Four Radical Ways to Improve Communication at Sun

At Sun, employees deal with information overload on a daily basis; many of us receiving in excess of a hundred new messages a day. Improving how we deal with this flood of information will require changing the way we think about intra-company communication. Here are four ideas to get us started.

1. Disband the email aliases.

Once upon a time aliases may have been a good idea, but in 2005 superior platforms exist for announcements, articles and group discussions. Reading email at Sun is like drinking from a firehose, and a noisy inbox is a distraction from our work and bad for Sun's bottom line. Ultimately, better options exist to do mass communication than spamming ourselves.

2. Syndicate our information.

At any given time in a company of Sun's size, a large number of important things need to be communicated to a large number of people. How do you get the right messages in front of the right people? The options are:

  1. Send a mass email. Disadvantage: It's less than ideal and it's killing the email system (see above).
  2. Publish it to an intranet website or tool. Disadvantage: Keeping track of all the different intranet websites and tools is a terrible thing to have to do.
  3. Hold a series of meetings. Disadvantage: Meetings are transient, disruptive and expensive, and full attendance is not feasible.

Syndication is an option for getting information in front of people that can either complement or supplement these other methods. It's as much a concept as a technology. On a micro level, it simply means that our tools publish and consume information in a standardized way. On a macro level it means that I can subscribe and organize my feeds in a way that suits my interests. This is important because it's driven by my interests rather than whomever happens to be sending an email, publishing a web page or holding a meeting. The interests of individual employees driving a company's success? What an outrageous idea!

3. Embrace team blogging.

A lot of our internal email usage approximates blogging. Why not move en-masse to an actual blogging platform? We'll get the benefit of a built-in comment system, the ability to plug into a feed aggregator (syndication), the ability to archive, tag, search, link and trackback posts. In addition, we'll benefit from the global information sharing culture that blogging creates.

4. Send email directly to, and only to, those who need it.

Someone who isn't a direct recipient (i.e. not in the TO: field) of an email ought to be able to safely ignore the entire message. This practice makes email more impactful and focused as a communication tool. It also allows modern email clients to highlight direct emails so the user can see at-a-glance which items need action.


Good post. I totally agree with you and would like see much more of our internal communications move to blogs. What are the barriers to this? In particular, are there key features missing from Roller? We need tagging, because single category per post is too limiting. How important are access controls at the blog level? The blog entry level? Other ideas?

Posted by Dave Johnson on November 17, 2005 at 11:11 AM MST #

Seductive, but.... Too many of the alternatives are "pull" technologies, which depend on the intended recipients doing the right thing. If I control a list, I control who gets the messages sent to that list. I'm pretty sure that a group blog, or Atom syndication, isn't going to replace the smi-directors alias.

Over the years there have been repeated calls for people to abandon the big mailing lists and use Netnews instead. It never happened (and not just because SunIT didn't understand how, or couldn't afford, to set up the infrastructure. It's the universal inbox issue. We have to use email for some things anyway; it's much more convenient to use it for as much as possible.

Group blogs are great - but don't kid yourself about how much email will be reduced.

Posted by Geoff Arnold on November 17, 2005 at 02:16 PM MST #

FInally found someone else in Sun who agrees email aliases are bad idea. Whenever I suggest disbanding them around here it's like people think it's the collapse of the Roman empire and the vizigoths are coming over the hill....

We use a collaboration server (forum/bulletin board) in our team, based on javaBB. Big rules are :

1. No email attachments
2. No aliases
3. If you get an answer on a tough question, write up the solution so every benefits.

Results? Patchy, because the \^&\*\^&\* aliases are still available and people are lazy $$%\^$%\^-ers. ;-)

Posted by Drew on November 17, 2005 at 11:41 PM MST #

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My name is Greg Reimer and I'm a web technologist for the Sun.COM web design team.


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