March 13, 2004

Being open.

Author: Jeremy Hogan, Red Hat

In less than a week Red Hat will be on our way to Tokyo to kick off the Red Hat World Tour -- 2004. On the surface, it seems like the sort of things hucksters and flacks have been doing for centuries. But this isn't about appearances. It's all too easy to seem to be something you aren't these days. This also isn't about selling. This stuff sells itself.Anyone who's studied the web for any length of time will recognize that books like "The Cluetrain Manifesto", "Small Pieces, Loosely Joined","Linked", and "Emergence" all said that this would happen. And how.

One day, the world would wake up and realize that it had been took. Hoodwinked. BAMBOOZLED.

Because we've been told that companies are staid and stodgy monoliths on a hill in a good part of town. That a company must speak in a banal,lifeless, mind-numbingly soothing tone of voice. That the image projected must be flawless. After all, the products are. Right? And you will be a better person by basking in its infinite perfection.

Because we bought it, we've been had.

And this Internet thing and the Web? Tools to more efficiently grease the machine. Frictionless transactions. Fat free margins.

"Those scientist types can give out their info to one another for free, but we captains of industry will exploit its real potential." Thus spake the machine. And the machine tugged and pulled at it, trying to stretch the technology over it's clumsy, considerable girth. The great swindle lived on in an ill fitting costume that wouldn't fool anyone for long.

And lo it came to pass that there was a mighty bubble. And it was good. Fat cats got fatter. The machine was feeding on it's own exhaust. Irrational? Exuberant. Maybe both.

And lo it came to pass there was a mighty burst. And it was not so good. And many lost their stuffed, starched, whiter-than-white shirts.

Then something strange happened. The fact that no one had found a way to make the web the all singing, all dancing shopping mall to the world didn't kill it. That's absurd. Isn't it?

But the connections were made. Metcalfe's Law gave way to Reed's. Communities sprang up. People realized they could interact with folks erstwhile toogeographically dispersed to ever connect. People wanted to talk.

You know? Like this.

"The web enables conversation and interaction?" the befuddled machine asked "I knew you could e-mail, and chat. Everyone knows that. But corporate web sites have to be dry and deliberate, right? A predictable outcome is the best outcome. It's safe. It's profitable, and comforting."

Do people expect a company's site to be as immaculate as their products and services and people must assuredly be? That the people in theStepford world of advertising really exist? Safely tucked behind their Stepford identity hurling brand awareness over the big brick wall?

Do companies believe that if they use the right words, you almost don't notice them at all, and can drift quietly into a high margin reccurring transactional state of ignorant bliss? That people don't know when they're not being leveled with? That we aren't conditioned tomentally subtract their boastful claims of a bold new world of bountifulpleasure if only we had the (new and improved) sudsiest suds for our duds?

Enron. Tyco. Martha Stewart. The machine is being held accountable. Its leaders, once held aloft by their own esteem, have been outed as people. Real. Flesh and blood. Warts and all. Sentenced to be exposed before their peers.

"You can't lie to us anymore. We will make you pay." came the booming, ominous shout.

"Goodness. That was loud. How did all those voices get together in onespot?" the machine rhetorically replied "I better get my stuff in apile, and pronto. We need to reposition. To shape their perception. They need to just trust that we are awesome. Or maybe, if all else fails, we'll do what they're telling us."

If you can expect a company to personify ethical and moral behavior, why not make them get real while you're at it? But how? And why on Earth would a business purposely humanize itself? Why would it make itself appear real and, thusly, fallible. Mortal.

Because it is real. And, finally, we all can't help but admit it.There's no pristine machine, anymore than there was a wizard in Oz.

This year we saw another "machine" grinding its gears to understand.Politics. The Howard Dean campaign was still getting lingering coverage despite losing over a dozen primaries in a row. We weren't talking about folks who dropped out yesterday, but many were (and are) fascinated with the workings of the Dean campaign. We saw Wesley Clark take it a stepfurther and establish a legacy for others to spin up cyber advocacy efforts in Tech Corps.

Why? Because it showed how powerful a motivated and organized group of like minded people can be. Finally. A mainstream proof that even a mindless machine could understand.

So. Government and business caught on to what academia already knew, and just as politicos followed Dean and Clark to the blogs, we're going tosee plenty of companies trying to seem more open. Trying to seem accessible. The ones who will pull it off are the ones who know it's far better to *be* than to *seem*.

Enter, at last, my friggin point. We hope to show just how easy it is. We hope other companies will do likewise. That the second handers will realize it's not just about the bottom line.

Red Hat can be more open. Not just the code. All the way open. Transparent. And this is just the beginning.

We saw Meetup.com and said "Man we could turn this tour up to 11 if we made it virtual. If we found a way to engage folks in all the places we weren't stopping". We launched redhat.meetup.com.

We're having one final "stop" on the World Tour(http://www.redhat.com/worldtour/) to coincide with the first International Red Hat Meetup on April 1st. The location will be up to 612 cities. Go there and search for venues in your region. It's easy. It will remind you when it's time to participate and you can at your leisure.

And don't let the name fool you, this is not a "Red Hat Thing[TM]". It's your thing, make it what you will.

We decided that this tour we all get journals. Our executives will too. This time when we talk, you get to talk back. We set out very deliberately to not just do thetraveling dog and pony. No snake oil from the back of the wagon.

We set out to listen more than we speak. And to use our bully pulpit to help folks leverage one another's success stories and best practices. We'll have our executives blogging, for crying in the sink. Who does that? Why don't more?

We're not out to "get the facts", we're looking for the truth.

And in a world of lies, the truth is a revolution."

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