Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Oracle prostitutes and the (Google-in-)China syndrom

It's time to start blogging a bit again. Why not start out with a topic like this right after the giant Oracle Open World.

If a user group gets financial support from The Big Vendor, the vendor might try to intervene directly if a) they don’t like a certain title or item on your agenda, and b) you let them – just once – do it.

In the latter case, rest assured they can smell weakness, and they won't forget it.

It’s not very nice to see, especially not when you see chairs of SIG’s and user groups giving in. But it happens. And as I said: When it has happened once, it won’t stop – there’s no way back.

As in other power games in life, if you blink first, you lose.

What you'll often see is what I call the (Google-in-)China syndrome: The Chinese threatened (stick), yet offered financial incentives (carrot), and sadly the so-called "non-Evil" guys at Google blinked to the Evil guys and will forever be tainted by it.

Forget Yahoo, who did the same – they never claimed to be cooler and more independent, like Google does. But Google became Yet Another Prostitute (YAP) that sad day. Shame on them. I simply fail to understand why anyone would want to work for such a spineless "leadership".

Regarding the user groups, it should be said in all fairness that it’s mostly a problem at the aggregate (national and supra-national) level, whereas I see many excellent, independent local conferences these days, perhaps as a counter-reaction.

Three examples of things I've seen:

Exhibit A:
Oracle now invites speakers to present at Oracle Open World, pay their expenses, etc. – provided they do exactly what they’re told, including only sounding positive about Oracle features and adhering to various standards, including Powerpoint templates. Nobody else can present at OOW - only the ones Oracle has found well-behaved enough.

Tempting, isn’t it? The Devil comes in many disguises, as they say. In effect the word for it is prostitution, I’m afraid. What you can be certain of is that any presentation by non-Oracle's at OOW will have been officially OK'ed by Oracle marketing types. No independent or critical points of views are allowed anymore.

Exhibit B:
Oracle successfully managed to scare the UKOUG RAC SIG chair person from letting me present the 'You Probably Don't Need RAC II' paper at a meeting by threatening to cut financial support. The chair blinked, unfortunately, and will have to continue blinking from now on (he's their bitch now, as they would say in modern speak).

In effect, therefore, this SIG cannot ever become independent again under this chair. By the way: I don’t care whether I present my paper or not for this SIG – I’m just illustrating how it happens and what the consequences are.

Exhibit C:
Oracle’s EMEA manager for the Oracle Spatial extra-cost option tried to have a presentation by ESRI (a big, American Oracle partner that makes a spatial product based on Oracle databases) removed from a Scottish user conference. The argument went that this was a product competing with Spatial. Uhm, well, user groups are among other things about telling users what choices they have, including what partner solutions are out there based on Oracle technology. So much for partner programs in Oracle. As should be expected, the Scots refused, and Oracle backed down.

Please note, that although I personally don’t like Oracle trying to influence contents of magazines and SIG meetings and conferences (I see WAY better behaviour from IBM and Microsoft in that respect), I guess that’s what some people in Oracle do, and Oracle is probably not the only vendor doing it. It's up to individuals to resist these temptations on behalf on the other users. If the individual person doesn't resist, then the divide-and-conquer thing can happen.

My point is that user groups should be fiercely independent of vendors in order to be – well – user groups for its members. Users shouldn’t expect mouth pieces and sanitized marketing PPT’s from a group of users (a.k.a. a user group).

It used to be that way. When I started the Danish Oracle User Group together with my friend Mogens Egan in 1987, Oracle would contribute when we asked or when we thought it was good stuff, but otherwise they'd stay in the background and be happy about a lively user community.

Larry's personality shines through the whole organisation in this respect, too, unfortunately. Users should behave - or else. Some of them are either scared or tempted into submission and will - sadly - forever be Larry's prostitutes.

A whole, separate class of prostitution is of course the companies that will try to sell anything Oracle says they should sell, even when they know it's not for the benefit of the client. Those guys will take any message from Oracle and go out and try to convince their clients that this is the truth, the only truth and nothing but the truth. Yet they talk about how they will stop at nothing to deliver the optimal solution for the client, etc., etc. These people are lying prostitutes, and that's of course worse :-). You know them when you see them.