Saturday, May 12, 2007

No respect! Should Justin care?

Justin "Dangerfield" Kestelyn launched one of the most lively discussions the Oracle community has ever had with his "I Don't Get It" post some weeks back.

"In particular," he states, "Oracle gets zero credit in this community for its rather aggressive support of blogging (by employees and nonemployees), despite the fact that a rather large blogging community exists and has for some time"

Strangely, there seems to be pretty unanimous agreement that there is a large number of bloggers out there, and some very good ones at that. Vincent McBurney's blog made special mention of Nishant Kaushik, Rob Smythe and Steven Chan for example.

And if we also consider the OTN Podcasts (my favourites being the ones that feature interviews with the "names" like Tom Kyte and Wim Coekaerts), it seems to me pretty evident that we actually have a pretty healthy community of content creators.

But when I look back at what Justin actually said, he was referring specifically to the lack of credit from the Web 2.0 community.

I think the OTN team - and Justin in particular - have been doing a fantastic job with the blogsphere and podcasts. But is that enough to make a stir in the Web 2.0 scene? Maybe a year or two ago it would have, but not any more. Sadly (for Justin) it is now just all too routine.

How many "Web 2.0 firsts" can OTN really claim? The harsh reality is that to make a splash and get some respect in the Web 2.0 community, Oracle needs to do much much more. And I don't think its about content or whether our blog etiquette is any good. Leadership and innovation is the name of the game in two important areas:

  • How to build more effective social networks and find new and better ways for this to deliver real benefit to the community. At present, I'm not sure we even deserve the "community" moniker .. it feels more like a public swimming pool we all just happen to go to, rather than a forum (in the Roman sense) where we meet, discuss and debate.

  • Invent and apply cutting-edge Web 2.0 techniques and technologies to support this goal. Yes, this IS about technology;) The Web 2.0 community is incredibly dynamic and creative at this point. Take blogs for example. They've been around for a while. Long enough for people to discover that for some things they are really good, but in other ways they suck (like trying to have a "conversation" in comments). So we now have sites like twitter, tumblr, virb and jaiku all experimenting with different approaches and trying to push the envelope in meaningful ways. Its this kind of creative experiementation that we haven't seen Oracle doing in the past ... with the one recent exception being the semantic web (hopefully an indicator of more great things to come). If Oracle really wants Web 2.0 street cred, OTN should be the playground where it is seen to be exploring the outer limits of what is possible - some of which may find its way back into the Fusion Middleware product line.


One notion we must definitely reject is that somehow we need to coach all the Oracle bloggers into becoming Web Celebs. To do so totally ignores (and destroys) the value of diversity in the community. Personally, I identify five "kinds" of web presence we should embrace:

  1. Leadership and Product Management as a "conversation". These are the celebs and thought leaders engaging with the community, but very much with their corporate responsibility at the fore. Funny thing is, I had the impression Oracle was doing much better in this regard, but it doesn't hold up to inspection. Mark Wilcox is one of the few getting close. Perhaps commercial considerations actually make it a very hard thing to do without tipping the competition too much, or just sounding like a mouthpiece for marketing.

  2. Web 2.0 as Shared Memory. I think one of the completely understated revolutions going on. As I've blogged before, and epitomised by the likes of Alejandro Vargas, this is all about using the web to finally Get Knowledge Management Right. These tend to be boring as hell to try and follow unless they are right in your niche. Scenario: One day, you'll be sweating a problem. Ask google, and thank your lucky stars that there are people around like Alejandro.

  3. Living your professional life online. Probably the most common approach today on OTN. Its a diary, scrapbook and log. You may find some really good gems, but there's no harm in being obscure in this category... you're just one of the community and its often done more for your own personal benefit.

  4. The personal/social presence. And yes there is room for all those who are part of the community (because they work at Oracle for example) but just want to talk about baseball!

  5. The audience. Let's not forget the vast majority of people who are searching and reading, but will never do much more that perhaps post a question to a forum or maybe a comment on a blog. For a whole range of reasons there's no value or motivation for them to go further. Don't try and make them blog. It won't work. But should we do everything possible to make sure they are well served by the community ... yes!! Numerically, they ARE the community.


Justin finished his initial post with a somewhat flippant "...maybe I shouldn't even care!". But perhaps he unwittingly hit the nail on the head.

It's a truism in business that if you forget who your customers are, you are doomed. Similarly, if OTN becomes preoccupied with impressing the Web 2.0 community as its primary mission, I'm pretty sure they will find success "inexplicably" elusive (and prove that all of Justin's denials of it being a PR conspiracy are lies!!).

Success will come most easily if OTN focuses on serving its real constituency first - the Oracle community of employees, users and developers. Do that well, and if OTN is indeed pushing the boundaries, then the Web 2.0 cred will be the just reward.

I guess in a way its like being cool. Try to be cool and you'll fail. You just are (or not, as the case may be).

2 comments:

vmcburney said...

I agree, Oracle needs to deliver Web 2.0 if it wants credibility. It is not enough to just blog about it - there is a lot of competition already in Web 2.0 blogging and it is hard to get heard above all the noise. It is hard for traditional software companies to be successful in Web 2.0. You really need a team who works independely and breaks most of the corporate rules and delivers outside the company domain.

How to get cred: Business Objects launched the new Insight website recently with the appropriate Web 2.0 shizzel: lots of loud press releases, support from bloggers, a brand new webpage with fancy graphics and a strong branding. Reinvented or renamed existing concepts such as wiki and blogging to the new brand.

How not to get cred: IBM launched Many Eyes - an innovative site for creating and sharing visualisations of information. They gave it the most boring landing page in Web 2.0 history, didn't get an attached blog going for months (and still doesn't have the required blog frequency) and has been slack at adding the required navigation and sharing features around the visualisations. Have made no efforts to link from the Many Eyes blog to bloggers who have supported Many Eyes.

Business Objects is the exception, most traditional software companies are no where near as lean and hungry and flexible as a Web 2.0 startup company or a company that specialises in Web 2.0 rollouts and buzz marketing.

Paul said...

Good comments!

I think it's just the classic problem of how large corporates can nurture/unleash innovation. Structurally incompatible most of the time as your examples point out! But there's always the exception to prove the rule.

I haven't studied this in detail, but I suspect you will find that each "exception" was successful because of a combination of (a) some technical vision at the lower level (b) an executive sponsor who believed it was the "right" thing for the company, (c) and believed it enough to put his nuts on the line, fund it, and "deal" with all the well-meaning (or not) attempts by other departments to get involved/be consulted/architect/generalise/globalise/improve/review/approve the initiative.

So will Oracle be an "exception"? Don't know, but sincerely hope so.