Xamarin was founded in 2011. As the mobile devices and the app economy grew, so did the popularity of Xamarin. In 2013, when Xamarin 2.0 launched, it was possible to create native Android, iOS, and Windows app development in C# all in one place through their platform. What made this such a great development is now developers could re-use their existing C# code, and use it cross platform.
In 2016, Microsoft signed a definitive agreement to acquire Xamarin. The terms of the deal were not disclosed, however, the Wall Street Journal did report the price was between $400 million and $500 million. Today, Xamarin is fully integrated into Microsoft Visual Studio and is one of the most popular platforms for cross device app development.
To get a full understanding of the Xamarin community and how it grew up and evolved, Jayme Singleton–involved with Xamarin community since 2013–shared how in her view “building the community was central to Xamarin’s success”. Today she is the Business Operations Program Manager at Microsoft for the Global .NET and Xamarin Developer Community.
Jayme talked about the time before the transition to our platform. “Before Vanilla we were using a series of mailing lists. It was not a great community building experience, but back at that time this is how we used to communicate with our developers. We knew community would be an important part of our success, so we started to work on a transition.”
“Before Vanilla we were using a series of mailing lists. It was not a great community building experience.”
As many technical communities still rely on mailing lists, we asked Jayme how the transition was handled.
“I’ll be honest, it was a bit of a hurdle to try and get everyone to move over. We gave them plenty of time, double posting content on the mailing list and the forums. We knew we were changing their habits, but we moved slowly over a few months, so it wasn’t a total instant cut off.
We worked to hype up the new community with blogs and social media posts about the new platform. The goal was to get people as excited about the transition as we could. We made it very attractive by creating more useful content, that just worked better in a forum, as opposed to a mailing list. We also made sure that our whole team was active and engaged on the forums. Then community really quickly realized that the forums are a really active and engaged place to get answers, find resources, and be directly in touch with our engineering team.”
The Vanilla Solution
How did Xamarin end up on the Vanilla solution? As Jayme told us “Nat Friedman, Co-Founder of Xamarin, had chosen Vanilla. He was a big fan of forums in general and he was the one who actually introduced us to Vanilla.
“A couple of things made Vanilla appealing to us: we liked that it was open source and that Vanilla could be contracted for custom features but the main key feature for us was the ability to integrate the Vanilla solution into our single-sign on system. Another feature that was important to us, was the achievement system, including badges and a leaderboard. It was important in our community building that we could reward developers for their engagement and participation in our forums. Finally, because we have a WordPress hosted blog we found the Vanilla Commenting system very useful – when a blog article was published, a new discussion was created in the forum community and the comments from the blog post were mirrored in that thread, allowing us to continue the engagement.”
“The main key feature for us was the ability to integrate the Vanilla solution into our single-sign on system.”
In terms of success for Xamarin, especially in the early days, Vanilla was a central part of their MVP (Most Valuable People) program and overall product feedback. As Jayme noted “It also helped our engineers have direct engagement with the community. The community was readily available to the team as every single person at Xamarin had access to the forum as a team member.”
Jayme also noted the community forums help create a better product in the long term, “Engagement with our engineering team ended up being invaluable to both parties. Because the community truly felt open and able to go directly to the engineer of the product they were working with and say, ‘Hey, this is an issue I’m having’ or ‘this is something I would like to see in a future build.’ That type of feedback for the engineer made a world of difference by actualizing comments coming in directly from the community.
“We also noticed that active forum users were significantly more likely to be engaged with our tooling. Which I can easily say the Community Forums definitely helped build the community environment that Microsoft saw as appealing.”
Finally, we asked Jayme if there were any surprises they discovered when using the forums with Vanilla and she had a couple. The first, for her was Xamarin University. “We encouraged as many people as possible to become Xamarin Certified. We then added a category to the forums with special content for Xamarin University. People could see the category existed, but only access the content once enrolled. All the professors were in the forums so students had direct access to them as well. After this we noticed a big spike in participation when this was introduced into the forums because it gave the students and community members an opportunity to be more engaged than just homeschooling on their own. They now had a space to talk with their other classmates and professors. Today, that content is freely available for everyone to learn and access these resources.”
The other surprise Jayme said the Xamarin team saw was in feedback. Normally the concern for many is negative feedback, but as Jayme pointed out the forums allowed them to capture and action feedback directly. She noted:
“They would guide a lot of their complaints or any sort of opinion that they had to the forum. This was beneficial for us because we could capture it all in one place and address it very directly. It also avoided what could have become a potentially larger episode on Twitter or other social platforms. We tried hard to create an environment that our users and developers felt safe and could be open with us. At the same time it was a place where they could provide constructive feedback that helped us, as a company, grow.”
Lastly, the forum was able to assist Jayme with an early Xamarin influencer program. She would regularly scour the forums to identify key members who could become potential MVPs. As Jayme explained, “At the time of acquisition we had 75 members in our MVP program which were all migrated into the Microsoft MVP program. Today about 25 of those original Xamarin MVPs are now working here at Microsoft. It’s wonderful to think that their community engagement led us to identify them as employable people. It’s an initiative I was glad to be part of and I am really proud of those results.”
If want to check out the Xamarin community you can do so here.