Open or Closed Discussions?

Here is a scenario and discussion that comes up with monotonous regularity on the technical aliases in Sun.

It starts with a question to one of the internal aliases that we have for discussions that are not appropriate for the equivalent aliases on the opensolaris.org site. These aliases were intended for “confidential” discussions, typically where sensitive customer information is in the question.

So hypothetically we have a confidential alias to discuss the fitting and maintenance of gears to bicycles confidential-bicycle-gear-interest@sun.com. There is also a bicycle-gear-interest@opensolaris.org alias. The intention is that when you have a question from a customer that is of a sensitive nature it would go to the confidential alias otherwise it goes to the external alias.

What happens next is that a question is posted to confidential-bicycle-gear-interest@sun.com that contains nothing that is obviously confidential. The response, usually from someone who does not deal directly with customers is “Why did you not post this to bicycle-gear-interest@opensolaris.org”. To which the reply comes back, “The question came from a customer and I don't want the customer to see the same question appear on opensolaris.org”. The discussion then descends into a war of attrition that is not quite as bad as “vi v emacs” or “korn shell v c shell” discussions but is more vociferous than “Shimano v Campagnolo” (mainly as cyclists will tend to stick together)1.

I can see two reasons for the “inappropriate” use of the internal aliases:

  1. The engineer does not want to expose themselves to the whole planet.

  2. The engineer is not certain that reaction of the customer would be if they saw their own question bouncing around externally, even if it by then contained no confidential information.

Point 1 is interesting as there are potential privacy issues. However since I clearly don't fall into that camp I won't comment further. If you do fall into that camp then email me to discuss or comment anonymously on this entry.

It is point 2 that I feel is not well understood. Returning to my hypothetical example:

Suppose a customer sees a commercial advantage to fitting Oval chain rings to the bikes they make so call up and ask what the implications would be for such a venture with respect to the bicycle gears. Does the engineer have the right to ask that question in the open? I say that they do not. If they did then this could potentially tip off a competitor that someone was thinking about the problem. Now should the engineer make a value call on every issue?

If the customer had been happy for the question to be asked in a public forum then they could have done this. If they wanted anonymity there are plenty of web email accounts that could be used to post. The fact that they chose to contact Sun as a commercial organisation either as part of the sales cycle or as part of a support contract means we have to respect that confidentiality 2.

On the being open or closed, I have pondered hard on whether this entry should be open or closed. If my blog goes very quiet in the next few days I guess it should have been closed!


1 The right answers are: vi, korn shell & Campagnolo;-)

2None of this is written from a legal perspective as I am not a Lawer. I don't know if we have a legal requirement to be confidential, I think we have a moral requirement which in my book makes it just as strong.

Comments:

I agree with you. Opening Solaris should not imply opening Sun.

Posted by Ceri Davies on May 02, 2007 at 05:53 AM BST #

vim >> emacs > vi

Posted by Lewis on May 02, 2007 at 12:13 PM BST #

[Trackback] Chris recently blogged on Open or Closed Discussions? - his comments on how Sun people use mail aliases (massively) and in particular whether these discussions should be open (eg on OpenSolaris forums) or closed (internal aliases). Essentially I b...

Posted by Peter Harvey's blog on May 03, 2007 at 10:08 AM BST #

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This is the old blog of Chris Gerhard. It has mostly moved to http://chrisgerhard.wordpress.com

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