Recently, I traveled to New Orleans for a week of Sitecore knowledge and networking. This year both the Sitecore MVP Summit and SUGCON NA (1st time – thanks Akshay Sura and Mike Reynolds for organizing) were being held in New Orleans. Thankfully the timing of the events worked and I was able (and fortunate enough) to attend both events.
First up was the Sitecore MVP Summit. This event had an amazing assortment of who’s who in the Sitecore community and as I first timer of the event it felt amazing to be grouped in with such a talented pool of people. Of course, much like Fight Club, there are rules at the MVP Summit. The first rule of the MVP summit is that you do not talk about the content from the MVP Summit. The 2nd rule of the MVP Summit is you do not talk about content from the MVP Summit. While this is not entirely true, I’ll say 95% of what was talked about during the Summit is not for public consumption. Sorry! With that said here is what I will say. Sitecore’s roadmap is on the right track and I think all will be very pleased with the direction that Sitecore is taking. I feel Sitecore is addressing pain points while moving forward in many positive directions.
Next up was SUGCON North America. This was the first time the event was ever held and I must start off this by praising Akshay Sura and Mike Reynolds for boldly diving inand getting this event kicked off (and for organizing it too). It was a sold out event and I expect it to become a reoccurring event in the future (Rumor: It will alternate years with Symposium).
SUGCON Sessions attended:
A Crash course in xDb (Todd Mitchell)
This crash course covered a lot of xDB concepts. Todd talked about how to handle external interactions such as phone calls, in person visits, etc. Todd stated that a lot of these external interactions can be imported in xDB. Todd also touched on support for external outcomes such as buying a ticket. He mentioned using the Outcome Manager API to capture these outcomes within xDB.
This session was one of my favorites but mainly because Lars chose Mathematica Policy Research as one of its victims, I mean volunteers. Lars and Chris went through 4 different websites and explained ways that they could leverage xDB to utilize experience marketing more effectively. I really want to credit the SBOS team for spending the time to investigate Mathematica Policy Research’s website. I know there were a lot of take away from all the examples, but here are a few. Start deciding on profile cards for your content. Profiling visitors really starts with tagging content into appropriate channels using Profile Cards. Another takeaway is utilize the rules based engine to customize call to actions. There are a lot of things you can do using rules. Such as detecting traffic type, whether it’s the entry page, etc. When you pair this with good profile cards, you can really give the end user a great experience on your website.
Why organizations should pick Sitecore over WordPress to Blog (Christoph Trappe)
Christoph did a great job of telling us a story of why to choose Sitecore over WordPress for blogs. Of course would I expect any less from the Chief Storyteller! My takeaway from this session is that personalization is the main reason that Sitecore will be better in the long term. Utilizing the power of the xDB to personalize the surrounding blog post to truly engage the reader with content that is appropriate to them. Another take away for bloggers: Good Stories are relevant, educational, inspiring, include conflict, entertaining, and shared constantly. The key point from that last sentence was “Include conflict” – not every post should be about how awesome you are. Some of the best stories discuss one’s failures and how you overcame them. This is a point which I applied right away when I realized that I made a minor mistake in my last blog post. So I created a new blog post to discuss my face palm moment.
This session was extremely interesting. Mark did an amazing demo of machine learning with the help of Tim Braga’s Collette Travel website. Mark took the concept of genetic algorithms and applied it to personalization. Essentially he created logic that would use the genetic algorithm to calculate a personalized genome for each visitor. This genome would then dictate the user experience on the page. In the example the genome was made up of a variety of factors including continents, countries, and features that the user engaged in within the travel website. The more the site learned about the user, the better the experience got – without getting Skynet creepy.
FXM – Technical Deep Dive and Development Diary (StephenPope)
The pope made an appearance at SUGCON after treating the MVPs to a look at ASP.NET 5. This time the topic was on FXM. The federated experience manager is used to collect data on non-Sitecore websites. It can also be used to inject personalization into a non-Sitecore website. Stephen talked through an example of Pong Masters where main site was Sitecore but they also had a legacy ecommerce site built in PHP without the budget to move to Sitecore.
What’s under the hood in your Mongo Setup? (Sean Holmesby)
I wrapped up Day 1 by attending Sean’s session on MongoDB. As a Sitecore developer still on 7.1, I’ve had limited exposure to MongoDB so I wanted to see what information I could learn. One under the hood piece which I learned about was the Pluggable Store Engine. This is the interface between the database and disk. With MongoDB there are multiple options including MMAPv1, WiredTiger (cue sound effect), and In Memory option (not recommended). It sounded to me like WiredTiger is the future of xDB although Sean did have a few examples that may be better suited for MMAPv1. In my notes, I have it noted that MongoDB 3.0 (w/ WiredTiger) should increase performance by 7-10 times that of MongoDB 2.0. I believe MongoDB 3.0 is supported for Sitecore 8.0 update 5. I’d love to hear some feedback on 3.0 performance compared to 2.0.
I kicked off day 2 of SUGCON by attending Pieter’s Mobile session. Learned that more people have a mobile phone than toilets (priorities people!). Pieter did a great job of showing how once could argue that we are more connected today than we ever were by showing a 1940s picture of everyone riding the train reading newspapers. Hey at least with mobile we are connected with someone. The real point of the presentation was to point out that today’s focus must be on mobile and how to utilize Sitecore’s Mobile SDK to build a useful app using the same data as your website.
The last presentation that I was able to attend talked about implementing Sitecore within the limitations of “The Great Firewall of China”. There are a lot of things to consider – will the publishing agent work if CM is outside China; what about my share bar when Facebook and Twitter aren’t allowed; PII issues and so much more. Just be glad that you don’t have this issues to deal with as it sounds like a royal pain to implement.
***Flight cancelled so had to leave early***
Sadly, my flight got cancelled so I missed out on couple of other great presentations as I needed to catch an earlier flight.
In summary, the week in New Orleans was an amazing experience and well worth the investment to attend. The Sitecore community is truly an amazing group of all-stars that all genuinely want to help each other. I suggest following any of the MVPs on Twitter as a good starting point. I met with many great people which I will continue to keep in touch with via the community, twitter, etc. Thanks to all and I hope to be back next year!