|SUBJECT ||Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Eric Raymond's tips for effective open source advocacy
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Date: Sun, 26 Jul 2009 16:48:59 -0400 (EDT)
To: NYLXS hangout list
Subject: [NYLXS - HANGOUT] Eric Raymond's tips for effective open source advocacy
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The text at the link I just sent
Eric Raymond's tips for effective open source advocacy
by Rick Moen
If anyone is qualified to tell us how to effectively lobby for the
wider adoption of open-source software, it's Eric S. Raymond. After
being propelled -- much to his surprise -- to sudden global prominence
in 1998 through his involvement in inspiring and launching the Mozilla
Project, Raymond found himself the de facto spokesman for an entire
movement, observed that he was fairly good about it, and so set about
explaining how and why. He briefed a large audience at the recent
LinuxWorld Conference & Expo on these happenings, and on how the rest
of us might do likewise, in a talk entitled "Meme Hacking for Fun and
Eric's first step was to figure out why the 1998 effort suddenly
worked, making business interested in our community's software model,
after nearly two decades of entirely futile attempts. It wasn't easy.
In May of 1997, Eric published an essay, "The Cathedral and the
Bazaar" (CatB), explaining his theories of how free software (the only
term for it, then) gets created, and why the process creates such good
software so quickly, based on his experience managing a piece of
utility software called Fetchmail (see Resources). This
socio-technical analysis, while written to be accessible to a
nontechnical audience, succeeded only in generating acclaim among
propeller-beanie Linux users -- preaching to the choir. Eric remained
better known as Guy Steele's successor in editing the MIT Jargon File,
one of the cornerstones of "hackish" (computer programmer) culture,
and as mastermind of the shadowy, tongue-in-cheek (or so They would
have us think) Eric Conspiracy -- until January 23, 1998.
That morning, Eric received an emailed tip from a friend, suggesting
he look at the prior day's announcement from Netscape, and cryptically
commenting "I think someone's been reading your paper." And so Eric
did -- and was thunderstruck by the fact that a major corporation
seemed to be implementing his software-management ideas. Indeed, many
parts of the announcement seemed to be quoting CatB directly.
He cold-called Netscape Communications Corporation's main telephone
number, working through a bureaucratic maze for fifteen minutes,
seeming to reach a dead end at a voicemail mailbox. His bewildered
message went something like, "Hello, my name is Eric Raymond, and I
think I had something to do with your announcement. Could somebody
please call me?" Within the hour, Roseanne Cino of Netscape Marketing
called back, saying, "Yes, all of our top people read your paper and
loved it. Jim Barksdale is giving your name to the national press, and
wants to meet you."
As Eric says, "This was the moment of vindication our tribe had been
waiting for for twenty years." During all that time, the
technical/Unix community had received essentially nothing but
brushoffs, being considered impractical freaks in sandals, even though
it offered clearly better technology. It was clear that the problem
was not one of substance, but of perception, and Eric saw that Mozilla
was our key to changing that.
We'd never had a success before, and a procedural analysis of the
traditional Unix evangelism strategy, typically carried out by
software engineers within their own companies, showed why. In a such a
situation, you typically would:
1. Become excited by some great technology, and become impressed by
its potential to change the world for the better.
2. Talk it up to your peers.
3. Join your peers in approaching the next level of management,
trying to get them excited, and hope that the excitement trickles
upward until it reaches the top and changes company policies.
4. Sit back and wait for the people at the top to clap their hands to
their foreheads, and exclaim in a sudden burst of enlightenment,
"Gosh, we were wrong all along! But we'll change our fundamental
policies and fix everything!"
Enlightenment doesn't flow uphill
Of course, real authority hierarchies don't work that way. Instead,
you have, in rough terms, three strata.
* Decision-makers inhabit the top of the hierarchy.
* Below them are the middle managers, whose job is to be conservers
of organisational stability. When asked to change company
policies, their job is to say "no."
* At the bottom are the implementers. This is where dwell the
Unix-loving engineering staff.
The traditional strategy fails because it hits the purposely
granite-hard wall of middle management, and advocates of open source
software will wait until Doomsday trying to work past them. And until
1998, that's exactly what they were doing.
Mozilla gave us an example to point to, but also material to learn
from: in that case, enlightenment did not trickle up from below. One
guy at the top (Jim Clark) encountered a persuasive essay, had a
moment of enlightenment, and enforced his new vision on everyone
Clark was convinced, not by moral suasion, but by CatB's pragmatic
analysis showing why free software yielded shorter time to delivery,
better code quality, and lower costs.
Ambassador to the suits
Eric could see that the Mozilla code release would be a crucial
moment, which could yield any of several alternative outcomes:
* Mozilla could succeed, demonstrating open source's benefits.
* Mozilla could succeed, but in a way that made it appear to be a
one-time, freak case.
* Mozilla might be perceived as having failed, and then become the
standard reason cited in business circles for not trying again.
He decided that he could help ensure the first outcome by working out
a credible, coherent explanation of the open source model and its
benefits that would be amenable to the right sort of audience. That
target audience would be precisely the one ignored by prior advocates:
Fortune 500 chief executive officers.
This is easier said than done. As Eric puts it, "Most of us don't play
golf with Jack Welsh [longtime CEO of General Electric]. We need some
other way to slip our LSD in their water supply."
Thus, Eric figured, our best bet is a media-centered campaign aimed at
Fortune 500 CEOs. It might seem at first glance that entrepreneurs
would be a better bet, but the Fortune 500 are the biggest, most
influential market that can be reached by a single marketing campaign.
He decided to concentrate exclusively on the following news outlets:
the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, Forbes, Barron's, and the
This list pointedly excludes technical journals, since the people we
need to reach don't read them, but leave that task to underlings. Eric
cited what he called Rule Number One of Marketing: "Appeal to the
prospect's interests and values, not to yours." If the smarter, more
forward-looking CEOs were convinced to come aboard, the others would
tend to follow.
The sales pitch
The term "open source," coined by Chris Peterson of the Foresight
Institute at a strategy session Eric attended in February 1998 after
the Netscape announcement, followed naturally from this logic. Eric
feels that the traditional term, "free software," had been a millstone
around all of our necks, and was simply a nonstarter as rhetoric to
convince any but the hard-core believers. From the businessman's
perspective, "free software" sounds at best ambiguous, or possibly
even threatening: you must explain which meaning of "free" you intend
(free as in speech, rather than free as in beer), and then clarify
what free speech has to do with software. Your audience might react,
"Free? That sounds cheap, shoddy." Or, worse, "Free? That sounds like
It's much more effective to sell the concept on the basis of
reliability, instead. Big corporations lose millions of dollars per
hour when their datacenters go down. Executives are keenly interested
in avoiding that.
Also, even concerning their desktop boxes, executives are aware of the
money drain. Mean time before failure (MTBF) of Windows 9x is less
than a week. As an installation ages, that shrinks to less than a day.
With Linux, a box left alone has MTBF of around two years.
Your winning points will be:
* Total cost of ownership (TCO)
* Insulation from risk and loss of control
An executive who allows his company to becomes dependent on software
he is not allowed to see inside, let alone change, has lost control of
his business, and is on the wrong side of a monopoly relationship with
a vendor who can thereby control his business. With open source, the
executive is in control, and nobody can take that away. The
opportunity to reduce and control business risk is a key concern of
any CEO. You'll be listened to.
Eric warned that none of this will work without purging one's mind of
the common techophile's notion that business people are stupid. Eric
characterised them as "differently optimised," and said that we should
respect them for their specialty. For one thing, you cannot sell to
people if you project an attitude of disrespect. Even if you don't
express it explicitly, it will come through in body language,
intonation, and other subtle aspects of your demeanour.
Of course, it probably seems reckless to approach one's company CEO
and advocate changing company policies, and it may well be so. It's
usually more successful to work on other people's organisations, since
companies seem oddly resistant to listening to their own technical
people. Also, partially because most executives will be less inclined
than Jim Clark to read long essays on the Web, Eric has published "The
Cathedral and the Bazaar" as part of a book of the same name,
available from O'Reilly, suitable for leaving as anonymous gifts on
Dress to persuade
Eric himself tries to adopt the Prince from Another Country stance, a
term coined by science-fiction writer Norman Spinrad to describe his
technique for being accepted in multiple communities: You adopt the
attitude of being a high-ranking member of a different hierarchy,
which gets you respect without subjecting you to hierarchical
obligations. Thus, when Spinrad was trying to gain respect in
Hollywood as a scriptwriter, he conducted himself as a respected
science fiction author. Conversely, in the science fiction community,
he billed himself as a leading Hollywood scriptwriter.
Following in the same mold, Eric dresses well but casually, and
donates his time as a speaker on open source, rather than billing it
as consulting time. Dressing "well" includes good shoes, meaning, in
Eric's case, $90 Rockport walking shoes rather than beat-up Reeboks.
He generally combines these with a neat polo shirt and slacks.
Don't dress like a hacker, Eric warns. Dress the way hackers do in the
movies. You want to look like a credible, respected member of a
foreign social system to an audience of executives who've never come
closer to a real hacker than a Sandra Bullock movie. Therefore,
"Birkenstocks are right out!"
Even worse than underdressing, as a strategy for being credible to
executives, would be overdressing. A technology advocate dressed in a
business suit would tend to come across as a bad imitation of a
business person -- and thus a person to ignore. It's far safer to
stick to neat, good-fabric casual wear.
Amy Abascal, head of the Web development team at VA Linux Systems,
interjected, "But what should the technical woman wear?" I had a brief
moment of lurid anticipation that Eric might recommend that she
emulate Carrie-Anne Moss. The daydream passed, and Eric quite rightly
pointed out that the high-quality black casual wear Amy was wearing
would serve perfectly.
Local Linux user and magazine columnist Mae Ling Mak shouted out, "But
what about me?" Eric gazed at Mae Ling's black vinyl cheongsam and
replied, "Mae Ling, you're a law unto yourself. Never change a thing."
The other sales front
Eric anticipated that his other task would be equally tough:
convincing free-software advocates to change their rhetoric when
speaking to business. The Open Source Initiative was founded in
February 1998 towards that end, with Eric and fellow OSI director
Bruce Perens advocating the new approach among traditional
To their utter astonishment, they observed 85 percent of the community
switching the wording on its Web sites within six weeks, suggesting
pent-up demand in the community for a more effective, less
confrontational approach. Some organs of the press that used to carry
what Eric termed "condescending, snarky pieces about free software"
fell over themselves to speak glowingly of open source.
Talking to the press
Eric's strategy for getting his views across in the press ("press
manipulation," he freely admits) relies on knowing that most people
are asleep most of the time. It's impossible to keep your audience
awake. Therefore, you keep a good stock of attention-getting sound
bites in reserve, and zap the reporter with them at well-spaced
intervals. The theory, which Eric claims works quite reliably, is that
the reporter will remember the sound bites, reproducing them as the
backbone of his coverage, and discard the parts he half-dozed through.
(This reporter found the suggestion about as annoying as the wrist
cramp from his nine pages of lecture notes, but concedes the point may
be more correct than not. Eric stoked some of our egos a bit by saying
that technology reporters tended to be way ahead of that curve on
account of the same hackish traits that got them into that field in
the first place. Sorry, no kind words for technology readers.)
The other side of the coin
One member of the audience asked how corporations should approach
relations with the open source community. It's the same problem as
before, just from the other side: "Appeal to the prospect's interests
and values, not to yours." Once more, if anyone is qualified to
address this point, it's Eric.
* Never lie to geeks. They take it seriously. Most general members
of the public expect casual prevarication and evasion, but
technical activists notice it and are offended.
* Respect community customs. In particular, respect the community's
software licences. Don't write your own and expect to be greeted
with open arms.
* Value your own internal experts. The community doesn't like
dealing with faceless organisations, and prefers one-on-one
"horizontal" dealings with individuals. Therefore, identify your
own people who are likely contacts with the community -- who may
already be part of it without your being aware of it -- and
burnish their presence and potential as spokespersons.
* Give the community members toys; you'll make them happy.
But seriously, folks
As a bit of parting advice, Eric suggested that the most valuable
skill to pick up is that of effective public speaking. There are a
variety of groups that aim to teach it, but Eric found his model in
what at first might seem an unlikely place: stand-up comedy, which he
says can be effectively studied for tips on timing, punctuation, and
body language, among other things.
Eric is an animated and extroverted speaker, with a flair for reaching
out to audiences, and a whimsical sense of fun -- but conceptualising
him as a Robin Williams or Mike Myers puts him in a new light.
Me: Maybe I'd be a reporter.
Eric: An evil reporter?
Me: You always do that!
* The Fetchmail utility:
* "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," Eric S. Raymond:
* The Jargon File, aka the New Hacker's Dictionary:
* Eric Conspiracy Secret Labs:
* Netscape's announcement of the planned source code release:
* The Cathedral and the Bazaar: Musings on Linux and Open Source by
an Accidental Revolutionary, Eric S. Raymond (O'Reilly and
Rick Moen is a recovering system administrator in the San Francisco
Bay Area, who served as primary Bay Area organiser for Windows Refund
Day, and has been one of the main troublemakers behind Silicon Valley
Linux User Group's Silicon Valley Tea Party, the Great Linux Revolt of
'98, and other Bay Area Linux PR events.
Copyright (C) 2000 by Rick Moen, rick-at-linuxmafia.com.
Article first appeared in LinuxWorld.com