Saturday May 10, 2008

Bragging Rights

In the midst of stories dissing my company because of our weak Q3 and subsequent drop - ok, plunge - in stock price, my day was brightened this morning when I opened up my morning paper, the Los Angeles Times. There, on the front page, was this headline: A Second Life for Corporate America

I'm an internal communicator, and my job is typically behind the scenes, not making headlines.  So the fact that our recent Global Employee Connections meeting in Second Life was prominently featured in the story has just made me grin, ear-to-ear.

Here's a quote from the story:

"Sun Microsystems, which makes computer servers and software, owns seven islands in Second Life, two of which are open to the public. The rest are used for training sessions and meetings. During its biggest event, a 12-hour corporate meeting held last month, 14 of Santa Clara, Calif.-based Sun's top executives hobnobbed with hundreds of employees. Alpine skiing, car racing, live jazz and a sandbox were also part of the event....

....Hundreds of Sun avatars lounged in the audience, some wearing sneakers and jeans, others in business attire, asking questions about new products, Second Life and Sun's competitive position. Thousands of other employees watched the virtual meeting on monitors in Sun's offices in Santa Clara, New York and Tokyo."

How did employees react to our global meeting in Second Life?  I'd say the reaction was pretty split, with some people loving it and other not so crazy about it. But while not everyone loved the experience, you've gotta love good publicity!

OK, I'm going to get this big grin off my face any minute now....

Wednesday Aug 08, 2007

Keeping the Social in Social Networking

Sunday night, my son and two of his friends joined us for dinner.  Over barbecued chicken and corn-on-the-cob, we swapped stories about jobs we'd held, places we'd been, meals we'd eaten.  But the most interesting part of the evening - at least for me -  was the conversation we had on communication and the role that social media plays for these twenty-somethings.

Their take, in a nutshell:

  • Text messaging:  Air and water (btw, dinner was eaten to the background music of cell phones beeping, singing or tooting alerts of new messages coming in).  How you know where to meet your friends, where the best band is playing tonight, what time to pick up a friend to go out.
  • MySpace:  The ultimate site with the best functionality and the most friends
  • FaceBook:  Used mostly because photo-sharing was better, but features such as "poke" were met with rolled eyes and groans:  "What kind of loser 'pokes' someone?  If you have something to say, be sociable and text message!"
  • Instant messaging:  IF you have a pc and IF you happen to be using it, a good way to multitask conversations with a variety of friends
  • Will you be my friend?:  Friend lists also elicited groans.  Why do people you haven't heard from in years now want to be your "friend?"  Is it a contest to see who has the longest list?
  • Twitter:  Huh?
  • E-mail: E-what?
  • Second Life:  A dangerous addiction.  The heroin of the electronic community - once you get started, you may find hours of your life gone.  But very interesting, and the idea that one can make a living in a virtual world quite fascinating
When I explained that part of my job at Sun is to build communities and that meant helping non-networkers learn some of these tools, I was met with expressions of disbelief and astonishment.  Why, they asked me, would Sun care?  All this stuff is just their way of keeping in touch with each other...what does that have to do with business?

Such an excellent question.  My dinner guests see social networking  A way to communicate, keep in touch, know what's going on.  That's its power.

And that's my takeaway from Sunday night.  Relationships drive our business.  And healthy relationships are built on common knowledge, trust, respect and a large degree of likability.  These tools can help us find common ground with each other, learn about each other, and as a result, possibly quicken relationship building and trust development. 

Over 3,000 Sunnies now use Facebook.  For the most part, we use it because it's a fun way to exchange information, share photos, learn about each other's interests.  There's not a big business side to it.  But that's OK.  Because it's keeping the social in social networking.

We have a lot to learn about this world, but let's not forget what we already know - that we want to work with people we respect and like.  Getting to know someone is a big part of that process.  How social media can help us expand our relationships and expand our worlds   - and how to keep the joy of interpersonal, inperson relationships sacred - are the really big issues we'll need to tackle in the months and years ahead.

Thursday Jul 19, 2007

A Visitor to Our Strange Land

Here's another funny thing about revolutions:  once you're caught up in it, you can't believe that everyone isn't equally passionate about it.

To point: I was spending concentrated time with my extended family last week, none of whom are in the high tech industry. Lawyers, health care providers, finance folks, sales professionals representing organizations as diverse as non-profit organizations to big conglomerates.  Ages 23 to 85.  But no high tech. As we were catching up with each other and I was sharing our work at Sun on community building and social media, my family's reaction caught me off guard.

Lots of curiosity.  Lots of interest.  Lots of questions.  But remarkably little hands on experience. And no real understanding of why Web 2.0 is significant to business, to communities and to culture.

It was a healthy reminder that we, too, can get caught up in our own ivory towers.  It was also a boost to see eyes light up as we explored the subject and how it could impact their lives.  We talked for hours.  

One result is that I'm now working with my brother-in-law to introduce how social media can help the Jewish Community Federation of Cleveland, a non-profit organization, use the network to better connect donors with recipients, and how to connect philanthropists with each other to unite behind common causes such as education, health care and other areas supported by the Federation.  Oh, and how the network can help the Jewish Federation build more collaboration internally.

He's on fire with ideas, and I'm smiling ear-to-ear.  Revolutionist and evangelist - not how I thought I'd be spending my, uh, late middle age years. Whodathunkit?

Monday Jul 09, 2007

Truth or Consequences

At the Sun Social Mashup that I spoke of in my last post, we got into a vigorous discussion over the veracity of wikis versus print.  Some participants pointed out that some pretty big untruths had been outed from Wikipedia, and that wikis should be viewed with caution because the information may not be reliable.

And print is reliable?  Hmmm, I beg to differ. 

While there is great comfort in holding a book or magazine in your hands, adding "weight" to your research, the fact is that no media is exempt from fiction parading as fact.  Remember the brouhaha over James Frey's book, "A Million Little Pieces"?  Was it a factual recount of his efforts to become clean or was it a historical novel, with some fact and some fiction mixed in? (I found it a great read, by the way, regardless of what literary license was taken.)  Want another example?  How about the books that claim the Holocaust never occurred?  Or instruction manuals that are so poorly written that they are misleading or just plain wrong?

Now those who were arguing that print is more reliable talked about the fact that respectable publications have editors who lend a critical eye to the content and, if they're doing their job well, uncover inconsistencies and shaky information.  I can't argue with that, and in fact the growing reluctance of too many publications to invest in fact-checkers makes me uneasy.  The web does leave us without official editors and replaces them with passionate participants who likely have an ax to grind.

Still.... does the light of day expose fraud and bad information?   James Surowiecki's book, "The Wisdom of Crowds," reviews how a diverse, independent audience of thinkers can uncover the facts and make sure good information surfaces.  My first reaction to this argument, I admit, was that "the wisdom of crowds" sure sounded like an oxymoron to me.  Paul Ginsparg of Cornell University put in more eloquently: "The problem with the global village is all the global village idiots." But when you actually read Surowiecki's book, you see that under the right conditions, the crowd can actually provide a powerful - and accurate - counterpoint to the thoughts of a single person.

Who do you trust?   Information is only as good as its source.  As a writer who has been in the communications game for more years than I like to think about, I know that more eyes can create higher quality - different people catch mistakes that slip right by the writer.  And that, of course, is the beauty of wikis. 

Then again, only a fool believes everything they read without independent thinking and review.  Let the reader beware.


Friday Jun 29, 2007


Revolutions are generally poorly funded, chaotic, messy affairs.  By definition, they are grass roots.  There are moments of glory and moments of ignominy.  And the outcome is not guaranteed.

Revolution is on my mind, not only because of the July 4th holiday here in the states but because of a very interesting meeting we hosted here at Sun yesterday - our first Sun Social Networking Mashup. Forty folks joined us, both in person and virtually, as we came together to talk about how we can move the company forward, pushing the envelope further and further.  Communications, software, marketing, labs, the field and many other groups were represented.

Is revolution an overstatement?  Not at all.  Our session demonstrated many of the characteristics of an uprising - grass roots,  little funding, lots of egos (heck, mine alone took up two seats!), lots of ideas, agreement, disagreement, debate, discussion, and, well, some chaos.  What a blast it was!

Mashup1   Mashup2

So in this brave new world, our leaders will learn that they must earn their audiences, much as bloggers do.  A title will get you a first listen, but not necessarily a second.  Messages needs to be sharp, meaningful and relevant - the audience has moved from victim to volunteer.  Communicators don't get off unchanged either.  We will find that "managing the message" is a thing of the past.  The genie is out of the bottle, and the smart communicator needs to find out how to facilitate the process, not fight it.  And life for the citizenry?  Overwhelming, involving, self-selected.  

John Dutra, our CTO for IT, pointed out that 40 people can't change the world.  But 40 people can convert another 40 people, who can convert another 40 people, and so it goes.  In fact, there are already thousands of people at Sun who have joined the revolution - now the question becomes how we can use the revolution to form new communities, to collaborate with people who we might never have thought to team with before.

Mistakes, missteps, collisions are all a part of this.  How wonderful to work for a company that embraces this messy process.  For in that way we are a state-sanctioned revolution, chartered by our leadership to leap ahead, assume nothing and make the new world ours.

Monday Jun 11, 2007

The Face of Communication

When our daughter, Carolyn, was a new baby, I used my limited craft skills to create a little human faces mobile to hang over her crib.  Aside from the fact that my husband claimed that the faces looked more like demons than humans and worried I was traumatizing our firstborn, Carolyn stared and cooed at the faces endlessly.  This is hardly a testament to my craft skills - it's a fact that babies are wired to recognize and react to human faces.

So I can't say I was terribly surprised to see the results of a recent survey at Sun that showed 61 percent of our employees still prefer to get information from their manager.  Social networking makes it easier for managers to reach out to employees and do much of what employees like - provide context to the information, cast it in terms of what matters to the manager, the employee and their group, and just talk about it.  Emoticons make it possible to humanize the interaction, sharing feelings and being more genuine.

But there's still something about face-to-face communication that is pretty impactful.  Consider a seminar I attended last week on social media and communication.  At the session, we saw a demo of a virtual world that was used for company meetings. Part of it was way cool. Virtual meeting places, personalized avatars, interfacing with the real world through a window to a physical conference room...great stuff. In fact, the person speaking to us was from Europe and joining us through his avatar on a big screen in the conference room.

But.  I found the experience devoid of emotion and not terribly engaging. Why? Because I was looking at a face that didn't smile, wince, roll eyes, frown, blink or show any kind of reaction at all.  Any expressions that came through from body positioning (fold, unfold arms, etc.) were consciously initiated, taking the authenticity factor away.  We saw what he wanted us to see, not who he really is.  I couldn't relate to him.

So while I find virtual worlds intriguing, I can't say I find them engaging.  And I think we'll have to do a better job on the engagement side so that the worlds are not just an intellectual exercise or a video game.  Or I think lots of us will lose interest in them pretty quickly.

We're pioneers together in this world.  And because communication is at the heart of our humanity, what we do in shaping this world will in turn shape ourselves and our children - how we share, how we relate.  What an opportunity we have.  And what a privilege.

Tuesday May 22, 2007

If Beethovan had an avatar, what would it look like?

Of all the fascinating cultural changes that technology is bringing us, the new opportunities for artists are among the most mind-boggling, at least for me.  Musicians, of course, have been in the forefront of technology for a long time.  Recording equipment is the Gutenberg press equivalent for musicians, making it possible to save, copy and share music. But visual artists haven't had this level of technlogical disruption available to them.  As Joni Mitchell says, when asked to do an encore,  "No one ever said to Van Gogh, 'Hey, man!  Do another  Starry Night!  He did it, he finished it and that was that'"(capture on her brilliant album, Miles of Aisles).

But Web 2.0 is an equal opportunity door opener.  Three stories to share with you that you may find interesting...

Bringing the Gallery to My Front Door

Do you know where and how I buy a fair amount of artwork?  Well, given that I'm not a billionaire, my tastes are eclectic and I love the feeling of living in an art gallery, I'm always on the hunt for new artists who do interesting work.  Not so easy to fit into a busy life.  Until I was introduced to Hang Gallery in San Francisco.  Hang represents new, undiscovered artists.  When they had a gallery in Palo Alto, it was a fun (and dangerous) place for me to drop in.  But once they closed that location and consolidated everything in the city, the convenience was gone.  Until I discovered their website.  Which is fabulous.  I can easily browse the collection, see what's new, read about artists, contact them, rent or buy works.  I've probably picked up a dozen pieces from them (remember - these are new artists, so you can pick up interesting stuff for very little money). 

Art for Sale

So there's a very big movement these days on eBay, centered on "a-painting-a-day."  Katherine Tyrrell blogs about this here.  She comments that smart artists who want to make a living from their craft have become smart business people and smart web users.  Want to buy a piece of artwork but don't have a lot of dough?  You can bid on these paintings that usually start well under $100.  The quality varies with artist, and beauty, after all, is in the eye of the beholder.  Browsing is free, and you can be tempted to get involved for not much money.  BTW, Katherine gives some good advice to anyone looking to use the web to build a business.  Little bonus for her readers...

Making and Marketing Music

Isn't it ironic that at a time that music is ubiquitous that the music industry is in such deep doo doo?  How could an industry run itself so poorly that it has managed to completely miss the revolution?  Instead of jumping in, they resisted and are paying a very high price.  Editorial comments aside, my colleague, Dave Viotti, brought to my attention this article from the New York Times.  Its title, Sex, Drugs and Updating your Blog, alone made it worth looking at, but its author, Clive Thompson, went beyond the title to tell a story well worth reading.  Thompson writes of a musician, Jonathan Coulton, who has used the web to build an audience, sell out concerts, sell music - all without an agent.  And there's more...his fans have become part of his music:

"Coulton welcomes his fans’ avid attention; indeed, he relies on his fans in an almost symbiotic way. When he couldn’t perform a guitar solo for “Shop Vac,” a glittery pop tune he had written about suburban angst — on his blog, he cursed his “useless sausage fingers” — Coulton asked listeners to record their own attempts, then held an online vote and pasted the winning riff into his tune."

Talk about the Participation Age...and about breaking open walls to let the world in.




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