Sources Close to the Company

It always fascinates me (for a few minutes, anyway) when I read stories like this one in CRN -- "Source: Sun To Release First Bits Of Open Solaris Tuesday."

What source? Ah, "close to the company." That helps. Brave, isn't he? I don't know ... for me, this stuff always reminds me of  "All the President's Men" when Washington Post reporter Bob Woodward (Robert Redford) used to meet Deep Throat (Hal Holbrook) in that dark garage ... and Deep Throat was usually dressed in an gray overcoat and big black hat or something, and you'd hear, "Follow the money." Funny. Oh, well, I'll be waiting anxiously to see the results of this story and the accuracy of this secret source. Should be interesting. I figured I'd point to it. Ignoring this stuff is dumb. I got the heads up from Robert, too.

Before I got involved in all this community stuff, I did PR at Sun. Yuk, I know, but I did my time and I'm out. Anyway, many of my stories leaked. Some of the info was correct, but much of it was wrong and resulted in nothing but animosity, confusion, and distrust. Why? We were trying protect the information, of course, and the press was trying to break it, many times with secret sources with crappy access. The result? A mess. I fail to see how this helps anyone involved. It was always a pain in the ass, too, because some manager somewhere always wanted you to do the impossible -- fix it. Right. That's helpful. I could sometimes figure out who did the leaking, which was great fun. Not that it mattered much because you could never really prove it. Other times I had no clue who the dork was and wondered who my enemy was lurking out there or sitting quietly in the office across the hall. Who was playing nice to my face and then stabbing me in the back? Yuk. The biggest leak for me (in high tech, anyway, I've done PR in three industries) was the launch of Project JXTA with Bill Joy. It was a very cool project with a wonderful band of people working it. It was cool, that is, until Stephen Shankland at Cnet found one of those fancy secret sources hiding in the shadows for his story, which got me into a significant amount of trouble. I was blamed for the leak by my superiors, but fortunately, a clueful executive outside the organization helped me and I survived. I have a pretty good idea who did the deed, by the way. If I could prove it, I'd tell you right here. Oh, well. Maybe some day.

My point? This is silly. Aside from providing me some pretty good blog material from time to time, I'm starting to lose interest. I'm much happier watching the buzz from the outside, while trying to learn the truth and have honest conversations -- face to face, one at a time -- with the engineers on the kernel team, the community forming within OpenSolaris Pilot Program, and with our customers who I'm tapping to bring into the pilot program -- most of whom tell me they really don't take all this noise in the press that seriously. Wow. That's a wake up call. So who does take it seriously? And why? I'm not asking rhetorically ... I actually want to know. Do these stories (here and here and here) really matter? Is it buzz or just confusion?

Comments:

I pay attention, as a Sun outsider, because I'm looking forward to OpenSolaris and am interested in news about it. The people working at Sun and within the pilot program already know what the news is and don't need outside articles to tell their story back to them. The trolls at Slashdot pay attention, too, unfortunately. They have an amazing knack for taking something out of context, making it sound true, and creating a very difficult to contain FUD war. If only Sun could have gotten what they needed from someone other than SCO (oh boy the trolls love that one).

Posted by guest on January 23, 2005 at 12:48 AM JST #

Jim, I really feel sorry for you (in your old role). What a tough position to be in.

Philosophical question. Where is the line between "leak" and "industrial espionage" or "theft"? If the person sprung a "leak" knows the information is company confidential, and so does the person/organization making that information well-known, doesn't the owner of that information have recourse against both? I suppose we'll see in the ThinkSecret case.

Posted by John Clingan on January 23, 2005 at 02:08 AM JST #

To 66.157.97.7 -- That IP address is a very interesting name, by the way. To your point, though. I'm glad you pay attention. You are interested in one of our programs, so you should. I think you'd probably get better information from our blogs than from the media, though. And this is not necessarily the fault of the press. We jerk them around as much as they jerk us around. We hide info; they want to break that info. It's a game. Blogs triangulate (love that Clinton term) both marketing and media very well.

Posted by Jim on January 23, 2005 at 03:32 AM JST #

Thanks, John. I'm well over it now, though. What I'm doing now is great fun. I'm not really involved in the press stuff ... I'm just watching that mess and commenting about it. The best part of my job is that I get to talk to developers and sys admins at the core of Sun's installed base and bring 'em into the OpenSolaris Pilot Program. I love these conversations we're having. To your question: The press can print pretty much what they want. And by and large, most do it carefully. Dan Rather didn't. :) There are the obvious exceptions, of course, but in this case if a reporter gets an internal document or a draft press release that hasn't been issued yet, hey, that's news, and it goes. The person in the company leaking information that is stamped confidential, however, could easily get in some big trouble. Company policies vary, of course. My greater point, though is this: the entire system is broken. Aside from truly classified information, we should open up our launch processes, marketing, and PR much more and simply engage with the press as if they were just another audience. The book for this has already been written: The Cluetrain Manifesto. The press no longer controls the conversation, yet we are acting as if they do based on our behavior around these announcements and launches. I don't know why. The press hates being treated this way and they don't deserve it, our marketing and PR people are put through hell trying to \*not\* say stuff, and the result is bad information out in the marketplace. I don't get it.

Posted by Jim on January 23, 2005 at 03:56 AM JST #

You don't believe this is my real name? :)

Posted by guest on January 23, 2005 at 05:37 AM JST #

Are you really 68.222.152.211 or the commentator previously known as 68.222.152.211?

Posted by John Clingan on January 23, 2005 at 05:43 AM JST #

[Trackback] This post is brought to you by the letter F. Jim Grisanzio (community manager for OpenSolaris) openly wonders who actually listens to buzz generated by the IT press? Certainly nobody I respect does. We don't need someone to tell us what to believe....

Posted by VMUNIX Blues on January 23, 2005 at 10:37 AM JST #

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