In the sunlight

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Jonathan Schwartz, CEO of Sun Microsystems, continues to set new standards about transparency and word of mouth in the IT industry:

We know the most valued information travels by word of mouth. Through blogs, on-line reviews, or other on-line conversations. Or "kneecap to kneecap," as we sit across the table from customers in our briefing centers. And frankly, the most valuable information about Sun doesn't come from Sun, it comes from other customers.

So how do you get the word out if you don't have a $500M ad budget? To me, it's not so much about getting the word out, as letting the eyes and ears in. You can tell I'm a big fan of transparency - that's why I write a blog (with comments on, and yes, I read every one, as do a host of others at Sun). It's why I encourage others to drive the conversation in the market, as well. Transparency's at least a part of the solution. If not an outright competitive weapon.

A very wise man once said, "Sunlight is the best disinfectant" - and in my view, exposing our internals to the outside world also helps us respond to problems more rapidly. True, we have to expose the occasional unhappy customer (I hear this one, in particular, recently became happy), but we expose them to people who can help, too - from within Sun, or within the community. We can't solve problems we don't know about. Like the good justice said, sunlight's a good disinfectant.

And the CEO blogger announces that will mimic on users' reviews:

Which is why you'll see something very interesting next week start to appear on Sun's web pages and throughout our on-line store. You'll start to see product reviews written by users. You'll see user defined ratings, right on our products. Just like book or product reviews at Amazon. We're starting with just a few products, but it'll ultimately extend all the way up to our highest end enterprise offerings.

What's the risk? That we're exposing ourselves to criticism? That we may have on display the fact that one product or another isn't perfect? (That our competitors may try to rate all our products?)


The far bigger risk is that we'd meet another customer surprised by what we had to offer. Unaware that our systems were 5 times as energy efficient as our competitors. That Solaris was free, open source, and available on Dell or HP. Or that Thumper was about to reset the economics of the storage industry.

And to my mind, sunlight's not just the best disinfectant.

It's the best informant, too.

From a voice you'll trust more than ours - your own.

Transparency isn't new to J. Schwartz, as Tom Coates noted from Schwartz's speech at Supernova in June 2005:

For a start, he said that in the near future he wanted to start doing all his communications via his weblog. Then he moved on to addressing this internal / external dichotomy. He mentioned a particular case where particularly good employees had their names and photos put up on an intranet celebrating their achievements. Instead of this he suggested that it should be done completely in public. He said that some people had suggested that this might mean that the staff concerned would just be poached by other companies but he responded that good people would always be open for poaching. And here's the interesting bit - he said he had no interest in an internal weblog, that he wants it to be completely transparent and that while he was aware that this approach and celebrating his employees achievements in public might to his competitors knowing what he was doing, it also meant that their employees could see it too - and they can then use that to decide if he's a more attractive leader with better policies and a vetter vision of the future.