AMIS celebrates the 10th anniversary of the Technology Blog

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imageIn July 2014, the AMIS Technology Blog has been live for ten years. A decade of sharing knowledge, opinions, research results and reviews. Ten years of community service – driven by enthusiasm, knowledge and fun.

Counted among the most visible and valuable resources on Oracle technology today, the AMIS Technology Blog was first launched in July 2004. Using the then relatively new blogging tool WordPress on a small Linux server under a desk somewhere in our office, we started the blog as a way to share our findings with the technology we used and loved. The blog articles range from strategic analysis, how-to tips, installation instructions and advanced research findings. We also have a number of fun stories where we do things with technology because we can – not necessarily because they are meaningful.

Our initial goal was to share research results and knowledge among all people working at AMIS. Shortly after that, we decided to make the Blog public – available to all on the Internet. Since Google and other search engines found us, we have seen a growing number of visitors, commenters and authors. Of course this response and all feedback has motivated us even more to write articles and publish our opinions, findings and ideas.

That first year resulted in 450 articles and over 70,000 distinct visitors, with a peak of 2,5k post reads on a single day. Today, as we celebrate a decade of blogging, we have an average of 5000 different visitors per day – with peaks at over 10k per day. The blog has a library of close to 2500 articles, written by almost 100 different authors. June 2014 was the most productive month in the history of our blog, with 54 new articles.

Through the blog we have made friends around the world. The brand AMIS was established, associated with deep knowledge and generous sharing of it. With visitors from 197 countries, we will find friends at any international conference we visit. In the 10 years of the blog’s existence, AMIS staff have been awarded four Oracle ACE Director nominations and three Oracle ACE awards – an important acknowledgement of the contribution the blog makes to the worldwide community. Note that one of the highest densities of visitors of our blog is found in Redwood Shores, the location of Oracle HQ.

Motivation

Our original reason for starting the blog was to build a collective memory for technical tricks, research results and other reusable ideas and resources. For ourselves and for our colleagues. We spent so much time on trying out new software and finding solutions for technical challenges that we wanted to have a way to record and share our findings. Riding the latest wave of technology at that time, a blog seemed the best mechanism for this.

Shortly after the launch of the blog, with mainly private articles written in Dutch for our own internal consumption, we started to drift towards a somewhat different approach: share our content with the entire world. This meant writing in English and making the articles public. This raised the bar a little: the requirements for a public article are after all somewhat higher than for an internal piece and with English not being our native language, having to write the text in English introduced an additional challenge.

Note that there was no careful planning behind this. No long term vision or commercial motive. It seemed more fun, to write for a wider audience and to engage in the community at large. There was typically no Dutch element to the content we published and therefore our articles were relevant throughout the world and not just locally. So why not share it in a way that made it accessible to the world. From the rapidly growing numbers of visitors and post reads as well as the many comments we received, it is safe to conclude that we struck a chord with the community.

Sometimes people ask us why we give away so much content for free. Many organizations have an entirely opposite strategy, of keeping information to themselves as much as possible. Don’t we help our competitors in this way? The answer to these questions is somewhat multifaceted. First of all, we do not lose anything by sharing our knowledge. We still have it – it can easily be multiplied.

By writing down what we know, our own knowledge improves. In order to explain what you know, you have to achieve a higher level of understanding. So writing a blog article to tell others about our findings, is also a way of learning even more ourselves. Often our articles are the catalyst for conversations at AMIS or with community members or Oracle product managers. The article is not the finale but frequently an intermediate step from which more activities and exchanges are triggered.

So many times, during our daily jobs, do we benefit from the work of others. Google is our best friend, as we develop software, install infrastructures or design architectures. Leveraging articles from our peers around the world allows us to work smarter. It is only fair to give as we receive.

Not necessarily one of the original objectives, the blog has nevertheless been extremely important in building the brand AMIS. Around the world, we are recognized as one of the global specialists in Oracle technology – and the blog is the primary reason for this. AMIS staff is frequently recognized when they travel to international customer engagements, attend training or present at conferences. Usually this is because of the articles they have published on the blog. As a very nice bonus, the blog has resulted in quite a few collaborations with international partners. AMIS staff have worked on all continents on engagements springing from blog-related conversations, so there is even some commercial gain as well. Making international friends however is far more rewarding.

Quite rewarding as well is the experience of publishing an article and having it read 500 times before the day is over and more than a thousand times in the first week of its publication. Compared to articles in paper magazines, the feedback in terms of numbers of readers and sometimes comments as well, is almost instantaneous and tangible. The knowledge that thousands or even tens of thousands people have read your article is almost exhilarating.

Our original motive still stands by the way: we use our own blog as a repository of our own collective experience. Many AMIS consultants can be seen to check with the AMIS Technology Blog, to make use of the work published by colleagues or even by themselves – just like many other technical specialists benefit from the blog.

Investigating new technology, finding better usage for existing technology and telling anyone who will listen about the results of these activities is so engrained in the culture of AMIS that the blog was inevitable. Or at least a channel to vent to the world what we know, what we do and what we want to others to get excited about. It is part of our company’s DNA. Maybe that is the ultimate motive for having the blog.

History

When we first started discussing a way to publish our work, back in 2004, we had two important local sources of inspiration. First of all Andrej Koelewijn – who ran one of the first blogs in the area of Oracle (as early as 2003). The other was the “Whitebooks” from Whitehorses – a monthly publication of technical content – in Dutch – produced at company level with contributions from various staff members (started in 2002). Our own ambition spiced by these two examples resulted in a blog in English that was a collaboration between all technical specialists at AMIS.

Two colleagues, Zeger Hendrikse and Wouter van Reeven, did a lot of the groundwork for the blog: selecting the blog technology, experimenting with configuration, authoring the first articles and evangelizing the blog within AMIS. This resulted in a rapid growth of our article catalog – several hundreds of articles in first few months. This made readers notice us and bookmark us and it also drew the attention from Google and other search engines.

In just over a year, we passed the 500,000 article reads marker. In 2007, we crossed the 500k unique visitors line and around 2010 we had had over 10 Million article reads. Even more impressive perhaps is the number of different authors that contributed to the blog: over 85 different authors have published articles on the blog, more than one in every three employees working at AMIS over that period of time.

Getting so many colleagues to make contributions is no easy feat – as many organizations who have tried something similar as the AMIS blog can testify. Our main challenge is to convince our own staff that they will do things every day that are worth blogging. Not every article will contain a sweeping statement or the discovery of the century. However, every piece of information that would have been helpful to you if you could have found it on the internet but did not, is potentially ‘bloggable’. Any set of steps required to install and configure a piece of software, any SQL statement or Java snippet that does something non trivial and reusable, any feature you-could not-find-but-in-the-end-did is something of value to yourself, your colleagues and your peers around the world. So share it! Fortunately, many colleagues have taken this to heart and have made the effort (sometimes a considerable effort) to put their thoughts and findings into words. Our blog is a product of the collective – something we are quite proud of.

imageThe blog went through several incarnations. Some of those are now almost offensive to the eye. The current look and feel is the result of a major make over in the Spring 2014. The blog has acquired a new look and feel. We think it is modern, more magazine-like, colorful and visually attractive. There is abundant social media integration, easier commenting and we now use tags instead of categorization to classify the articles. As a result of this make over, visitor numbers have increased and the level of interaction between authors and readers have gone up again.

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Through the years, the AMIS Technology Blog has been referenced many times, from other blogs, tutorials, the OTN home page, aggregation sites (some shamelessly copy the entire contents of articles) and in forum threads on the Oracle Technology Network, StackOverflow and other forums. Articles have been reposted on various sites, including Oracle Blogs, DZone and Glassfish Aquarium as well as a number of somewhat shady sites.

The AMIS blog is driven by our enthusiasm. However, we are not blind. Some of our articles can be realistic to a degree that some parties perceive as critical. That neutrality is important to us. Sure, we work together with Oracle Corporation. That does not mean however we applaud everything Oracle does. We do try to be constructive in our criticism. That is recognized and respected. In close to 2500 articles, we have retracted one single article. This article – from many years ago – described research results regarding Oracle RAC, showing that scaling beyond three nodes would cause performance degradation because of heavy inter-node traffic. Oracle did not appreciate this article and unfortunately, we did not have official access to the underlying research results (that the author had gathered while working for a previous employer). For this reason, we decided to pull the article. Despite other suggestions we rephrase or retract articles, it has never happened again.

Early in 2014, we had another novelty: a guest writer. Vivek Acharya published an article on Oracle BPM Suite, as our first guest writer. We do get frequent requests from wannabe authors, but frequently these are commercially motivated and in subject areas that do not fit in with the scope of our blog.

Last month – June 2014 – was another milestone in the history of our blog: 54 new articles were published in one month, many of those relating to the 12c release of Oracle SOA Suite and BPM Suite. This avalanche of articles – prepared as part of our participation in the beta program – was a novel way of exploiting the blog in order to highlight this important product release.

Numbers

2004 was a different era than the world today. Less than 25% of the visitors used Firefox and Chrome did not even exist. Netscape was still around. Bookmarks and RSS feeds were the premier way for people to keep track of what was going on – there was no such thing as Twitter and Google was nowhere near the dominance it has today. The number of blogs was much smaller than today: we had fairly little competition when we started out.

The first few weeks, all page hits we received were visits by ourselves. Gradually however, as we started to refer to our own articles from OTN Forum discussions we started to see an increase in traffic. And because Google was pretty good at crawling our weblog, it did not take very long for our articles to be returned in searches on popular search terms: Oracle, Java, HTML, XML, XSLT, Struts, JavaScript, EJB and SQL.

Our first real peak in the blog-traffic occurred on 15th October 2004, when for the first time a link to the AMIS Technology Blog was published on the OTN Home page – resulting in 7000 more-than-normal page visits in two days.

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Although the numbers have never been a very important goal, we have of course kept an eye on the blog statistics. It is nice to be noticed – and the numbers were quite satisfying from early on. We found out that in the early days – when we had a fair number of subscribers and RSS feed followers – it was best to publish articles on Tuesday afternoon, 3PM CET. At that time, apparently, most people would take a quick look on the new article. Today, most of our traffic comes from search engines, so this strategy is not very meaningful any longer. Only clicks-through from Twitter still adhere to this pattern.

We also found out that the articles that were read most frequently were those with titles such as “Getting started with…”, “An introduction to…”, “First impressions of …”, “A dummy’s guide for …” and “First steps with …”. General topics – such as Java, HTML, XML, Linux, Virtual Machine configuration – attract more readers than advanced topics and specialty subjects.

The all-time best read article on the AMIS blog is an golden oldie: Starting with Jasper Reports (2005) by Gregory Beumer with over 200k reads. We have a yearly peak in the Fall: during Oracle OpenWorld and JavaOne. We typically attend these conferences with a large team – who will all be blogging about the conference. For example in 2012, this resulted in 23 blog posts.

Our readers are spread around the world. Ever since we started to publish our articles in English, we have seen most visitors from the USA, followed by India and UK. The Netherlands typically ranks as the fifth country in terms of number of visitors, which includes many AMIS staff who use their own and their colleagues’ articles in their daily work.

The next figure visualizes the number of visitors by city over the last few years. Peak traffic originated in Bangalore and Hyderabad in India, London (UK) and Redwood Shores (USA).

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Future

This ten year milestone is a somewhat artificial one: we do not intend to stop or make any major changes in the way we publish articles on our blog. It is nice to reflect a little and commemorate the past decade and hear the very nice words from some of our friends from around the world. And then we move on. Publishing articles as we explore new and existing technologies, architectures and methodologies.

 

Resources

The all-time best read article on the AMIS blog: Starting with Jasper Reports (2005) by Gregory Beumer: http://technology.amis.nl/2005/01/20/starting-with-jasperreports/ with over 200k reads.

AMIS Blog article on the first six months of the AMIS blog and the visitor statistics: http://technology.amis.nl/2005/01/06/amis-technology-weblog-statistics-graphics-and-becoming-an-author-blogger/

AMIS Blog article marking the 500,000 visitor milestone (after just one year): http://technology.amis.nl/2005/08/13/amis-weblog-crosses-the-500000-marker-half-a-million-post-reads-in-just-over-a-year/

AMIS blog article summarizing the year 2007 in blog visitors and page reads: http://technology.amis.nl/2008/01/01/amis-technology-weblog-in-2007-1-article-antons-solve-sudoku-in-sql-438053-different-visitors-usa-and-india-on-top-877504-page-views-67-new-visits/

Analysis of browser usage among AMIS Technology visitors in February 2005 – http://technology.amis.nl/2005/02/18/firefox-on-the-march-29-browser-statistics-from-the-amis-technology-weblob/

Guest post by Vivek Acharya – http://technology.amis.nl/2014/01/29/custom-escalation-in-oracle-bpm-suite-11g-guest-post-by-vivek-acharya/

Repost of article from AMIS Technology Blog on Oracle Blogs: https://blogs.oracle.com/cloud/entry/the_apex_of_business_value

History of WordPress – https://wordpress.org/about/history/chapter3.pdf

Andrej Koelewijn’s blog – one of the inspirations for the AMIS Technology Blog: http://www.andrejkoelewijn.com/blog/

WhiteBooks collection by WhiteHorses – http://www.whitehorses.nl/whitebooks

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About Author

Lucas Jellema, active in IT (and with Oracle) since 1994. Oracle ACE Director for Fusion Middleware. Consultant, trainer and instructor on diverse areas including Oracle Database (SQL & PLSQL), Service Oriented Architecture, BPM, ADF, Java in various shapes and forms and many other things. Author of the Oracle Press book: Oracle SOA Suite 11g Handbook. Frequent presenter on conferences such as JavaOne, Oracle OpenWorld, ODTUG Kaleidoscope, Devoxx and OBUG. Presenter for Oracle University Celebrity specials.

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