Spiceworld 2018 Shows the Astounding Power of Community

The annual SpiceWorld event in Austin, Texas, get its juice from energized IT pros.

Once upon a time, a long time ago (circa 1993-1994), I filled a job at Novell wherein I was responsible for technical content for trade shows and the BrainShare Developer conference (8-to-10 of the former, and 2 of the latter). That experience changed my attitude toward trade shows forever.


Ever since I left that job in May 1994, my policy toward trade shows has been, "I don't go, unless somebody else pays me to." For me, SpiceWorld is the exception that proves the rule. It's such a powerful and positive experience that I am happy to attend without being paid for my time or travel.


Fortunately for me, SpiceWorld happens in Austin, so it's only a 25-to-45 minute drive to get there each way (depending on traffic). But wow! It is so much fun and so educational to spend two and half very full days with that crowd, that it reminds me of how much power an enthusiastic and motivated group of IT professionals can wield.


The Spiceworks Story, in a (Very Small) Nutshell


Spiceworks is a kind of self-help community for IT professionals that does its thing through a pretty impressive website. The company's been around since 2006, and they were founded on the proposition that IT people would tolerate well-chosen, minimally intrusive advertisements for access to a peer-professional forum where community members could learn from each other (as well as from the sponsors and advertisers, where appropriate).


SpiceWorld 2018 was the 11th such event and, because it's annual, I can safely deduce that the first one must have occurred in 2008. Over the years, Spiceworks has increased its forums and coverage, and made it possible for large numbers of IT pros to interact and exchange info.


Though they started out offering a free (vendor-funded) network inventory, management, help desk, and troubleshooting software environment to members as well — they still do, in fact — the Spiceworks community has proved to be its most important and valuable asset.


How important and valuable? Enough so to attract around 7 million users as of this month. Until a couple of years ago, Spiceworks required members to run and install their software to qualify for membership. No longer, however — these days, anybody can join the site who wants to.


Spiceworks has often been described as "social media for IT professionals." And indeed, that seems to be its core source of value and interest to all parties nowadays. The company has received over $113 million in venture funding over the years, and remains very much a going concern.


I have to believe an IPO lies somewhere in its future. Apparently, it just keeps getting better at doing what it does.


What About That Community?


On the face of it, SpiceWorld looks like just another small-end tradeshow. Around 2,000 participants, two full days of content, with two 1-hour keynotes each day, and four technical sessions around those keynotes (six or eight tracks wide). Light breakfast and lunch is included for all attendees, and it's usually one or two steps above "rubber chicken with cardboard potatoes." There's a small tradeshow booth area, with about 70 vendors showing their wares.


The annual SpiceWorld event in Austin, Texas, get its juice from energized IT pros.

The energy level, however, is off the scale. I was involved in NetWorld for a couple of years before it became "NetWorld + Interop" in 1993. Then I was on the Interop program committee from 1994 until 2000 (2001 actually, but the show was cancelled because it started on Sept. 12, with Sept. 11 as the travel day).


I've been to at least 100 trade shows altogether, and this one's completely in a class by itself. That's probably why I've been going to the show since 2013, and have looked very much forward to attending each and every instance.


One more thing: I've never left the show without learning about at least a half-dozen new (to me, anyway) products or services that I've subsequently used myself and/or recommended to others.


That the Spiceworks community is incredible is obvious as soon as you get into the preshow events the day before things get going. A sizable number of people have attended all 11 of the shows since they got started. I've seen some of the same press folks at all of the past five I've attended myself.


It's a great combination of family and high school reunion, where for some blessed reason only the cool, fun people show up. When the SpiceHeads get together, however, that's when the real fun begins. SpiceHeads is what regular forum participants call themselves, with levels of "spiciness" ranging from Pimiento all the way to Ghost Pepper and Pure Capsaicin, of which pinnacle category there are 11 in the whole world.


These folks love to wrestle with IT problems, to help IT pros find the best products and platforms, and to cuss and discuss (this is a Texas conference, after all) until well after the cows come home and the moon comes out to play.


For Windows 10 information, I'd put Spiceworks on par with TenForums (a site to which I contribute daily, to the tune of 6 or 7 posts a day, on average). To give you some idea of Capsaicin levels of activity, most of these folks post upwards of 25 posts a day, and most have hundreds to thousands of "best answers" (a community metric for the best or most useful answer to frequently-asked or -duplicated questions).


But there's so much more going on at Spiceworks than just Windows 10. They also cover most aspects of networking, Windows and other server architectures, MacOS and Linux on the desktop, cloud computing, and a whole lot more. If you work in IT, and might appreciate the chance to interact with, learn from, and possibly even help out your peers, please check out this vibrant and active community at community.spiceworks.com.


Trust me: You'll be glad you did.


Would you like more insight into the history of hacking? Check out Calvin's other articles about historical hackery:
About the Author

Ed Tittel is a 30-plus-year computer industry veteran who's worked as a software developer, technical marketer, consultant, author, and researcher. Author of many books and articles, Ed also writes on certification topics for Tech Target, ComputerWorld and Win10.Guru. Check out his website at www.edtittel.com, where he also blogs daily on Windows 10 and 11 topics.