If your business is hurting and money is tight, I have an idea: How’d you like to deploy an application that lets you get closer to your customers, hear about trouble before it gets serious, and doesn’t cost much? [This is part of the Tough Times series.]

It’s like this: if you work for an organization of any size (company, government department, church, rock band, whatever) you know perfectly well that your clients are discussing you online: praising you when you’re good, flaming you when you’re lame. Wouldn’t you rather be part of that conversation?

Whenever I become anyone’s customer—a bank, a TV company, a phone company—they should give me an online account where I can talk to the other customers about how things really work and how to use the service.

I don’t think it’ll be hard to compete with the elephants, Facebook and so on. It looks to me like the world’s online social networks are partitioning themselves and becoming more vertical; there are going to be lots of them, and I don’t see why anyone with lots of online customers wouldn’t have one as a matter of course.

The good news is that these are pretty easy to set up using cheap-as-in-free Open Source software, and there are already operators out there who’ll offer you a pre-built one as a service. Furthermore, they don’t burn that many cycles, so you’re not talking about a lot of hardware. At the most basic level, turning everyone in your company loose to blog is a really good, really low-rent way to get into the conversation.

The bad news is that it’s probably just not going to happen, because of the ranks of attorneys and marketers saying “But we can’t just let our employees and customers say anything, they might get in trouble or say something bad!”

They’ll say bad things all right, and I’d think you’d want that happening close to home, so to speak. As for getting in trouble, we’ve got approximately fifteen thousand blogger-years of experience under our belts here at Sun and the number of problems has been tiny; the number of serious problems, zero.

But anyhow, it won’t happen unless a smart and well-tuned-in CEO tells the antibodies to shut up and Make It So.


Comment feed for ongoing:Comments feed

From: John Brewer (Oct 15 2008, at 16:55)

I don't want to have to join a separate "community" for every one of my suppliers. I especially don't want to join one that's controlled by the supplier. There are already lots of examples of complaints disappearing from product bulletin boards run by companies.

On the other hand, user groups built on top of my existing social networks (e.g. Facebook or Twitter) would be quite interesting. But I think this should be completely independent of the company.


From: Bob Aman (Oct 15 2008, at 17:40)

I'm a big fan of http://getsatisfaction.com/.


From: Robert Dempsey (Oct 15 2008, at 20:05)

+1 for http://www.getsatisfaction.com. We use that for our products now, and our employees can say whatever they want in response to users. Transparency is the way to go.


From: John Cowan (Oct 15 2008, at 21:06)

I think John Brewer has it exactly right. Sun can -- maybe -- be trusted not to do things like that. Most companies cannot.


From: Jacek (Oct 15 2008, at 21:48)

I agree with Tim that every organization (incl. the rock bands and such) should provide a discussion forum. We as a society need to learn proper standards of behavior (and how to deal with misbehavior) in managing these fora.

But this doesn't mean that there should only be one such forum for a particular topic. Certainly discussions will spring up where there are people with common interests (or gripes); discussion may happen on independent blogs, on facebook, on twitter, or whatever the big names are tomorrow. And that's not bad, even though it's not globally optimal. It seems nature opposes global optimization anyway - remember communism? 8-)

So what we need is a useful search engine (think Google) that will have access to as many of the existing discussion fora as possible.

What the organizations should provide are nice URIs for their various products (incl. the organizations themselves) and then the commenters can use those URIs in their discussions as identifiers. Searching for these URIs (possibly sprinkled with a bit of semantic web technology and mindset) can then give us a reasonably global view of the discussions.


From: William (Oct 16 2008, at 00:39)

I agree with your post. This is right on and something that companies should do.

I think that there is a lot of room in the market for installing and integrating this type of open source service for companies.

The company that I have founded is building an open source social platform

(Should be in beat next week), and we will be offer hosting a hosting and integration service.


From: Hanan Cohen (Oct 16 2008, at 00:43)

Used copies of The Cluetrain Manifesto can be found for very low price. Get one!



From: Simon Griffee (Oct 16 2008, at 05:02)

What you say here is the main theme of the 'Cluetrain Manifesto' -- http://cluetrain.com/ -- and it is as applicable today as in 1999.


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