 2004.

Maybe it is helpful to introduce to you the various levels of volunteering helpers.
Apart from the two Admin’s Raul and I and those who use a Staff badge in the Community (all staff badges are bleu) all other people are Volunteers. The Moderators are users like you and me who find a great pleasure to help out when and where ever they can. They spend and this is their own free will, many hours per week to monitor the Community. To guide the users in the right direction, to delete SPAM, to edit posts where the user does not keep to the guidelines, to move posts to the correct sub forums, they use Skype Multi Chat to discuss issues on the Forum and to help and advise each other. They are a wonderful and cheerful group of people who are part of my responsibility and who I see (and this I say with great pride) as colleagues. Beside the Moderator job they also provide help to users. Help in trying to solve common and technical issues by giving information or asking questions to find the source of the problems.
Where help from Skype Support is needed, they advise the user to submit a ticket and when this is not solving the problem (no replies to tickets for whatever reason – the user did not follow the correct ticket procedure, the user didn’t enclose the correct username / e-mail address or the ticket got lost, not an excuse though!!!) Moderators have access to Skype Staff to report, discuss and solve these issues. They signed an NDA (Non Disclosure Agreement) and are well trusted people.

Other Volunteers are the SuperUsers. Since the very beginning of the Community (Forum), users are helping users. These users are daily users (private or business) and Skype Beta testers (also Volunteers) who find a simple joy in sharing their knowledge with others. Users, who spend much time in the Community by helping out, receive a SuperUser badge for life by the Admin’s to express that their positive input is acknowledged and much appreciated. SuperUser are also involved in Skype chats with Moderators and Admin’s to discuss matters, express their feelings about what ever Community related subject and for help.
Sometimes SuperUsers are asked to be become a Moderator and sometimes Moderators become Staff members.

“Volunteer” in not just a word in the Skype Community. Someone being a Volunteer by joining our community to find joy in helping out (99,99 % of the Volunteers logged on for the very first time with a question) is seen as someone being very special. Sharing your knowledge on a volunteer base, spending time on the Community, maintaining the guidelines, helping out where possible, maintaining a positive outlook on other users, not attacking people but truly contributing positively, is a most valuable, precious characterfull thing to do. The SuperUser and Moderator badges are highlighting this but can’t express the true feelings we have for the effort of these Volunteers.

Highlighting their efforts in a blog post and spelling it with a capital V will help but still can’t express what they really do.
Thus a HUGE HURRAY for those great, great people!! Guys and Gals, you are Super people!!! May the whole world know of you!!

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