Sunday Jan 31, 2010

The Wonders of Propaganda

How could I not read an article in USA Today with a headline like this? Psychologists: Propaganda works better than you think.

It's true, of course. I find propaganda is a remarkably effective tool, and it's far more sophisticated in democracies than it is in totalitarian societies (see Chomsky here and here and a million other places, and also see David Barstow's reports on the media and the Pentagon -- video, article, article -- for a well-known and recent example). But what I found most interesting in the USA Today piece was the assertion that accurate information may not counteract propaganda very well and actually could help transmit it. If that's true, would it make sense to be more assertive in communications to drive the agenda and then to ignore critics (or at least the vicious and extreme ones)? I suppose this strategy wouldn't necessarily work in all cases, and there are certainly some very effective techniques to deposition attackers. But just tossing out good information in a attempt to thwart the bad stuff may not be a good use of time. Having the good information well documented so you can rapidly point to it for those interested is required, of course, but it's the never-ending iterative arguing that I think I'm done with. I've been trying this for about a year now, and I find it more effective than my earlier pattern of responding to everything in an attempt to change minds. I gave up. Plus, it's not as exhausting.

Propaganda fascinates me. I keep track here:

Wednesday Jan 13, 2010

The Necessity of Making Mistakes

Nice article on the brain biology behind how scientists actually create science. Accept Defeat: The Neuroscience of Screwing Up. Recognizing anomalies, making mistakes, being challenged, and engaging in conversation are all critically important elements that make science work. Context and perspective matter greatly as well. Seems all very human to me. I`m not so much interested in the brain chemistry that influences behavior in science (you can see this in partisan politics as well), but what fascinates me more is the notion that with this awareness you can dig yourself out of the natural traps that catch most people, and that can lead to new opportunities that only a few generally see.

From the article:

Modern science is populated by expert insiders, schooled in narrow disciplines. Researchers have all studied the same thick textbooks, which make the world of fact seem settled. This led Kuhn, the philosopher of science, to argue that the only scientists capable of acknowledging the anomalies — and thus shifting paradigms and starting revolutions — are “either very young or very new to the field.” In other words, they are classic outsiders, naive and untenured. They aren’t inhibited from noticing the failures that point toward new possibilities.

The "acknowledging the anomalies" bit from Thomas Kuhn is key. It may enable you to jump paradigms or start revolutions, which is very cool, but in the process it also gets you a lot of knives buried deeply in your back. So acknowledge carefully. More than a few people have ended up dead challenging paradigms throughout the ages. Granted, the deaths are at the extreme, but why go through all that if it`s not necessary. Start small. Pick off what you can. Even though most people usually can't change the paradigms in which they live, they can change the small things in their world by recognizing and resolving anomalies that crop up every day. Then, hopefully, over time the small changes add up to big changes. And when you are focusing on this process, you are more apt to spot big paradigm shifts coming along and you can jump when the opportunity is right. So, don`t be afraid to poke around and change your position and screw up from time to time. Failure is important. It helps you succeed.

Thursday Oct 01, 2009

Extreme Communications

There is good reason why extremism thrives in American political discourse. It works. It really is that simple. Actually, it`s a remarkably effective rhetorical technique and has been so since the founding of the republic. Go back and read the early political debates -- or just take a good U.S. history class -- and you quickly learn that pretty much nothing has changed in hundreds of years of politicians bashing each other in public arenas. Never mind the political party. That`s always been irrelevant when it comes to this behavior. American politicians intentionally take serious issues -- freedom, war, health, money -- right to the edge. Why? To scare people. And, since they have real power over our lives, it works. We get scared. And then we don`t question too deeply. And if we do question, we really don`t do very much about it, right? Instead, over time we become passive and compliant.

The reason I think this way -- it`s just a gut observation, that`s all -- is that if you take away someone`s power to control your life then their propaganda sounds much less threatening. Oftentimes, they just sound silly. Their lack of credibility becomes obvious, and they are much more easily ignored. You can see distinctions in communications strategies when you look at other fields outside of the political/media complex. Many companies, for instance, have found that attacking competitors in public is counterproductive. Customers see right through it, and the practice becomes a demonstration of poor marketing. Also, when you build community, especially across language and cultural barriers, extremist language can easily and rapidly undermine your reputation. Now, the term community has many practical definitions, but in general it implies a distribution of power and leadership, not a centralization. In communities, people tend to be valued for what they do, not what they say. You can see this in many scientific and technical communities. I see it in all of the communities in which I participate. But I don`t see this concept expressed at all in politics. Do you?

This all came to mind tonight after I scanned this article -- The pros and cons of hissy fits. It`s a fun read.

Thursday Sep 24, 2009

Redefine Facts, Jump Paradigms

An Operating System for the Mind, Stephen Downes. I tend to agree with Downes in this piece how to think about education in the 21st Century. He is articulating a fresh approach to the "skills" vs "core knowledge" debate and it seems empowering and flexible. My complaint with the common core view of the world is that although I value a Liberal Arts education to a certain degree I find it expensive, poorly delivered, and lacking in practical skills to earn a living. At the other extreme I am critical of the facts/skills-only crew who pay lip service to a more common base of knowledge from which to build and grow and diversify (and enjoy). Both views lock you into one or another paradigm, and there seems to be a political agenda underlying both as well. Instead, the operating system view from Downes seems to be a paradigm breaker. I like it. He redefines facts themselves and offers a way of engaging facts to learn and act. It gives you the perspective you need to jump paradigms when you need to -- which is getting more and more often these days since everything is changing so fast out there. Give the Downes post a read. It`s a tad on the long and complex side but it`s well worth it.

Tuesday Sep 01, 2009

Easing Communications

I'm reviewing Chapter 6 of Producing Open Source Software by Karl Fogel. It's an excellent read. It covers communication on open source projects and how to interact in the most efficient and professional way possible. Also excellent is How Open Source Projects Survive Poisonous People by Ben-Collins Sussman and Brian Fitzpatrick (slides). I view this video every few months to keep sane. I've gotten much better with my online communications in recent years in that I don't get bogged down in flames or respond to attacks anymore, which only leads to being attacked even more. I used to try and respond to everything in an effort to shape a thread or calm people down or deflect unwanted advances. But that's just not realistic. More bluntly, it's a waste of time. And it only distracts you from taking advantage of all the interesting opportunities out there. Instead, I'm trying to focus my communications by engaging more with people who are respectful and open to my efforts. I am trying to protect my most important resource: my attention. It's going good.

Sunday Jul 05, 2009


When you screw up, just apologize and fix the problem. Fast. That`s what Katharine Weymouth, the publisher of the Washington Post, did today. After an initial misfire, she apologized and took full responsibility for her paper`s offer to sell access to political contacts and Post reporters at private events. This was an obvious marketing and communications mistake that would have compromised the credibility of her company`s most valuable asset -- the newsroom. Hey, everyone`s human. But the apology was necessary, and the taking of responsibility at the top is rare and refreshing. It will be interesting to see the media digest this issue since the field has been under significant pressure in recent years. More background here and here.

Lesson: apologize and fix it fast. And remember, credibility is earned from the bottom up, not the top down.

Tuesday Jun 23, 2009


Communicating is all about building relationships, and that`s always a two way street (or if you are in the community business, a multi-way street). Every wonder what a rapid fire relationship with Rahm is like. Check out Ring, ring, it's Rahm:
NBC’s Chuck Todd calls the Emanuel relationship “no-nonsense.”

“He’s always trying to extract as much information as he’s trying to give,” Todd says.

But the conversations with Emanuel “can be as little as 30 seconds,” Paul Begala, the CNN commentator and longtime Emanuel friend says. “He calls, drops a few F-bombs, makes his point and hangs up.”
The shock value of his delivery is interesting (he can do that because he`s powerful), but even more important is the bit about the information extraction. Information has to flow both ways to demonstrate the value of the relationship.

Sunday May 24, 2009

Attacking the Extremes

Some Obama Enemies Are Made Totally of Straw -- New York Times
“Here’s the trick: Take your opponent’s argument to a ridiculous extreme, and then attack the extremists,” said William Safire, the former presidential speechwriter who writes the “On Language” column for The New York Times Magazine. “That leaves the opponent to sputter defensively, ‘But I never said that.’ ”

The telltale indicators that a straw man trick is on the way are the introductory words “there are those who say” or “some say.”

“In strawmanese, you never specify who ‘those who’ are,” Mr. Safire said. “They are the hollow scarecrows you set up to knock down.”

This is such a common rhetorical technique. It has been used for thousands of years, and virtually everyone who talks in front of audiences uses it to one degree or another -- especially your friendly neighborhood politician.

There`s not much you can do when some pol says these silly things because they are generally pretty well protected and rarely have to justify their statements. But when regular people talk like this in meetings or when you are being lectured at by someone standing on a soapbox within arm`s reach, you can actually protect yourself from this verbal manipulation without leaving yourself vulnerable. Here`s how: just ask some painfully obvious question -- who says? where? when? Etc. Most people using the straw man technique will not be able to answer the question to any level of detail, so the more detail you ask for the more you can undermine the statement. Ask if those so-called "those who say" sources are enough to justify the generalizations. They won`t like this questioning at all, by the way, so ask nicely. There`s no need to be hostile, and you don`t want to get in over your head. The questioning alone is generally enough to get your point across.

So, as speakers create and attack straw man extremes at the edges, you can calmly drive right up the middle and ask for the details. Try it. It`s fun. This little counterattack works great on rumors, too.

More here.

Monday Apr 27, 2009


Linda tells us that BSC is 5 today. That`s amazing. I had no idea. I totally lost track. Well, the truth is I can`t remember my own birthday let alone anyone else`s, so no one should be surprised. I think I take BSC for granted now. It`s just there. It just works. But I shouldn`t take it for granted at all. The application transformed my work life and enabled me to communicate with people all over the world. For that I am most grateful. We even launched OpenSolaris on BSC, and at the time that was a bold and controversial move for Sun -- and it caused a few arguments as I recall as well. Back then many of us were new to blogging and communicating in the open, but BSC provided an excellent platform for those involved in OpenSolaris to tell their stories. Directly. No filters.

My first post was a on the 30th of April 2004, just a couple of days after the so-called opening. Initially, I didn`t even know the damn thing was turned on. I followed Danese into a conference room one day and it turned out to be some blogging meeting. I heard rumors but didn`t know anything. I just sat down. I met Tim Bray for the first time in that meeting. Simon was there. Will. And some others but I can`t remember everyone. Half way though, I leaned over and looked at Will`s laptop and he was poking around on BSC. I looked at the URL and said something like "Is that thing on? That`s outside? You didn`t tell anyone?" And he responded (casually, of course) with something like "Yah, it`s live. I just turned it on." You have to realize how revolutionary that "just turning it on" bit was for Sun five years ago. But that`s pretty much what they did. People found out soon enough, though, eh?

Anyway, Linda Skrocki has been one of the leaders of the BSC effort, and many of the founding members of the platform are still around and still helping guide us all. BSC helped liberate many of the voices we so freely read today because the community is based on trust. I don`t think OpenSolaris would have been quite the same without BSC. I wouldn`t either, actually. I`d be getting a lot more sleep. Like now. It`s 2:30 in the morning and where am I? On BSC.

Sunday Apr 26, 2009


The image below is an advertisement for an English school here in Japan. I shot it on a train a few weeks ago in Tokyo. I was struck by the piercing, obnoxious, pompous looks from those western dudes staring at, presumably, a Japanese person in some mythical meeting someplace. Nothing like scaring the hell out of someone to prompt them to take a class, eh? My goodness. Look at those guys.

Anyway, the text actually expresses an important concept, and it goes something like this: when you don`t agree with something while talking to these guys, you`ll be asked why you don`t agree, you`ll be expected to state your opinion, and, probably, you`ll have to defend that opinion. So, if that dynamic is a problem, many people just say yes and go along with the crowd in the meeting. I know many Japanese people do this in international meetings because expressing contrary opinions is done quite differently in English and Japanese. Westerners (Americans specifically) tend to be direct and Japanese tend to be indirect. But it goes beyond preference. Those styles are hard coded right into the structures of the languages themselves, and they are expressed in the cultures as well. There are exceptions both ways, of course, but the tendencies are pervasive and obvious, and a great deal of confusion can occur as a result. When communicating across languages, go out of your way to make sure your ideas resonate in the other language. Many times, they don`t. And you`ll miss that rather inconvenient fact if the other person is just saying yes. Yes doesn`t always mean yes, right? And there are a hundred different ways of saying no, right?

But here`s the kicker for me: this issue is also a problem within English; it`s not just a problem when communicating across English and Japanese. Many times native English speakers just say yes when confronted with aggressive people like the dudes in the image below. I mean, really, why would anyone want to talk to these guys? Especially outnumbered four on one. I think there are probably just as many communication problems stemming from command and control types within a language as there are resulting from distinctions in communication styles across languages. What always gets me, though, is why do these guys have meetings in the first place? They obviously don`t want other opinions. So, they deserve the yes they get -- and the problems resulting from that yes.

This is why it`s a pleasure working on teams that value open communication, and working for leaders who use communication to discover ideas and implement ideas. Human communication is an imperfect art. You have to use it as a tool to iterate so understanding emerges over time. Teams that don`t value this painfully simple concept aren`t worth your time no matter what language you speak.

Saturday Jan 31, 2009

Pinker: "Grammar Matters, Linguistics is Important"

If you love language and the quirks of the English language you may have run into Steven Pinker. The guy is brilliant. His talks are complex at times but quite humorous as well. Check out his lecture at Google from a couple of years ago -- Authors@Google: Steven Pinker. It`s typical Pinker. But the bit between the 20:32 - 23:00 minute mark is just hysterical. Adults only, please, the language is strong. And the government reaction is, well, classic. And that`s what makes it jaw dropping funny. The adverb closing by Pinker is precious, too. Also interesting are the linguistic and psychological reasons explaining all this, which Pinker articulates in great detail. Good stuff.

Thursday Jan 29, 2009

Bad News

When No News Is Bad News: "This matters because of the unique role journalism plays in a democracy. So much public information and official government knowledge depends on a private business model that is now failing." -- James Warren

This is a devastating article about the state of American journalism. And although there are many reports in blogs and the mainstream media covering the fall of journalism, this is a particularly sobering look. The opening story about John Crewdson moved me. I remember studying his stuff on AIDS, Robert Gallo, and Luc Montagnier a long time ago. I probably still have that special report, actually. Warren has many other upsetting stories in his article. Very well written piece. Read it. It`s important. The issues hit you right over the head.

Saturday Dec 06, 2008

The Power of Mainstream Publicity

Every time I chat with bloggers who feel the mainstream media is not that powerful anymore I trip over an article like this -- One man's military-industrial-media complex. This piece is a textbook lesson in the power of mainstream public relations to drive a marketing campaign. It`s perfect. And, in this case, it worked like a dream, too. Now, the article is disturbing because it talks about the selling of a war, but that`s not the point. It`s reality. And to not realize that is a delusion.

Monday Nov 03, 2008

Edward Bernays: The Ultimate Propagandist

I was watching The Century of the Self recently. It`s an excellent four part documentary from the BBC that aired back in 2002 about how the powerful control the rest of us. Even now six years later it holds up very well. Scary stuff. The time period ranges from around World War I through the late 1990s. Sigmund Freud, his daughter Anna, and his nephew Edward Bernays, seem to be main characters throughout, along with lots of politicians, business leaders, and psychologists. But Bernays was everywhere. And he was probably one of the most manipulative dudes of his era, selling everything from cigarettes to presidents to wars. His methods of implementing propaganda, all based on his uncle`s theories, were largely responsible for the creation of the consumer society in the United States. In fact, the United States leads the world in consumption, yet very few people know that Bernays was the guy behind the curtain. Actually, very few know Bernays at all. I`ve read a bunch of his stuff and I used to be in his business, so I still see him everywhere.

There are a few things striking about the film -- especially in this ultimate season of campaign propaganda in the United States. First, there is a lot of politics in the documentary, obviously, but I couldn`t pick out any clear partisanship. Propaganda clearly transcends party lines. Second, most attempts to directly confront and fight back against the powerful ultimately ended in failure. The elites just used propaganda to leverage the counter punches to their advantage. And third, it doesn`t seem to matter if you know propaganda is being used on you. It works anyway. It`s remarkable. Now, it`s not all that bleak. Change does occur. But it occurs indirectly and over long periods of time. So, confront power carefully, I guess. Oh, and the term propaganda, which was common before World War II, was eventually dumped by the propagandists for the more positive sounding public relations. Today, PR is pervasive. So, if you are interested in communications or politics, give this BBC program a watch. It`s humbling at the very least. Don`t forget to vote tomorrow, too.

Monday Oct 20, 2008

The Individual vs The Context

Harmony and China's dream, from David Brooks, columnist at the NY Times:
If you show an American an image of a fish tank, the American will usually describe the biggest fish in the tank and what it is doing. If you ask a Chinese person to describe a fish tank, the Chinese will usually describe the context in which the fish swim.

These sorts of experiments have been done over and over again, and the results reveal the same underlying pattern. Americans usually see individuals; Chinese and other Asians see contexts.

Interesting distinction in perspective. I wonder how the Chinese language fits into this notion of context. In other words, how does the language itself express context and not individualism. I'll have to ask some Chinese friends because it seems the concept is pretty similar in Japan. In fact, I'm reading a book on Japanese linguistics that would tend to support this view from Brooks. The book documents how the Japanese language is used to create context vs how the English language is used to do the exact opposite -- topics vs subjects, passive voice vs active voice, nominalized verbs vs action verbs, etc. There are probably a lot of exceptions among people on both sides of the language/culture line, but the tendencies seem pretty clear.

Wednesday Sep 03, 2008


Fascinating little article about the English word "I" -- On Language: Me, Myself and I -- by Caroline Winter in the New York Times. Really good read.

I didn't know where the capital "I" came from. I'm not surprised by the answer, though. The article says, in part, that the single letter, lower case "i" was just not hefty enough to stand on it's own and carry the significance of what "I" truly represents in English. So, scribes made it bigger. And it became a capital letter. Great story. And it seems reasonable given the evolution and structure of the English language.

The article goes beyond that, though. Winter suggests that capitalizing the first-person pronoun "I" may lead to excessive ego, and she cites examples of other languages that don't capitalize I. She also says that some languages, such as Japanese, make it possible to leave out pronouns altogether. Well, sure, but you don't really need subjects in Japanese, either. And in Japanese the emphasis is on the "topic" of the sentence, not the subject. Also, Japanese verbs are usually passive and/or nominalized and buried at the end of sentences well after all the context is explained in painfully long detail. But in English, a centralized subject performing an action is the focus right up front. And while English can structurally handle a "topic" it has no grammatical role and is generally left out -- just as Japanese leaves out subjects and pronouns and whatever else.

I'm not sure about the other languages Winter cites, but Japanese and English seem polar opposites to me. I also don't see how comparing the languages supports the argument that using "i" instead of "I" can make "our individualistic, workaholic society ... more rooted in community and quality and less focused on money and success if we each thought of ourselves as a small “i” with a sweet little dot." Japanese has a lot of what Winter is looking for, yet many Japanese people are workaholics, many express a lot of individuality (though not as much as the US), many are focused on money, and much of their famous humility/politeness is locked inside a rather rigid group structure with rules that would greatly stress the Western definition of community. Of course, many Japanese people are lovely and kind and genuinely community-oriented and all that, just as many English-speaking people are as well. It's extremely difficult to judge languages/cultures out of their context. Definitions of "community" and "individual" are expressed, perceived, and internalized very differently in the East and West.

Interesting article, but I think it goes a tad too far. I don't see why the capital I can't just be a quirk of linguistic history rather than a statement on individual ego -- and a pejorative one at that. Actually, I'd go further. I think it's perfectly fine to express "I" as a capital letter to reflect the centrality of a person articulating a perspective. That's how English is structured, and it makes sense in the context of that language. It may not make sense in another language, sure, but does that make it bad?

Sunday Aug 03, 2008

Chinese Ambitions

China’s Ambition Soars to High-Tech Industry: "President Hu Jintao hinted at China’s vaulting ambitions during a meeting of China’s scientific elite last June at the Chinese Academy of Sciences, where he called on scientists to challenge other countries in high technology. "We are ready for a fight," he said, "to control the scientific high ground and earn a seat on the world’s high technology board. We will make some serious efforts to strengthen our nation’s competence."-- NY Times.

Cool. More competition. Should be good for the West. Right? That competition should be good for Japan as well. Rhetorically, though, this article is interesting. I never hear the Japanese talk this way. Americans are bold rhetorically, and the Chinese are demonstrating that they are as well. Not the Japanese, though. I wonder. Is aggressive rhetoric a necessary ingredient for innovation and growth? 

Tuesday Jul 08, 2008

Different Language, Different People

Are you a different person when you speak a different language?: "People who are bicultural and speak two languages may actually shift their personalities when they switch from one language to another, according to new research in the Journal of Consumer Research. The authors studied groups of Hispanic women, all of whom were bilingual, but with varying degrees of cultural identification. They found significant levels of "frame-shifting" (changes in self perception) in bicultural participants — those who participate in both Latino and Anglo culture. While frame-shifting has been studied before, the new research found that biculturals switched frames more quickly and easily than bilingual monoculturals. -- eScience News.

Interesting report. I buy the language switching bit because I see that affect personalities every day in bilingual people around me and also in my own kid as well. But I'm not sure I buy the notion of "biculturals" that much. True bicultuals seem rare to me or superficial at best. Perhaps that's because I live in a culture that has such a low level of diversity and mixes very little with the west, I'm not sure. There are many shades of culture within cultures, too, so it's difficult to draw conclusion that apply across larger cultural differences. For instance, I think it's reasonable to say that the distinction between cultures within Europe and the United States (where this study took place) are much more narrow than the distinction between the East and West. I don't doubt the study, per say, but I just question how deep it goes. I've met westerners living in Japan for 30 years who are totally fluent in writing and speaking, yet they haven't even scratched the surface of being Japanese, and I'm told this is quite common.

Monday May 12, 2008

Sun Guidelines on Public Discourse

It's really nice to see the Sun Guidelines on Public Discourse evolving. Linda Skrocki has all the details. With thousands of Sun employees blogging and participating in a variety of open communities around the world, it's amazing to see the quality and standards remaining so high. We have built a thriving communications community at Sun (blogs, wikis, open source communities, forums,  and it is based on trust and mutual respect between the employees and the company. We also have some really excellent documents to set the context for building this community.

Some important BSC links: Apache Roller, Dave Johnson, The Founders of BSC, BSC FAQ, Original Policy from Tim Bray, The Making of the Policy from Tim Bray, Sun Blogger License Agreement 1.1 (and an explanation from Simon Phipps), and Will Snow.

Sun Guidelines on Public Discourse

Many of us at Sun are doing work that could change the world. Contributing to online communities by blogging, wiki posting, participating in forums, etc., is a good way to do this. You are encouraged to tell the world about your work, without asking permission first, but we expect you to read and follow the advice in this note.


By speaking directly to the world, without prior management approval, we are accepting higher risks in the interest of higher rewards. We don't want to micro-manage, but here is some advice that we expect you to follow to help you manage that risk.

It's a Two-Way Street

The goal isn't to get everyone at Sun contributing online, it's to become part of the industry conversation. So, if you are going to write, look around and do some reading first, so you learn where the conversation is and what people are saying. Remember the Web is all about links; when you see something interesting and relevant, link to it; you'll be doing your readers a service, and you'll also generate links back to you; a win-win.

Don't Tell Secrets

Anything you post is accessible to anyone with a browser. Some sites have a restricted content feature, but keep in mind that external content is NOT as secure as content that resides on a protected intranet — you are responsible for the content you post and the restricted spaces you manage. Common sense at work here; it's perfectly OK to talk about your work and have a dialog with the community, but it's not OK to publish the recipe for one of our secret sauces. Content requiring a non-disclosure agreement or considered Sun Proprietary should NOT be published on Sun's community sites — even in spaces set up to restrict access to Sun employees only. If the judgment call is tough, on secrets or other issues discussed here, it's never a bad idea to get management or Sun legal help before you publish.

No Comment

Do not comment on work-related legal matters unless you are Sun's official spokesperson for the matter, and have Sun legal and management approval to do so.

Policies Apply

Sun's Standards of Business Conduct and other Sun Policies (including export compliance, trademark guidelines, privacy requirements, proprietary and confidential information protection, and anti-discrimination) continue to apply.

Be Respectful

Whether in the actual or a virtual world, your interactions and discourse should be respectful. For example, when you are in a virtual world as a Sun representative, your avatar should dress and speak professionally. We all appreciate actual respect.

Be Interesting, but Be Honest

Writing is hard work. There's no point doing it if people don't read it. Fortunately, if you're writing about a product that a lot of people are using, or are waiting for, and you know what you're talking about, you're probably going to be interesting. And because of the magic of linking and the Web, if you're interesting, you're going to be popular, at least among the people who understand your specialty. Another way to be interesting is to expose your personality; almost all of the successful online voices write about themselves, about families or movies or books or games; or they post pictures. People like to know what kind of a person is writing what they're reading. Once again, balance is called for; a community site is a public place and you should avoid embarrassing the company and community members. One of Sun's core values is integrity, so review and follow Sun's Standards of Business Conduct in your online community contributions.

Write What You Know

The best way to be interesting, stay out of trouble, and have fun is to write about what you know. If you have a deep understanding of some chunk of Solaris or a hot JSR, it's hard to be boring or get into too much trouble writing about that. On the other hand, a Solaris architect who publishes rants on marketing strategy or tax policy has a good chance of being embarrassed by a real expert, or of being boring.

Don't Write Anonymously

If you comment publicly about any issue in which you are engaged in your capacity as a Sun employee, even loosely, you must make your status as a Sun employee clear. You should also be clear about whether, in such commentary, you are speaking for yourself (presumably the normal case) or for Sun.

Business Outlook Rules

There are all sorts of laws about what we can and can't say business-wise. Talking about revenue, future product ship dates, pricing decisions, roadmaps, unannounced financial results, our share price or similar matters is apt to get you, the company, or both, into serious legal trouble. Stay away from financial topics and predictions of future performance.

Quality Matters

Use a spell-checker. If you're not design-oriented, ask someone who is and take their advice on how to improve. You don't have to be a great or even a good writer to succeed at this, but you do have to make an effort to be clear, complete, and concise. Of course, "complete" and "concise" are to some degree in conflict; that's just the way life is. There are very few first drafts that can't be shortened, and improved in the process.

Think About Consequences

The worst thing that can happen is a Sun sales pro is in a meeting with a hot prospect, and someone on the customer's side pulls out a print-out of something you've posted and says "This person at Sun says that product sucks." In general, "XXX sucks" is not only risky but unsubtle. Saying "Netbeans needs to have an easier learning curve for the first-time user" is fine; saying "Visual Development Environments for Java suck" is just amateurish. Once again, it's all about judgment. Using your public voice to trash or embarrass the company, our customers, your co-workers, or yourself is not only dangerous, but not very smart.


Some community sites, such as wikis, require a Sun employee moderator. Optional moderation on other sites such as a group blog and forum can add value by maintaining content organization and responding to ongoing decisions and questions. The goal of moderating is to "guide and nurture" not "command and control."

Other People's Information

It's simple — other people's information belongs to them (be it Intellectual Property or Personal Information). It's their choice whether to share their material with the world, not yours. So, before posting someone else's material, check with the owner for permission to do this. If you're unsure, Sun's copyright experts or Sun's privacy experts can offer guidance.


Many employees put a disclaimer on their front page saying who they work for, but that they're not speaking officially. This is good practice, but don't count on it to avoid trouble; it may not have much legal effect. Community sites contain material written by Sun employees and are governed by company policies. When employees leave Sun, material written during their employment normally remains in place and is subject to the same policies. Sun Alumni are invited to have their non-Sun blog syndicated on our Alumni Blogs site and may continue to contribute material to wikis and forums, where additional terms and conditions apply.

Rev 2.0, Updated May, 2008
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rights; (b) rights associated with original works, authorship, moral rights, copyrights, and all its
exclusive rights; (c) rights relating to the protection of trade secrets and confidential information; (d)
rights associated with designs, industrial designs, and semiconductor design; (e) trademarks, service
marks, trade names, and trade dress; (f) rights analogous to those set forth above and any and all
other industrial or intellectual property rights; and (g) registrations, divisionals, continuations,
continuations-in-part, renewals, reissues, reexaminations, and extensions of the foregoing (as
applicable) now existing or hereafter filed, issued or acquired.

“License”: this agreement and the grants of rights in this agreement.

“Sun”: Sun Microsystems, Inc., its affiliates, and its successors in interest.

“Sun Portions of the Work”: the portions of the Work that are owned by Sun but not including any
Unlicensed Sun Intellectual Property.

“Unlicensed Sun Intellectual Property”: Sun's Intellectual Property that you are not permitted to use or
publish according to the Sun Guidelines on Public Discourse or other applicable agreements and

“Work”: all content in any form posted or otherwise published by you at or and all blog content that you prepared within the scope of your
employment at Sun and published on the URL(s) you list below your signature; but excluding (i) all
third party materials and Intellectual Property and (ii) Unlicensed Sun Intellectual Property.

“You”: an individual current or former Sun employee who publishes or has published content at during your employment at Sun.

“Your Portions of the Work”: the portions of the Work that are not Sun Portions of the Work

2. Sun retains the sole right to control the site at and any content posted thereon,
and may elect at any time to remove the Work or any portion of it from the site for any reason.

3. You grant to Sun, with respect to Your Portions of the Work, a perpetual, worldwide, royalty-free,
non-exclusive right to use, reproduce, modify, display, perform, sublicense, distribute and create
derivative works based on Your Portions of the Work.

4. You also grant to Sun the right to use your name, photograph, likeness, and biography solely in
connection with the Work for the purpose of identifying you as an author.

5. Sun grants to you (i) with respect to the Sun Portions of the Work, a perpetual, worldwide, royalty-
free, non-exclusive right to use, reproduce, modify, display, perform, sublicense, distribute, and create
derivative works based on, the Sun Portions of the Work, and (ii) the right to use the name “Sun” or
“Sun Microsystems” only to identify Sun as your place of work when you created the Work, but no
rights for any use of other Sun trademarks or logos.

6. You retain ownership of Your Portions of the Work created by you, and Sun retains ownership of
the Sun Portions of the Work and of all Unlicensed Sun Intellectual Property.

7. Each party may charge a third party fees to sublicense the Work and each party waives any right to
an accounting from the other for such fees or any right to share in any such fees received by the other.

8. To the extent permitted by applicable law and to the extent of this License grant, the parties waive
the “moral rights” of authors (or the equivalent) with respect to the Work.

9. A party's license to the other will terminate if the other party fails to comply with terms herein and
fails to cure this breach within 30 days of becoming aware of it. Provisions which, by their nature, must
remain in effect beyond the termination of this License will survive.

10. To the extent not prohibited by applicable law, this License will be governed by and interpreted
under California law without regard to or application of choice-of-law principles. If any term of this
License is found to be invalid under an applicable statute or rule of law, then that term will be deleted
and this License will remain in full force and effect.

11. You may assign this License to a third party, provided that you obtain Sun's prior written consent
to the assignment, which will not be unreasonably withheld. Sun may assign this License at its
discretion. This Agreement will be binding upon and inure to the benefit of the permitted successors
and assigns of each party.



14. You represent (i) that you have the authority to execute this License and (ii) that you are the sole
author of Your Portions of the Work or you have the right to license this material under the terms of
this License.

Please sign below, scan and return the complete document (not just the signature page) with
the subject line “Signed License” to

Signature: ________________________________________
Name (Printed or Typed):  ____________________________
Date: _____________________________________________
URL(s):  ___________________________________________

Sun Blogger License Agreement 1.1

FAQ and PDF License for Manual Signature

You may have learned about the Sun Blogger License Agreement during a recent log-in to or from one of our blogs.  The introductory message to employee bloggers inviting you to enter the license is reprinted here for your convenience.

For technical reasons, we can't offer you another chance to click through and accept the agreement, but if you declined the agreement earlier, you can enter it by downloading, signing and returning a hard copy from this page.  A pdf version of the license is included as an attachment on this page. Bloggers that are former employees may also enter this license the same way.

Intro:  Clarification on Ownership of Blog Content

A number of bloggers have asked who owns the content of the Sun blogs and whether bloggers are allowed to copy the content to non-Sun blogs. We thought we would clarify these questions for the blogging community.

We think many of you would agree that blogs are most interesting when they include content from both your job at Sun and from your personal life outside Sun. This means that most employee blogs include some intellectual property that belongs to you and some that belongs to Sun. So by default, you would need to separate these strands if you wanted to move or copy portions of your blog.

To avoid the need and hassle to separate these two strands, we are inviting all Sun employee bloggers to enter into a cross license with Sun. Under the license, you will get to use and copy your blog in its entirety, and we can keep your entire blog in place at

Once you enter this license, you will have the documented right to make complete backup copies of your blog and/or move it to another blogging platform. Sun can remove material from at any time so you may want to back up your hard work! You will also be able to syndicate your blog (so will we); we won't ask you to share fees. You can compile your blogs in book form or other formats.

Frequently Asked Questions

Where should I direct questions about the the license?

Contact us at <>

I am a former employee and the alias did not work for me.  Who can help?

Thank you for your patience.  We have resolved this technical issue and it should be working now.  Thanks to those of you who brought it to our attention and wrote to us individually.

Can I change my "Accept" or "Decline" response?

We wanted to deploy this quickly, so we do not have the technical functionality to change your response.  If you declined and want to accept the agreement, you can use the pdf attachment on this page.

Does this license only apply to blog content that currently resides on What about existing Sun-related content I have on my blog on another platform?

We have updated the pdf license to version 1.1 to address blog content on and other platforms.  We are updating the license here, but not at the, because we don't want to send bloggers who have accepted 1.0 through the process again, and we don't have the technical ability to exempt them.

Can I respond to the license agreement later?

We wanted to deploy this quickly, so we used an existing feature set that did not include an "I'll do it later" option by click-through.  If you declined, you can agree now by downloading and signing the pdf and returning it to our alias.

The license feature does not appear to be functioning properly for me. Who can help?

Please direct questions of this nature to Service Desk: Report a Problem -> eBusiness Applications ->

Can Sun Alumni be granted the license?

Former Sun employees can enter the agreement by downloading and signing the pdf and returning it to our alias.

What changes are in version 1.1 of the license?

We have updated the pdf license to version 1.1 to address blog content on and other platforms.  We are updating the license here, but not at the log-in, because we don't want to send bloggers who have accepted 1.0 through the process again, and we don't have the technical ability to exempt them.

What if I entered version 1.0 and I want to enter version 1.1 now?

You are welcome to do that by signing version 1.1 manually and returning it to us.

Thursday Apr 17, 2008

A Communications Lesson on Slashdot

Marten Mickos, former CEO of MySQL AB and current senior vice president at Sun, is engaging in a conversation on Slashdot under the headline "Sun to Begin Close Sourcing MySQL." The headline is wrong, and Marten explains the issue in two lengthy posts here and here. I find the business model discussion interesting, but I'm most impressed to see such direct involvement from a Sun SVP on Slashdot.


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