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 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.

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 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

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.

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.

Wednesday Jul 02, 2008

Kicking a Puppy

Red Hat In Boston, Part 2.3: openSUSE And Openness, Period: "On Sun re: OpenSolaris: 'They're 10 years too late to create a community [around OpenSolaris]. I hate to say anything about about a free Unix because I feel like I'm kicking a puppy, but on the other hand I'm very disappointed that they can't just bite the bullet and participate in Linux. The work that's done for Solaris is done only for Solaris. And if you're a customer, do you really want to adopt an open source OS where the only real vendor option is Sun? It's great to work with Sun in community projects where Sun is an equal member, but not as much fun to work in a community that is controlled by Sun.'" -- Joe Brockmeier, community manager for openSUSE.

Interesting comments.

At first I was disappointed to read this coming from a community guy and all, but then I slapped myself silly. I know better. I've been doing this for a while now. People in this business (any business, really) 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 and want to pick a fight with a big guy to get attention. There are other reasons, but those are the biggies.

Anyway, if you read this article in its entirety, that paragraph up there on OpenSolaris really sticks out. One wonders what the real context was because it doesn't really fit the piece that well. Regardless, the bit about the "work done for Solaris is done only for Solaris" doesn't make sense since there are things in OpenSolaris now that are not even in Solaris yet. Anyone with any knowledge about OpenSolaris knows this. And those ZFS and DTrace bits now living nicely in BSD/MacOS also don't fit the attack that well, too. I think we have a few distros out there now, as well. Not as many as Linux, surely, but our technology is starting to spread, and that's great. But the "10 years too late to create a community" is the real kicker. To accept that statement is to believe that tiny little markets like China and India and Brazil and Russia are fully developed and there's no room for another operating system, no room for another community. Just no room. Wrong. And obviously so.

Whatever. I run MacOS at home and it's great. I run OpenSolaris at work and at home and it's great (nascent though it is). I also run Linux (Ubuntu) at work and at home, too. In fact, I have more and more respect for the technology in Linux (what I can understand, anyway, being a non-techie myself), and I regularly learn from Linux guys about community building issues. I'm also proud of all of the software Sun has contributed to the FOSS community that runs on Linux and helps make Linux successful around the world. I haven't tried openSUSE yet and I don't know much about the community, so I really can't comment on that -- other than I've heard great things about both. More from Patrick.

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.

Friday Apr 04, 2008

Downloads and Attacks

Patrick clarifies. Great post.

Thursday Mar 27, 2008

We Don't Have Any Committees

"We don't have any committees." That's a quote from Warren Buffett talking to Charlie Rose a while back. There are many fine bits in this interview, but that gem Buffett blurts out toward the end of the conversation -- right after he talks about how he has no human resources department or investor relations department or public relations department. Pretty remarkable, don't you think? Probably even more remarkable is that there are only 19 people at corporate headquarters at Berkshire Hathaway, which has 73 businesses and a U.S. federal tax return running more than 10,000 pages on top of all the state returns and foreign returns. But the "no committees" comment got my attention because he so casually dismissed committees as things that degenerate into "make work" with people acting as "liaisons" between committees reporting to each other and around you go wasting time and money.

A lesson for all projects. Do you really need that committee? Or can you simply do your job and trust others to do theirs? The very best project managers I know all feel the same way about committees. And they'd agree with Buffett.

Saturday Feb 23, 2008

Rapid Response Counterattack

McCain turns tables on Times. An interesting read about how the McCain forces jumped all over the Times the other day. This is standard procedure, of course, but it really depends on how well you execute (and that execution always makes interesting reading) and if your enemy responds in kind. Politicians know that in terms of public perception you can absolutely influence by going negative, hitting hard, using overwhelming force, and yelling with extreme language. The purpose is to intimidate. If the other side counters, well, then you have a brawl. If they hesitate, though, you've got them. That's the critical part that comes through in this article. The Times found itself responding to its own article and responding late. Now, this is politics so truth is not really that important, and I have no opinion about the substance of the article or the counter attack (nor do I particularly care about either). What I find fascinating, though, is the dynamic of influence and how large organizations of people can be rapidly moved to action. What are the techniques? What foundational work is necessary beforehand so a message resonates? Anyway, the LA Times talks about some of this, too: McCain story proves incendiary among journalists, conservatives

Friday Oct 05, 2007

Mark's Musings

Very cool to see my buddy Mark Herring out there blogging -- Mark's Musings. Mark is one of the very best marketers at Sun, and his blog could be very hot very soon.

Friday Sep 28, 2007

A Simpe Code Repository

Quote: Sun packs out Solaris developer support: "Sun told The Register that Project Indiana is 'adding the concept of a distribution' to OpenSolaris, which is a 'code repository.' Apparently, OpenSolaris was always meant to be a code repository and not a free, open version of Solaris, which is what Sun had led us to believe OpenSolaris would be during the years leading up to release. Project Indiana will feature new packaging systems and Solaris features such as ZFS." -- Gavin Clarke, The Register

That's the last paragraph of Gavin's story, and he touches on some of the confusion around OpenSolaris for the past few years. There have been many community conversations on various OpenSolaris lists with "what is OpenSolaris" in the subject line, and there have been many press articles and blogs about OpenSolaris positioning it as an operating system. It is ... but it isn't. As a practical matter, the code from OpenSolaris is used to build a few distros as well as Sun's developer distro, which is called Solaris Express. (You can get all the distros here) So, in that sense, OpenSolaris is an operating system. But ... not quite. Some closed bits are used in the building process, and the resulting system built from the OpenSolaris source is not called OpenSolaris but it's called something else. So, it can get confusing if you don't deal with this every day. So, what actually is OpenSolaris then? It's source code. And a community. And a website. At the highest level, that's pretty much it.

Now, there have been some random acts of corporate messaging in the past few years around OpenSolaris, but that's normal and should be expected. The project has been opening in stages over a long period of time, and it's taken some time for everyone to understand how to explain everything. No harm, really. Every new project I've ever worked on in every industry has experienced early messaging challenges. After all, we're talking about human communication, aren't we? But what I think is really cool here is that the message that OpenSolaris is an operating system has resonated even when we have not really been pushing that within project itself. What does that mean? It means that the market has looked at our stuff, it has listened to our confusing messaging, and it's made up its mind in a generally positive way. You simply could not ask for anything more given the limitations we've been working under.

But I think things are going to get much easier. Project Indiana, for instance, will help clarify this issue as it grows into a complete system that can be customized from various source repositories and serve as a platform from which other distributions can be built. Critical engineering projects to support Indiana are install and packaging among others, and the final binary distribution should be easy to downland, install, and use. And easy to explain, too! From an engineering perspective, OpenSolaris will always be many things, but from a market positioning perspective OpenSolaris needs to be one thing so that one thing can be communicated around the world to a variety of different audiences. Once you engage the conversation on that one thing, you can drill down into the many things under the hood.

There were many reasons why some of us on the project wanted OpenSolaris to fly under the radar from a publicity perspective during our early years. This is one of them. A lot of engineering and community building work had to be done first before we could really bring the conversation and the technology to large numbers of users and developers globally. That's what's happening now. One step at a time. And you will see the site start to evolve to reflect this as well. The number of people hitting the site is really escalating and diversifying lately. We are, quite simply, maturing as a project. Hopefully, in this next phase we can learn to explain ourselves better as well. I think we will.

Friday Sep 21, 2007

The NetBeans "Attitude"

NetBeans vs. Eclipse, this time with attitude: "While I’m not switching to NetBeans (or anything else) any time soon, I do find much to admire in this new release and the philosophy behind it. I had a hard time coming up with a good word to describe this but let’s call it: the NetBeans attitude ... So what do I like about the NetBeans attitude? First, I like the attitude that NetBeans means one thing. It’s an IDE. Its entire purpose is to make life easier for developers. I’m a developer, so I’m all for anything that does that!" -- Ed Burnette, Software, gadgets and games, ZDNet

That's an interesting quote about NetBeans from an Eclipse fan. I can appreciate the quote because I agree with it. I was involved in NetBeans on the marketing side right around the time when IBM launched Eclipse. It was a wild time for the NetBeans team, but they surely taught me all about attitude. :) They were an amazing group of people back then, no question about it, and I see that little has changed in that regard. Which is very cool.

So, after reading this post I got to thinking about OpenSolaris. What's the OpenSolaris attitude? Do we have one? What's the one thing we are known for and do best? What's our attitude?

Wednesday Sep 05, 2007

Headlines! Headlines! Headlines!

Solaris raring for a fight with Linux: "And we thought it was all about peace, love, and ... Solaris. But no, Sun is gearing up for one of the classic open source battles. We've had the various Linux distributions duking it out, and we've had MySQL versus PostgreSQL. Now we're getting Solaris versus Linux, and this is a fight that I believe may actually be worth having." -- Matt Asay


This "battle" tone is all over the web now. I'm not sure where it started, but it seemed to flame up last night around midnight. What I find interesting is that Matt uses the phrase "we're getting Solaris versus Linux" to point to an article titled "OpenSolaris will challenge Linux says Sun" which is actually an abridged article from the more aptly titled "Sun: Coders key to Solaris' rise" published last week.

I blogged about that original article because I loved the quote in there about the OpenSolaris Community. But the version that has people all worked up today is missing eight paragraphs of text from the original. Why? Read both of them and you'll see the clear difference in tone. And why all the wild headline changes, too? Even if you read the version Matt points to you'd be hard pressed to find anything in the article to substantiate the headline. I mean, really, this is silly. Sun's Ian Murdock and Marc Hamilton were talking about how the OpenSolaris community is growing, how the technology is improving, and some of the plans we are kicking around to improve things. That's pretty much it. So, where's the war here?

Oh, and also, the OpenSolaris community isn't taking the bait, which is very cool. This is now the second or third time recently where the community has utterly ignored media and/or blog flame fests. Heck, we've had enough of our own flames in the past, so perhaps we're moving on and just focusing on the job at hand -- building the OpenSolaris community organically and improving this technology openly.

Thursday Aug 30, 2007


A blog into Schwartz's mind: "The number one role of a leader is to communicate. And the number one role of a CEO is to be the chief communicator." -- JIS

Monday Aug 06, 2007

Perspective and History

Interesting article on Project Indiana -- Indiana's Calling, Is Anyone Listening? The first sentence of the article is most fascinating for me: "Telling the story of Project Indiana is not an easy one."

Ha. I'll bet. The article then goes on to talk about how many commentators are seeing all this from the perspective of Linux. Well, of course they are, my goodness. That's been the case for several years now. In fact, this is probably the most significant messaging issue around OpenSolaris -- and Solaris, for that matter -- since we started the project. I can remember arguing for a year before we opened that we should not fuel this issue by criticizing or comparing ourselves to Linux in any way whatsoever. Just get people focusing on OpenSolaris, growing our community organically, and praising the Linux community for the outstanding job they've done (which they clearly have). Not that anyone listened, but that was basically my pitch. In other words, we should just shut up and build our community, which we knew would take years so just get started. I figured that we needed to lead with humility as the single most important element in order to have any shot at earning our own credibility so we wouldn't always be seen from the perspective of Linux.

Well, two years later I can see that my efforts in this area were basically meaningless -- for both good and bad reasons. The Good: The engineers participating all along didn't need the lecture since they got the concept of community building because they were already a community. That's been cool to see (but we have a lot more to do). The Bad: Market perception had already moved well beyond seeing OpenSolaris from the perspective of OpenSolaris. Instead, it would be compared to Linux in almost every way possible, and changing this would take years. Plus, our own flamers (the distinct minority who clearly lack credibility) did their very best to continue picking fights with Linux and distracting the OpenSolaris community on our very own lists. Oh, well. What saved us? A few things. OpenSolaris was credible early on because of the advanced nature of the code and the distinct lack of hype from Sun. Plus, everyone thought we'd fail. Also we didn't have a king or anything, so everyone who participated shared pretty equally in the conversations. That's what defines the leadership model on OpenSolaris, by the way. It's distributed widely and not focused on any one individual. Anyway, OpenSolaris was just an engineering project focusing on the phased opening of code and infrastructure to build a little community around the concept of open development. That's it. In that respect, we've been successful, and we've been slowly earning our credibility as we build our community. Cool.

Yet as Sun hired a big Linux name in Ian Murdock a few months ago, we've clearly started generating a lot more press coverage as a result, and along with that comes the inevitable comparisons to Linux. Yet again. Sigh. The increased attention is good, of course, and it will be interesting to see how much longer the media market sees OpenSolaris through a Linux lens. Clearly, a lot more coverage is coming, so I hope we can finally overcome this Linux perspective because the project has been standing on its own feet for two years now and deserves to be seen from the perspective of it's own successes and failures. So, if Indy's ideas can successfully build on the good work that has gone before, that would be a welcome contribution.

Ok, back to the article and this quote right here: "'We came into this with an understanding of what we needed to do, which was in a world where so many more people know Linux than Solaris, how do we figure out how to make the wonderful technology in Solaris more accessible?' Murdock explained. To break the Project down, Indiana is meant to create a binary distribution of OpenSolaris within the OpenSolaris community, not inside Sun proper. This is not to say Sun employees aren't involved in the process. Teams within Sun are working on various aspects of the project, such as installation, packaging, and GNU userland. In fact, Murdock said, some of these efforts have been going on for some time."

The "distro" part of that paragraph is somewhat confusing since Sun already has a binary distro (all distros here), and we've been working toward open development for two years, so none of that is new. But I think people get the point that the distro model will be changing, and that's explained pretty well elsewhere. And there are parts of that change that are very appealing and will help grow the OpenSolaris community significantly. Regardless, the most important, part here is the recognition that much of this work has been underway for some time now. And the fact that it's being highlighted now is cool.

Anyway, it's a pretty good article on some of the evolutionary changes coming to OpenSolaris. A lot of us are looking forward to the Indy project coming to fruition along with many other projects in the OpenSolaris community that have been underway for a couple of years. The SCM migration is probably the most important, actually, and the most challenging, too. But as we grow and evolve and look forward, we need to keep looking back from time to time to understand the perspective of our history. It's difficult to keep these things straight in a world of so many changing messages.

More on Indy here and more on some of the related projects here as well. Many additional links at both locations.

Sunday Aug 05, 2007

Community News II

A follow up to the Community News post.

The Advocacy CG now is now responsible for maintaining the news page on That page on the site was flying well under the radar for a long time, but I think now that OpenSolaris is generating a lot more press coverage, we'll be more active in posting and commenting on news directly on the site. Commenting about news coverage in individual blogs is fine but it's not focused, so we still need a detailed history of news coverage that lives on the site itself. As we grow into a community of general users complementing all the developers and administrators, we'll need this repository well maintained. Also, I opened a new mail list -- news-discuss -- for the posting and discussion of any news-related items about OpenSolaris around the world. Ok, that may be a bit ambitious, but you get the idea. And finally, the three Advocacy News Maintainers are Terri Molini, Joe G, and Bob Wientzen, and they volunteered via an open discussion in the Advocacy CG. They will evolve the news page and any necessary processes in collaboration with the community.

Thursday Aug 02, 2007

Eco Poll

This is cool. Sun sponsored a poll on environmental responsibility at work -- New Poll Reveals 73 Percent of U.S. Workers Want Employers To Be Environmentally Responsible But Lag In Own Efforts To Help: "By Leaving Eco-friendly Habits at Home, U.S. Workers Waste An Estimated $4.3 Billion in Energy Costs Per Year Resulting in 32 Million Tons of CO2 Emissions"

That's a lot of CO2. Turn off the lights, everyone. And your computers, too. I never understood why desktop machines had to run all nite long, all weekend long, all vacation long. Makes no sense.

Anyway, we had a little chit-chat on opensolaris-discuss about how Sun does marketing, and one community member is not happy about Sun's advertising efforts. He's wrong, of course, and I explained why, but then I gave up after a while because he was just flaming at that point. But this poll is an innovative way to engage the market in a conversation, eh? Generate some news. Create some real data. Use the data in ads, press releases, sales engagements, etc. Change a little behavior and save some money along the way and help build a market for our energy-saving servers and all that. Works for me.

Community News

Here's a proposal for the OpenSolaris Community to maintain the news page on, and there are a few people who have responded positively. Cool. This will be the first time a top level page on will be maintained by the community in an open process. Expect this trend to continue. Also, what's cool about this is that as OpenSolaris grows to engage more general users around the world, international communications will become more important than ever.

Tuesday Jul 31, 2007

Marketing Hype or Opportunity?

Sun's 'Project Copy Linux' not a Linux copy: "Sun spent months and months hyping Solaris 10 ahead of its release in 2005. The OS included some ground-breaking features such as DTrace and ZFS that Sun continues to flaunt today. The company has been unusually silent about the tools Solaris 11 will bring, making us wonder if OpenSolaris hasn't been a distraction from the core OS. You can see some of the discussed Nevada features here." -- Ashlee Vance, The Register

Oh, I think we hyped S10 for way more than just "months and months." Wasn't it more like a year or something? Anyway, it was worth it. But Ashlee hits on a good point -- distraction.

Our pre-S10 hype was traditional marketing, basically. The source was closed, development was all inside the firewall, and there really wasn't a community. All information had to flow through filters, and the information that was release was carefully screened and targeted. Now, however, the source is open, there is a growing global community, and development is starting to move outside (and many projects are already outside). So, how do you market -- hype -- all that stuff since it's already open for all to see and even participate in? Also, OpenSolaris isn't a distraction from the core OS. Actually, OpenSolaris is the core os. What can be a distraction, though, is trying to organize all the noise and conversations and source and binaries and projects and people into a coherent package that can be delivered in the form of hype. That's marketing. And that's extremely difficult on a project the scale of OpenSolaris. Before, you couldn't see all of the mess (in the best sense of the term, of course) because it was all hidden inside and only dribbled out via information gatekeepers. But now, it's pretty much all just out there. And more is coming when core kernel development itself moves external (the main ON gate operations, I mean, which is huge). From a marketing perspective, I think we are just now beginning to get a handle on how challenging this is. And what a big opportunity it is as well.

Friday Jul 20, 2007

Pressure Questions

Michael Dell tries to reboot Dell Computer: "During the interview, Fortune editor Andy Serwer asked Dell if he's been approached by any private equity firms about a potential buyout. Dell went quiet, smiled, looked to his PR person, looked back, and said, 'I'm not sure how to answer that.' And so, he didn't answer." -- Jia Lynn Yang, Fortune.

Pretty funny. But a good lesson for anyone dealing with the press and analysts. Even extremely experienced executives used to pressure interviews get caught off guard from time to time. It's actually nothing to laugh at. These guys have to choose their words carefully and for good reason. Even in this so-called age of open conversations, interviews are rarely conversations. Especially if you are in Dell's position right now. Also, unless you've been in a stressful media spotlight, it's difficult to judge those who are.

Sunday Jun 24, 2007


The Future of PR is Participation, Not Pitching -- "To thrive in this new distributed environment, the PR community must step out in front of the curtain, become a bit more technically adept and participate transparently as individuals in online communities." -- Steve Rubel

Tuesday May 01, 2007

More OpenSolaris and GPL

Interesting (though somewhat inaccurate in spots) article in BusinessWeek -- Sun Mulls Deeper Open-Source Dive. What's interesting about it is that no one in the article is actually saying we are "mulling a deeper open source drive" or anything of the sort. Should be an interesting time at JavaOne, though, with all the communities getting together at CommunityOne. I'll be there. And I'm sure there will be a lot of these sorts of articles between now and then, too. But I wonder ... do serious developers and customers and partners pay attention to stuff like this? I'm mixed. Some people tell me the media speculation is garbage and they ignore it, but others get quite animated about it. Who knows. I've never really seen it quantified, so I suppose it will remain a mystery.

Tuesday Mar 20, 2007

Ian Murdock and OpenSolaris

Ian Murdock joined Sun today -- or yesterday for the other half of the world. He introduced himself to the OpenSolaris Community as well, which I thought was a classy thing to do.

Many times announcements are proclaimed from the outside with little consideration for the community. But I think this is an example of Sun's move into innovative marketing that is much closer to the spirit of open source. I also think it demonstrates Ian's desire to get to know the OpenSolaris community from the inside as he figures things out in his new job. I didn't see a Sun press release today, which wouldn't have been a bad thing, per say, but sometimes press releases slow things down and make things too formal and corporate. Instead, Sun marketing and PR clearly enabled the developers to take the lead on this. That's how OpenSolaris was launched two years ago, by the way. But then again, Sun marketing and PR are part of the community so it makes sense.

I have every confidence that Ian will work from within the community and help us address some rather, ah, interesting issues swirling around here. Ian is joining the community at a pretty important time, I'd say.

Welcome, Ian. I look forward to meeting you and learning from your experience.

Friday Feb 16, 2007


Robert Scoble on leaks -- "Remember when I posted Steve Ballmer’s email to all employees? I actually had permission to do so from the PR team. Sometimes "leaks" aren't leaks at all. They are press events designed to get the company’s point of view out to the world." This is a good distinction, I think, because real leaks are bad and are generally done by people who have no idea what they are doing. Also, if your company participates in open communities, there's no reason to leak since, presumably, a great deal of your operations are already occurring in the open.



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