Monday Sep 10, 2007

Billions and billions and billions of stars

Remember being a kid, and lying in your backyard at night, starring at the stars?  And thinking about our universe, and what lies beyond our universe, and what lies beyond that, and what lies beyond that?  It was my first experience with trying to ponder the unknowable, and I still remember the spinning feeling I had as my brain bumped up against something it simply couldn't comprehend.

Not scientifically inclined by nature, solving the mysteries of the universe was not my first ambition.  And as a near-sighted, not particularly athletic child, exploring the mysteries as an astronaut didn't occur to me either.  But reading about them?  Writing about the wonders of not knowing everything? Capturing the beauty of the world on canvas?  Ahhh, that was much more up my alley.

I was brought back to these memories as I continue to read comments on the Sun bloggers' alias (sorry,'s an internal email group) about "the wikification of Sun" and a video Danny Holland and Lou Ordorica posted on YouTube.  As is my usual experience with the bloggers' alias, I'm lost for much of the conversation as I'm not an engineer.  But because we're a broad community (remember, over 10 percent of us blog externally - that's a lot of conversation!), there's almost always something in the exchange that peaks my interest.  This time there were two broad themes I found pretty interesting:

  1. With all the information being made available in blogs, wikis, social community sites, etc., how do you keep vital data from being buried or lost?
  2. What's the right balance between unconstrained proliferation of Web 2.0 devices, channels and widgets and the need for technical support for users and, I would add, governance to protect the interest of both users and the company?
These kinds of challenges are why there's a different kind of mash-up that must occur to get our arms around them, and that's an interpersonal multi-disciplinary mash-up (versus a software one).  For example, I find myself hanging out with librarians more than I ever thought I would (and we're very fortunate at Sun to have some of the very best librarians around).  Why?  Because they know all about finding information and storing it in a way that people can easily locate what they need.  Plus, they know how to keep on top of all the dizzying array of emerging technologies (my advice, btw, is "Take a librarian to lunch!").

I'm also hanging with engineering, IT, privacy and marketing folks.  Each of them provides another piece of the puzzle, another perspective, another bias and another set of passions to ignite the conversation.

If you believe that the most exciting innovations occur when different people work and play together, than you've gotta be loving the explosion of knowledge and approach happening through Web 2.0.  We've built a community of interest at Sun, fueled by curiosity, supported by expertise and knowledge, enriched by interface and sharing with the rest of the world.

So when I lean back in my chair and stare at the many windows open on my laptop, and hear the beeping of text messages on my phone, and remember I need to catch up on what my favorite bloggers are saying, and look for time to check out what's happening on Sun wikis, I don't have that overwhelmed sense of the incomprehensible that I felt as a kid.  What I feel is so very, very fortunate to be living in this time, working for this company, surrounded by these remarkable people.  And I don't even have to be an astronaut to share in the joy of exploration.

Friday Aug 24, 2007

A Ticker Tape Parade of Opinions

It was a stroke of genius.  It was an act of idiocy.  It was much ado about nothing. It was hugely significant.

As I sit here and drink my morning cup of coffee, I think back to the roar of keyboards that took over the airways yesterday when we announced that Sun's ticker symbol would change from SUNW to JAVA.  And what a clatter arose as so many passionate people vented their feelings about this move.

Not a letter went in the mail.  Hardly a telephone rang.  There were no masses of people gathered in the courtyard, loudly debating.  And yet thousands made their voices known.  Jonathan's blog had 24,105 hits by 6 pm last night, with 146 readers taking the time to comment on this move - overwhelmingly negative comments, by the way. Meanwhile, the bloggers' alias at Sun was abuzz with the news.  Someone sent an email to the alias titled, "New Inanity," and the Sun internal bloggers' alias came alive with comments. The external chat rooms were alive, too, with developers, customers, employees weighing in on the discussion.

The announcement struck a nerve.  For many, Java is more than a language - it's a cause.  And you don't mess with causes lightheartedly.  For employees, still feeling confused over the combination of a great year and the announcement of more layoffs, it was a puzzlement.  Why spend money on changing a stock ticker when some people are losing their jobs? 

On the other hand, there were those who thought the move was brilliant.  We got a huge amount of press, people were talking about us all day.  My colleague Al Riske, author of our well-known series Contrarian Minds and a blogger himself, asked the question, "Was it P.T. Barnum who said there's no such thing as bad publicity?"  And aside from the publicity, there are number of people who think the move was right - take advantage of our assets and build awareness of our brand.

Jonathan's ears were surely burning all day as he was damned for being, in the words of one pundit, "a marketing weinie" and praised, in the words of another:   "Dude. Wonderful. I love the energy you are bringing to Sun. This move is geeky and bold. Way cool. Keep it up." 

By the time this exhausting day of highs and lows - and then some more lows - ended, I realized that I haven't felt so optimistic about the future of communication in months. Talk about freedom of speech.  And engaging your community in a conversation.

One of our values at Sun is "courage."  Whatever you think about the ticker symbol change, you have to agree that it takes tremendous courage to open yourself up to the world and let the conversation swirl loudly and passionately.  There are some companies who would have shut down the comments page on their CEO's blog to hide the negative reaction.  To Sun's credit, we did not.  Personally?  I went from the old Web 1.0 reaction of "Damage control!" to realizing that none was necessary. That today's world of e-communities, networking and connections were doing just fine without any "help" from a corporate communicator.

Was changing our ticker symbol a bad move?  Was it a good move?  Or was it indeed a tempest in a teacup, or rather, a java cup... Time will tell.  But the lessons of social networking - and the courage it requires - will stick with me for a long time. 

Social networking:  toy or business tool?  I think today we received the definitive answer.




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