How Sun Views Business Blogging

By Exclusive Concepts Blog Team

Sun Microsystems is one company that has gone into blogging big-time. So what do they see as their company’s benefits from blogging?

Bill Howard, the Chief CIO Advocate and Advisor to the CEO, interviews two of their foremost bloggers, Simon Phipps, Chief Technology Evangelist and Tim Bray, Director of Web Technologies.

Here are excerpts from Blogging in Business.

Question: How do you define blogging?

Phipps. The best definition of blogging may be to describe it as an online Web page that is maintained using easy tools. It’s a venue for someone to speak in their own personal voice, where each entry can be uniquely linked to on the Internet and where the content is available in a machine-readable form for consumption by aggregators.

Question. Why would a company want its employees to blog?

Phipps. For Sun this has meant making the facility available for thousands of Sun employees to simply say how they see the world from day to day, and the result is that our customers, our suppliers, our competitors, and the media are all hearing the authentic voice of individuals talking about their daily lives. Whereas you can argue with spin and whereas you can refute marketing messaging, there is not much you can do when you hear the honest voice of hardworking, intelligent, creative individuals telling you how the world is.

Bray: I think Simon is right on. I will add that although one thinks primarily of Web logging as a public platform for sending your stories to the world, it turns out that blogging also has another function that may be more important: It provides us with a really good way to listen to the world.

Say somebody out there in Cleveland or Shanghai has an idea about something Sun should do. Well, it’s kind of hard to communicate with Sun as a company — we are a big company with over 30,000 employees. On the other hand, if they read a Sun blogger, it’s easy to e-mail that person. It’s rare that a week that goes by that I don’t get one or two such e-mails from somebody out in the world telling me what they think Sun ought to do. Our effectiveness at knowing what our community is saying, and what our community wants and needs, has been improved immensely by the blogging process. And for my money that’s actually the biggest win.

Question. What about the risks in blogging?

Bray: Yes, there are potential risks. But at the moment, a year into this, I would say that we are seeing almost all reward and no downside, so whatever potential risks there are, none of them have come forth yet. As one of our smart legal staff pointed out when we were starting to work on the policies, if we had come to a lawyer 15 years ago and asked him what he thought about e-mails he would have been horrified at the idea!

We have a set of policies as a company of what is appropriate to say in public, and the fact is that blogging doesn’t qualitatively change the picture — we want people to act reasonable and grown up. Having said that, we do have a set of policies that we published that includes some do’s and don’ts and I think they have been quite useful in helping our people achieve good results and not get into trouble.

Question. Can you give us some examples from Sun?

Bray: Simon is particularly influential in the area of intellectual property law, software patent issues, and licensing. A successful blogger is not necessarily one who has tens of thousands of readers; there are lots of successful bloggers who only have a hundred readers. What’s important is that they are the right readers.

We have got a couple of people at Sun who blog about incredibly technical issues such as Java garbage collection or kernel level performance analysis, and there literally may be only 500 people in the world who can even understand what they are writing. But those 500 people are people who are really important to Sun and having them establish their position of thought leadership in that space is important.

Question. So what are the tools of the trade of blogging?

Phipps: Fundamentally, an articulate mind and an observing set of eyes, and everything else is just simple technology.

Bray: Basically you can do it all in a Web browser. There are some tools to make writing a little bit more efficient and effective. An area of tools that you don’t need right away to blog, but can certainly help, are called aggregators like Technorati and PubSub and so on. These are tools that basically subscribe to all the blogs and can answer a very simple question: “Who is pointing to what I am writing?”

Question. Any closing thoughts?

Bray: Speaking on behalf of Sun, I would say that it has been an unmitigated win for the company and we should not for a second consider trying to go back.

Phipps: And I would say that people are too anxious and cautious in all these things. If you are succeeding in business, it’s because you have the right people. Those people can speak for themselves: You trust them to do it in front of the customers every day, you trust them to do it in front of the media, you trust them to do it in meetings. And you know you can trust them to do it on the Internet, too.

Their CEO Jonathan Swartz blogs

Simon Phipps’s blog – webmink

Tim Bray’s blog – ongoing

via Steve Rubel