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:

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.

Sunday Sep 20, 2009

Building by Contributing

I was meditating earlier and I got a great idea. It`s an obvious idea for me, but for some reason it clicked this time when it bubbled up. Maybe because I have an enormous amount of material now, I don`t know. I have some interesting stories to tell and piles of photographs to play with as source material, and I keep generated new stuff all the time. The more I look the more I find.

Anyway. I am going to put together a new presentation about all the people I look up to as great community builders. Most of them I have met and/or work with every day in the multiple communities in which I participate, but some are just acquaintances who I observe from afar and study in detail. And some I have never met but would love to because they are changing the world in important ways that oftentimes go unrecognized. They teach me. They are international and multi lingual. They are young and old. They cut across many industries and disciplines. Some think big and build globally, but even more think small and organize locally -- and many times that`s even more difficult and more important. Some are famous but most are not. And the common thread tying them together in my mind? They all build communities by contributing to communities. They do. They don`t just talk. That`s the bit they get right, and that`s why they teach so naturally by simply doing what they love. This is personal. That`s why it`s powerful. And that`s why I have to tell these stories. Just looking up to people who build community is not enough. We have to learn from these people and distribute community building opportunities among everyone. That`s the only way a community becomes sustainable.

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

Talk to Everyone

Interesting piece about PR in the NY Times today -- Spinning the Web: P.R. in Silicon Valley. And it`s running at the top of Techmeme tonight, too, with even more interesting commentary. I wonder why PR gets so much attention in high tech when practitioners in the field are forever trying to justify themselves, or at least quantify their value. I never understood that. The influence of the public relations industry is absolutely everywhere in modern society, and yet even in this NYT piece you see a defensive tone in some places -- mixed in with the pervasive and typical self importance, of course. Whatever. It`s a fascinating field, I must admit. I was in PR for a long time many moons ago, and I`m still interested in how information is delivered through filters using various rhetorical techniques that date back thousands of years. Modern PR grew from the teachings of the American propagandist Eddie Bernays, whose famous work says it all: Propaganda. Read the book. Scary stuff.

Anyway, in the NYT article right up front in the first few paragraphs, you`ll read about a scene in Silicon Valley were a PR pro is advising a client about a launch strategy (who to talk to and such), and someone shoots back about avoiding certain well-known bloggers and news websites. What? Why would you want to avoid a communications channel at your launch? I don`t get it. People who feel passionate about their stuff generally want to talk to anyone who will listen -- and if listeners have megaphones so much the better. I`ve worked with some people like that, and what they taught me is that everyone is important because you just never know -- you never know who is connected to who at any given moment, and you can never know who will be connected to who in the future. And, of course, predicting how a story will spread is difficult at best. Now, I realize the PR strategy in this case was to talk to a select group of high powered people, which is fine since they obviously have deep influence. But why talk to those guys to the exclusion of the others in an age when communities are flattening hierarchies and distributing power?

Talk to everyone. Everyone is important. Especially now with everyone connected in ways you may not even realize. And Robert Scoble is right. Talk to the grassroots first. Community building operations should be implemented first so the marketing guys have something to sell (and participate in as well). Too much of PR is still rolled out the other way around.


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.

Thursday May 28, 2009

The World Learning English

Interesting little video about the world learning English. And check out China. My goodness. Are they motivated or what? They view learning English as pure opportunity. Very interesting perspective.

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.

Saturday May 02, 2009

Tokyo is Headless

Here`s another one of those "Japan is Lost" articles. It`s an attack, basically, and this one focuses on leadership. I read these things purely for entertainment value now. My views on leadership have changed so substantially these last few years they'd hardly be recognizable to anyone who knew me in the U.S. I feel like I've recovered from a long drug-induced propaganda hangover or something.

Anyway, in the article we are told that Tokyo is "headless" and that if a Martian landed in Ginza today and said "Take me to your leader" most Japanese would be embarrassed because there are no leaders in Japan. Right. Ok. So, that`s the lead of an opinion piece in a serious magazine like Newsweek? Impressive.

Please note that a Martian landing in Tokyo would probably fit right in around here, and I can't imagine the Japanese would be embarrassed about their leadership very much because I don't they'd care very much. Why? Well, the view expressed in the article is so clearly western, and in Japan the perspective is somewhat different. In some cases, very different but there is no acknowledgment of that. By the way, I don't think Americans would care that much about Martians landing in Washington either. Heck, it would be an improvement. Also, you read the article, you`ll notice most of it is remarkably condescending, which is a shame because the writer actually points to some legitimate problems in Japan -- many of which exist in many countries. The tone is such a turn off I can`t give any of the underlying views any credibility whatsoever.

Also striking about the article is the utter lack of clear role models or demonstrated standards of success from which to judge the Japanese. I mean, really, if the Japanese are "headless" and suffering from "stress-related illnesses" and are "transparently inept" and snatching "defeat from the jaws of victory" and have "no other viable alternatives" and "continue to drift, bobbing like a mercantile cork in a turbulent geopolitical sea" as they just "muddle through" life then I ask you who the hell is doing all this right?

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 Distinction Between Power and Leadership

Interesting talk from Marshall Ganz about building community and distributing leadership. At the 13:10 minute mark of the video he talks about the distinction between power and leadership and how in voluntary associations you can`t rely on political or economic coercion to get people to something. You can`t substitute power for leadership. Leaders of volunteers elicit cooperation by tapping into the shared values of the community, and that`s a much more challenging exercising than dictating orders with threats of force to back you up.

This quote at the 14:15 minute mark sums it nicely: "It`s very easy, if you are in a place where you can fire people if they don`t do what you want, to kid yourself about why people are collaborating and cooperating with you. It`s very easy if you are in a place where you can put people in jail if they don`t do what you want. When you are operating in a voluntary setting you don`t have those options so the burden of leadership is much greater because you have to elicit voluntary collaboration, cooperation, engagement, motivation, commitment, etc. So, in a sense, it`s sort of leadership on its own without the props that are often available to us to exercise authority in organizations."


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.

Thursday Mar 05, 2009

The Chief of Staff

I have always been interested in the role of Chief of Staff. Presidents have these guys around, and so does the military. And now a lot of companies have them as well. It seems like an odd role at times, though. Good chiefs have massive power in their own right, but they also have to reflect the boss almost perfectly so their own opinions vaporize. Seems like an interesting dance. Here is a very interesting and long piece on Obama`s chief of staff -- Rahm Emanuel: The Gatekeeper.

The Stories of Community

Why Stories Matter: The art and craft of social change -- "Learning skills and practices is not like learning a formula; it’s more like learning how to ride a bicycle. You can read 10 books about it or listen to someone lecture about it all day, but how do you really start learning to ride a bicycle? You get on. And you fall. That’s how you learn practices. That’s how you learn organizing." -- Marshall Ganz

Nice article from Marshall Ganz on using the power of story (four specific levels of stories, actually) to engage people and build communities that drive change. Story telling is as old as it gets and remains probably the most effective way to deliver information that resonates. Here`s a little Ganz video, too. Good stuff.

Monday Feb 23, 2009

Alinsky to Obama: Organize! Organize! Organize!

I`ve been catching up on my Saul Alinsky now that we have a community organizer in the White House. I was never much inspired with Alinksy, although I certainly appreciate his place in American history. When I read his stuff I just feel dirty, sort of like plodding through Eddie Bernays and his propaganda or Machiavelli and his lessons for princes. But all that is reality in power politics, and many of those guys articulate some wonderfully evil and practical tactics to gut a variety of opponents in just about any situation you`d find yourself in. If that`s the sort of thing you want to do, anyway.

It`s interesting, though. We oftentimes hear that you have to fight fire with fire, and that`s probably true in some cases. But what about the exceptions? For instance, I never get that dirty Alinsky feeling all over when reading Ghandi or King, and those guys were certainly grand community organizers fighting bad guys too. In fact, they were probably the two most effective community builders in modern history. I wouldn`t put Alinsky in their league. Ghandi and King inspire. Alinsky manipulates. Ghandi and King transcend and transform. Alinsky fights. Both views are probably necessary at various points in a great struggle, but I prefer to focus a tad more on the positive and not so much on an Al Capone street fight in a dark and dirty Chicago alley. But that`s just me.

Sanford D. Horwitt, an Alinsky biographer, writes nice piece about what the so-called father of community organizing would say to President Obama today (Alinsky would be 100 this year). I guess Obama studied under some of Alinsky`s guys for a bit. So, what`s the fatherly advice on building community? "Barack, remember what got you here ... Keep your eyes on the prize and keep organizing, organizing, organizing!" That`s not surprising. And it`s good advice. But it will be interesting to see if Obama can follow it, if he can keep his obviously well honed community organizing skills up to date from the perspective of living among the power establishment that Alinsky was always fighting. That`s where Obama sits now, after all. Will it work from way up there? To me, this is what makes the Obama presidency fascinating.

Also of note is Obama`s view of Alinsky himself. It`s far more expansive view than the narrow minded Alinsky pitched. Check out The Agitator: Barack Obama's unlikely political education for a lot of Obama`s views of Alinsky. I like this bit right here:

"Alinsky understated the degree to which people's hopes and dreams and their ideals and their values were just as important in organizing as people's self-interest. Sometimes the tendency in community organizing of the sort done by Alinsky was to downplay the power of words and of ideas when in fact ideas and words are pretty powerful. 'We hold these truths to be self-evident, all men are created equal.' Those are just words. 'I have a dream.' Just words. But they help move things. And I think it was partly that understanding that probably led me to try to do something similar in different arenas." -- Obama, 2007

In other words, community organizing isn`t always about going head to head. It`s not always about cutting people down. It`s not always about taking power away from the powerful (after all, what do you do with the power you get? Will it corrupt you as it did them?). Sometimes community building is about, well, building. It`s about inspiring. Liberating. Leading. And it`s about distributing power, not centralizing it. It goes far beyond words, too.

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.

Japan Social Media Marketers

I joined the Japan Social Media Marketers community recently. I found these guys via the Tokyo2Point0 community. Lance Shields started the group with these words: "So yet another community was born and it bumbled along with mainly myself posting blog entries and the occasional discussion thread that mainly I responded to myself. It was pretty lonely and it was a lot like every blog I started and stopped over the years. Then a really cool ..." And it goes on from there. The point is Lance stuck it out. Those who build things from scratch often find themselves alone and responding to themselves initially. In fact, some of the most successful people in the world started out that way, right? Anyway, I`ll hang out here for a bit and see what`s up. The Japanese international social media community seems fascinating. Stop by if you are around.

Friday Jan 23, 2009

2 Years of Intel Contributions to OpenSolaris

David Stewart posts an excellent review of the Intel OpenSolaris project. I can't believe it's been two years now, my goodness. That project gets a lot of attention around the world because David and other engineers are out there talking about it in multiple venues -- conferences, user groups, mailing lists, and associated communities. All of that communication not only helps build the Intel OpenSolaris engineering community, but it also helps support the entire OpenSolaris community. And even more importantly, it gives people like me (the non-technical types) the opportunity to leverage these engineering projects for even more for community-building programs. Cool.

Monday Jan 12, 2009

It Starts in your Heart

Some nice bits in here about community from Chris Pirillo -- How Community Works: Past, Present, and Future. My two favorites: community starts in your heart (not in your tools) and leaders grow naturally from within the community (you don`t necessarily have to start out with leaders already in place).

Tuesday Jan 06, 2009

Attacks in Politics and Marketing

I see attack politics and attack marketing as pretty much the same thing. Or, a distinction without much of a difference, anyway. Politicians generally attack enemies who threaten their getting elected or getting some policy implemented. If you aren't a threat, though, you are basically ignored in that system. And if you are a little guy trying to attack powerful politicians, you are generally ignored, too. This is why collective protest is a necessary prerequisite for change. Strength comes in numbers. You have to make yourself a threat to even get noticed, and that has to happen well before you have a shot at changing things (whatever your thing is). But from the politicians point of view, since they have the power, it seems the attack principle dictates that they shouldn`t want to give too much exposure to a competitor or group they don`t support, so many politicians actually tend to attack pretty carefully. The rhetorically skilled know this very well. They think out a few moves ahead. Who should do the attacking? What`s the venue of the attack? What will the counter punch look like? Where will it come from? And when? What does it mean when no counter attack comes back at all and instead they are met with silence? And heck, what if the opponent praises in return instead of attacking as expected? The answers to these questions are imprecise at best.

I used to do competitive marketing, and I went through this exact same process. However, I always told my clients that attacks are best done by third parties and only in response to a precipitating attack. In other words, you don`t attack first. It`s not worth the headline. Instead, you be the one responding. Here`s why: those who attack first generally give away at least some of their position, and that gives you much more flexibility to respond. Unskilled politicians and marketers make this mistake all the time when they shoot their mouths off, but the concept holds up pretty well over time. I`ve said before that I think people attack for basically two reasons: (1) they are afraid that someone smaller than them may grow up and kick their butt, or (2) they are small themselves and want to pick a fight with a big guy to get attention. Either way, if you study your attacker you can learn a lot.

It's a game, granted. And everyone in it knows this. Most attacks can be quite easily turned around with some basic facts and logic. But rationality is irrelevant in the arena of delivering really good emotional propaganda for the purpose of influencing behavior. That's why attacks can work in some cases if they generate a strong reaction from the attacked. Attacks spread fear. And many times that fear shapes how people think if it`s not characterized properly. In fact, the term used to describe this process is sometimes called FUD -- fear, uncertainty, and doubt. It`s a silly sounding term, but it should be taken seriously because the best propagandists out there can be rather dangerous people if they have a power base and resources supporting them (a country, a company, an interest group, a foundation, a university, a union, whatever). In other cases, however, attacks and fear mongering backfire badly, and we saw this in the recent political campaign in the U.S. where pols on both sides took some things too far and the people (remember the people?) called them out on it.

So, what should you do if you are attacked in the marketplace? First, stop. Think. Don`t react immediately with the first counter attack you can think of in the first publication you can find. You`ve been attacked so you now have the upper hand for a period of time (not forever, though). What is the attack telling you about your attacker? Is he or she responding go your attack? If so, you deserve the counter attack so enjoy your stupid little fight. If not, though, something else is going on and you may be in a much better position than you think. It means that you got someone`s attention for some reason. You may have not even intended to get this attention, but that`s what the attack may mean and that`s valuable competitive intelligence if you can confirm it. Remember, if you were really irrelevant, chances are you`d be ignored. So, dig right there before responding and respond to defend and deflect not to attack back. And if you can praise the attacker (or his product or community or company or whatever) so much the better. Attackers are generally simple minded and angry and unable to deal with praise as a response. Alternatively, your attacker could just be engaging in bad marketing or politicking. Consider that too. Either way, you have the upper hand if you do the responding, not the attacking.

Tags: propaganda attacks

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.

Thursday Sep 04, 2008

American Reporters Seeking India?

Journalist seeking paycheck? Try India: "India is a fascinating country where history is being made in many respects so it is a fertile place for good journalism. Hopefully some of the non-Indian journalists will have a better understanding of India when they do go back." -- Raju Narisetti.

Very interesting to see the media market exploding in India. But it's even better to see some of these publications open to foreign reporters coming in and sharing their experience and then going back with a new outlook on the country. I've seen other Indian business people expressing this very same sentiment.

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? 

Saturday Jul 19, 2008

Deirdre's New Computer

Check out Deirdre's new computer. It's big. Get ready for more video.

Friday Jun 20, 2008

The OGB Breaks Wind

Sam Varghese scratches out a very humorous quote here -- Hey FOSS project, what's your pedigree?
"The project is so tied up in its own bowels, trying to draft structures for its own operation, that the only thing it has left to chance is probably the order in which members of the governing board break wind - and in which minor key they do so. I wouldn't be surprised if even that was specified in an amendment some years down the line."
Sam, I have to admit, that's a great quote. You know pretty much nothing about OpenSolaris (just ask Patrick), but that's a very funny quote indeed. I'm saving it.

The context for Sam's quote is the whole "organic vs inorganic" open source argument. Linux is great because it's "organic" and springs to life from the great wild, and OpenSolaris sucks wind because it's "non-organic" and is driven by Sun and the OGB has flatulence. That's pretty much it. Whatever. I'm a fan of Linux (I use Ubuntu), but I really don't know enough yet about the Linux community to comment about its lack of pesticide use. I know more about OpenSolaris, so I can comment there.

OpenSolaris is still very much a mix. Some parts are most certainly organic -- porting of DTrace and ZFS to MacOS/BSD), the non-Sun distros, the user groups, the OSDevCon conference, etc. Some parts are represented by transparency on Sun's part and the interaction with other communities, such as the specification and testing of the SCM choices, the new wiki applications, the OpenSolaris Summit operations, etc. Some parts are characterized by various open development projects on the site with live gates outside the firewall with external committers, such as desktop and g11n, or just engineers working in the open as much as possible, such as some of the technologies in the new OpenSolaris distro (install, packaging, etc). And other parts of the project are still largely internal to Sun but plan to move outside, and that's probably represented best by the ON consolidation -- the kernel. The kernel source is out there, of course, and the community is contributing via the request-sponsor process, but the main gate is still inside. So, give or take few inaccuracies on my part, it's pretty much a mix of organic and inorganic. Or is it non-organic. Anyway. The problem with all this is ... what? What's the big deal? This is all normal operations for a large, multi-phase, long term project to open Solaris from within a multi-billion dollar corporation that still has build, ship, and support products.

OpenSolaris can't live up to an artificial standard of being a totally "organic" project. I'm not sure anything could, actually. And we never claimed such a characteristic, actually. I think it's fine for those involved in the project to criticize various things (and they do), but that's all in an effort to fix things and move forward. Again, it's normal. You will find that in all projects in all industries. I'll give Sam one thing, though. There is a kernel of truth in that we have spun ourselves around silly on some issues these last few years. But that's very much changing now. Sure, you can argue with the changes, but the fact is that the project has changed significantly lately and for the better. But did Sam choose to get involved and help out in the true spirit of open source? No. Instead, he chose to use a two thousand year old rhetorical technique (well documented by Aristotle) to attack while sitting safely on the sidelines.

It's not big deal, really. I just loved the quote.

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
Rev 1.0

Sun Blogger License Agreement 1.1

By signing below, you agree to the following:

1. Definitions:

“Intellectual Property:” worldwide common law or statutory (a) patents, patent applications, and patent
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.

Sunday Apr 20, 2008

Benkler on Open Source

Nice TED talk from Yochai Benkler on Open Source economics and the disruptive nature of community development. To me, this is all about empowered individuals acting in their own interests (financial, altruistic, whatever), so that the collective also benefits. Also see Coase's Penguin, or Linux and the Nature of the Firm and The Wealth of Networks.

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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