Same Source, Opposite Conclusion

In his blog criticizing Sun, Dave Rosenberg points to an article by Dave Rosenberg as an example of something he says Sun is not doing — which is using innovative to help build relationships with developer communities. Well, I read the article and I liked it. Some good tips in there. So, I’d like to point to the same article to demonstrate the opposite conclusion — that as a corporation, Sun is actually doing some fine open source marketing and it’s largely based on the open communications of our engineers. And since we are in the process of open sourcing new stuff all the time, we’ll continually be building relationships with our developer communities just like we are doing now. Are we perfect? Hardly. But we are doing more than some people think, and there’s more to come, too. What’s happening at Sun is that marketing is starting to join the community and do its marketing from within the community. Many engineering groups have been there all along, but now our marketing colleagues are showing up, too, which is very encouraging.

Anyway, back to the article — The voodoo of marketing an open source project. Here’s the last paragraph:

In the end, it’s the dialog that you have with your current and future user base that will drive the success of your project or product. The open source community thrives on the reciprocity between product developers and those who support the efforts. Having consistent, honest communication with your constituents is the first step to launching a marketing effort that will help catapult you to success.

Those “dialog” and “honest communications” references are most important, I believe. But — and that’s a very big but — the communication has to be unfiltered and distributed, which is the opposite of traditional marketing. In other words … engineers talking to engineers.

In our marketing, we already do much of what the article talks about (conferences, t-shirts, newsgroups, blogs, etc), but what’s interesting is that our engineers have been doing these things for years — directly engaging with the communities in which they participate. It’s not traditional marketing, of course, it’s simply the process of having a consistent, honest conversation with a peer across the firewall. So, we get this part totally and always have.

Last week just the OpenSolaris contingent of Sun’s participation at OSCON topped more than 15 people — including the entire OpenSolaris CAB — to participate in several sessions. Heck, we even sent the prez. Other Sun software groups were there, too, so I have no clue what the total was, but it was a lot from just one company. And although I was at home with a three month old, I heard things went pretty well in Portland. It’s important to note that the vast majority of presenters from the OpenSolaris project at OSCON were engineers. Again, it’s the engineers that are driving these conversations, not marketeers and executives.

This dynamic has been going on long before . Many of Sun’s core kernel developers have been participating on Solaris community public mail lists (alt.solaris.x86, comp.unix.solaris, solarisx86) for years, as well as contributing to various open source communities. And the Solaris engineers have been blogging on for more than a year now, well before OpenSolaris went live. When we launched OpenSolaris, we launched with 150 engineers leading the way in their blogs — talking about the code directly with the OpenSolaris community. Totally unfiltered. We skipped the press release and just, well, opened the site. PR did brief some reporters under NDA (I was strongly against this), but much of the traditional marketing and PR tactics were simply not used in favor of directly engaging the community. OpenSolaris is a developer program, and we wanted our marketing to reflect that. As launches go, I’d say it was a pretty innovative move. These open communications with the community will only increase as the project grows. Currently, we have 24 communities that are chatting away on 46 discussion lists, and when we implement a comprehensive governance and co-development model with projects the interaction will increase further still. All of this is the foundation of good open source marketing. All of it. We have a long way to go, true, but we are already ahead of many of our critics who don’t realize how much Sun has changed.

I’m sure the guys at NetBeans, Java,, Jini,, Jxta, GlassFish, Grid, Looking Glass, and the other developer communities in which we participate would agree with me. They are, after all, doing pretty much the same thing at their conferences and in their blogs and discussion lists — collaborating on code and talking directly and honestly with their peers within their communities. Pretty much what’s outlined in Dave’s article, don’t you think?