Who Cares About Bridging the Divide?

If you watch television broadcast media in America, like nearly everywhere in the world, you’ll find an amazing diversity of content.

In the early morning, you’ll see children’s programming. Then it’s on to morning news, and maybe a talk show or two. Into the afternoon, you’ll see soap operas and daytime drama. Toward dinner time, you’ll get the evening news. Afterwards you’ll see drama or reality TV. Closer to bedtime, you might see something racier.

The point is, the networks know their audiences. There’s not one message or product for everyone, there’s content specific to each demographic. Knowing that parents need to get ready for school or a day at work, networks put kids programming on in the early morning hours. Knowing stay at home parents want a sense of community, the big talk shows start after the workday has begun. Again, there’s no one show for all audiences.

Just as at Sun, there’s no one message for all audiences.

Developers care about bleeding edge innovation, but have little buying power; IT executives have all the buying power, but generally avoid the bleeding edge (unless they’re supercomputer specialists). Developing nations and development authorities care about intellectual property freedom, and the impact of technology on society. Most IT buyers are more worried about shared services, SOX compliance and financial return. Same technologies, perhaps at differing stages of evolution, but wildly differing audiences.

So with that in mind, I’ll tell you about a very uncomfortable customer presentation I attended not too long ago. It was with a highly technical government customer, one focused on their nation’s security. They wanted to know about our open source strategy.

What made it uncomfortable was the image on the title page of the presentation – presented by a new employee, the title page was unmodified from when the presentation was delivered to a conference examining the impact of technology on developing nations. It featured this image:

In its original form, the presentation made a simple point – the digital divide is the development divide. Those without access can’t participate in the opportunity, whether economic, social, political or academic. And free and open source software was lowering the barriers to access and adoption.

But this particular customer wasn’t interested in the network as a social utility – they wanted to know about open source access to LDOMs and NFS over RDMA (that is, not the plight of those without network access).

Now, from inside Sun, as well as outside, I get a lot of feedback about eco-responsibility, or the Participation Age, or bridging the digital divide – some love that we talk about the issues, some think it’s a total distraction. “Why don’t you just focus on revenue?” Here’s why.

Just like the broadcast networks I mentioned above, Sun must serve a diversity of audiences. There is no one message for CIO’s that works for development authorities and the open source community. CIO’s care about utilization and shared services. Developers want to know where we stand on the environment, and on the next technology leap. Performance wonks want to know about memory bandwidth and RDMA. Shareholders want to know about revenue growth and margin expansion.

If we go after one audience at the expense of the others, we lose in the long run.

Our (growing) challenge has been to shape our message for a technically and culturally diverse audience. As the network becomes a ubiquitous utility, not just for banks, but for teenagers, developing nations and creative artists, there’s no one message that will span all audiences and nationalities. One person’s eco-responsible server is another startup’s lowered utility bill, is another datacenter’s real estate consolidation – is another country’s ability to redirect development dollars to healthcare, that would’ve gone to powerplants.

Every audience, like every nation, has a different objective. But every audience, like every nation, represents opportunity to Sun.

And even at the risk of a colliding message from a new employee, we’re not interested in letting any of it pass us by. It’s far too valuable an opportunity.


Filed under General

16 responses to “Who Cares About Bridging the Divide?

  1. Prince

    Hello Jonathan,
    Yeah , let SUN pursue every opportunity to make money and grow ( and let my multi-thousand SUNW stocks sizzle ). I hope more and more data center folks buy SUN’s energy efficient servers ( who wouldn’t want to buy those with which you can
    cut-down electricty bills and real estate ? ).

  2. It seems you can’t keep a sociologist down. Not only have we Brits been characterised by our incomes, what we drive, what we do for a living, our choice of daily newspaper, etc as a reverse function of where we live (see http://www.upmystreet.com/enter-location/l/?fpage=%2Flocal%2Fmy-neighbours%2F ), but we’ve now been split into 23 categories based on our technology and Internet use.

    Again, this is mapped to our postal addresses; see the story at http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/5256552.stm and the main site associated with the research at http://www.spatial-literacy.org/ .

    I think you might find the definitions (http://www.spatial-literacy.org/index.php?p=esociety ) interesting reading.

  3. DT

    This is probably an issue for the coming years : what is the difference in role and nature, between an opportunity and social responsibility ?

  4. I guess it comes up to balance the interest of the many stakeholders involved. Should you focus only on shareholders the main goal of the company will become to make money. But to make money is not the best motivator (albeit a good one sometimes), the best motivator you can have is to make meaning, to change the world.

  5. Anantha

    Wake me up, this must be a dream. Just as you and your company are getting traction in the financial turnaround you go off on this wild goose chase: Participation Age and sorts. By your own admission (earlier blog about 4500) Sun can’t cater to everybody and now you are off to save hunger in Africa. Please, please focus on the continued recovery of your company. Your first responsibility is to us not world hunger. People buy the T2000s because they are economical as oppossed to ecologically good. In business it is far easier to make decisions based on tangible financial reasons as oppossed to the tree hugging kind. Participation Age, please tell me this is not happening.

  6. A very interesting site, I think. The Idea of Technometry was new for me but worth to be read and thought abot it (although I’m not a native english-speaker and have some difficulties whith this language)

  7. David

    I get what you are saying. This post may just be a rant about the big 3-4 networks or just some food for thought. I used to watch a lot of tv growing up, but now I hardly watch any tv at all. I think they just re-hash old gimics and do copycat shows to try to get viewers. And to me, they are not entertaining at all. The same goes with the movie industry. To me, it’s like what are they thinking (to put it mildly). The big 4 networks are already being seen as getting pinched by cable networks. So, if everybody was like me, the networks would be really in big trouble. Then again, if everybody was like me, gas prices would be under a $1 a gallon also.
    To come to think about it, the big networks are very resistant to change. Sure, they change the programming, but they generally believe it’s the chemistry and not the ideology. And this will definitely hurt them in the long run. They will win for years and years, like the railroad companies, but eventually change will squeeze them out.

  8. T Ashok

    I run into most conversations where a common connective is “OR”.
    For e.g.
    Should i communicate this OR…
    Should i solve this problem this way OR…
    Is OR the right connective? Probably not.
    AND is probaby appropriate.
    Acknowledging diversity by constantly being open to additions via AND is key. Variant messages..Diifferent audiences.. Multiple ANDs.
    Thank you. / Ashok

  9. Hi, Anatha. I’m not sure we are trying to save the world so much as we’re just trying to do our part to help. If everyone (and every company and every government, etc) does his or her part, the world will be a better place. That’s good for the world and it’s good for business, too. Sure, Sun is turning around these days, but that’s after an overhaul of our product lines and a refinement of our business strategy to better serve changing and emerging markets. However, what has *not* changed at Sun is that our employees have always contributed to communities. We grew from a community environment, so all the “participation age” stuff you are hearing about right now is simply an articulation of what we do and have done all along. I’ve been at Sun for six years, and this current branding campaign is the first one that simply reflects the reality at Sun — and it’s by far the best, too because it transcends branding totally. It’s real. Perhaps there’s more of a spotlight on this concept than before with a few thousand Sun bloggers out there, but it’s not a distraction. Actually, it’s a powerful focusing and motivating factor that pervades everything we do, and I’d argue that that is the best way to drive the top and bottom lines around here. So, don’t worry. šŸ™‚

  10. Anonymous

    “But every audience, like every nation, represents opportunity to Sun.
    And even at the risk of a colliding message from a new employee, we’re not interested in letting any of it pass us by. It’s far too valuable an opportunity. ”
    Hallelujah. It is my hope that you as the new CEO will put Sun money where Sun’s mouth is on this issue.

  11. For the context of why the boy uses a rock cellphone, search for “Cargo Cult.” To get cargo (stuff, gear, equipment) from the gods, you must emulate the rituals of the priests — i.e. talk on mobile phones, etc. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cargo_cult
    Some people say that adoption of the productivity or quality fad of the day *koff*SixSigma is a Western version of the Cargo Cult.

  12. I agree completely. Sun like all companies can no longer (if indeed they ever could) espouse a single message – the future is about emitting a molecule of messages. All of them are reflected in everything the company does and one of them in particular will resonate with each customer. I call this passive branding http://makemarketinghistory.blogspot.com/2006/07/passive-branding_30.html

  13. roger hughes

    Diversity – is the basis of survival; it’s not an option. E.g. with the thinning of the Ozone layer perhaps racial diversity means the offspring of those from the Nordic/Anglo Saxon regions will be better placed vis-a-vis the harmful affects of sunlight? In a business context diversity protects against the uncertanties of value migrating away from our existing product differentiation to new and nascent markets e.g. from PC’s to thin client devices or from US to China or English to Spanish. The real challenge and I think this has been alluded to in some earlier e-mails is how do we ensure evolution occurs…The answer is we stop fearing the unknown and open ourselves to new experience….Let’s understand what makes different cultures tick and absorb the good parts. In 20 years time Russia and Islamic countries will control what’s left of the world’s oil…isn’t it time we understood them better…rather than attempting change through coercion….diversity isn’t an option.

  14. Paul

    Smart stuff, sounds like bleeding edge chief executive stuff. If you are as good as you sound, Sun stock is a long hold and acquire more. Good luck

  15. P Turp

    Is it marketing brain storming there ? Please note :as an IT manager I need tools of the 21st Century not those of the late 90s to make proper decisions regarding system resource administration. Instead of wondering what message(s) to deliver, PLEASE listen to us et help us entering the 21st with decent really working GUI information system tools (I mean no data, infos. It helps for the buying power as you know ) . Cryptic commands are still needed but intelligent, synthetic soft are still waited. By the way, obfuscation is the perfect way to digital divide.

  16. Bob M

    Speaking of “colliding”, I would be very impressed indeed if Sun were to sell to mega-users like Cern because of the data needs of their colider.
    See http://news.com.com/Famed+physics+lab+steps+up+to+storage+challenge/2100-11395_3-6113161.html?tag=nefd.top
    I figure they have serious brains at Cern, and if their solution does not have Sun products, then Sun still has some work to do.
    Are you up to that challenge?

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