Amiga Inc., Give Us The Ball!
Giorgio Gomelsky

Suggestions for an Open System Culture

Like a junkie, once an Amigan, always an Amigan. Attached to this almost metaphysical platform, like to a mind drug. Crying out for a Unifying Amiga Field Theory which will make us win the Computing Super Bowl in the not too distant future. A bunch of talented players, but without a manager, a stadium, a uniform or even....a ball!

Who has the ball, can pay the players, build the stadium, and make the fans come? Who?

AMIGA Inc of course. The OS is the ball, so they have the ball. Do they want to join the NCL? Do they believe in the Amiga team? Do they think it can win? Can they build the stadium, attract the fans? Be parents, guardians, protectors to this quirky, eccentric, yet determined, super-talented lot? And get their money back and then some?

There are always risks in life. Cross the road and be run over, or leaving the house in the morning, a brick falls on your head. Nothing could be more of a risk to middle-of-the-road mentalities than the ribald, way out, off-the-wall nature of this mysteriously seductive, ahead of its time collection of chips, screws, transistors, mad-cap designers and bratty, cheeky users. But, eh, it's also "a competitive advantage" as they say. There just isn't anything like it around anywhere, at least right now. To quote, one Jason Compton (Amiga Report#315- August 1995):

"Nowhere else in the world is there anything quite like the Amiga, a machine and a culture that has literally stood on the cutting edge-and-the-brink since its existance, able to change so many minds yet be dismissed out of hand by so many others. But the ride, for those who stay and work with it, is unparallelled."

Culture: The totality of socially transmitted behavior patterns, arts, beliefs, institutions, and all other products of human work and thought, considered as the expression of a particular period, class, community, or population.

Our "behavior pattern", beliefs and thoughts are out there, have been since Jay Miner's days. There is a tradition, a culture. And our voices still resound all over this planet, they just won't die although fewer make up the choir. Every blasted day our views are expressed on mailing lists, IRC, articles, whathaveyou. No mystery there. Orphaned more times we care to remember, we are still here and we are still looking for a parent.

Do Amiga Inc (and granpa Gateway) wanna be these benevolent parents Amigans so badly need? Give us the ball, let us play, show the world? Is our "culture" anything of value, to them, does it contain as yet unattained potentials, does it allow for new heights of excellence, adventure, profits, monetary and social?

To get out of the present marasm, let's think "culture", let's think "business" or "corporate culture" if you like. Let's have a peep at what's going on, who out there in ComputerLand is putting out new ideas, covering new ground? Quite a few.

Take PeopleSoft. Put on your safety belts. A 10 bil/year company. Product: applications to automate processes such as payroll, manufacturing and order fulfillment, (Enterprise Resource Planning software, ERP) Clients AT&T, Boeing, Toyota, etc., The fully featured version of their flagship ware comes with 20,000 pages of technical documentation. Mission-critical product of awesome complexity. Employees 4,000, clients. 2,000. Eh?

Recent dilemma: Having achieved its remarkable success by "doing whatever it took to make customers happy", it transpired that their customers, literally addicted to PS product, decalared that they would be very happy indeed if they could to lay their hands on an upgrade not on schedule as planned (hard enough for even the best-managed software company to deliver) but 3 months ahead of time!!

You don't make a decision like this lightly but PS decided to do it. Phil Cullen, 36, Vice President of quality, concluded that the best way to explore whether the company could speed up delivery of PeopleSoft 7, was to take advantage of one of the company's "special skills": turning its expertise inwards. His team used web-based tools and databases that automated the exploration process. The system included a checklist of "universal criteria" that 50 different departments could use to forecast the impact of an early release, to spot the risks and benefits, and to flag potential "showstoppers "-- problems that could bring the project to its knees.

Now, lots of companies compete by selling cutting-edge technology. And lots of companies use cutting-edge technology to make the products they sell. But few companies have pushed as hard as PS has to devise new ideas for competing, new models of working, and new ways of using cutting-edge technology to turn those ideas and models into reality. Steve Zarat, PS chief information officer: "We're creating an organization that exists, not in a specific place, but wherever its people are. We're on the leading edge of what will become commonplace." How did that work? Simple, think globally; they gave everybody working on the project a backpack with laptop, pager, cell-phone, PDA, satellite modems, etc. Powerful tools. Zarat: "If you have power, you also have responsibilities. If you have responsibilities, you need tools to get things done. We provided those tools."

New models of working? It appears that one of the most important, "serious" cultural values of PS is!. People think of themselves there as "the luckiest people in the world!" Hey, Dave Haynie are you listening, they even have a houseband, The Raving Daves, fronted by guitarist Dave Duffield, PeopleSoft's president, chairman and CEO.

OK, how does this apply to Amiga? Right now there isn't much one can do directed at the outside world. This is a research and development phase? Fine, so lets take advantage of this lull in outgoing operations and do a bit of R&D on and with the community too. In the Amiga's case, "turning our expertise inwards" could mean weaving and strenghtening a system of community communications which includes everybody part of it. This would seem to be a good start. INCLUSION, IMHO, is the future of any business community culture or the culture of any future business community! Let's try to practice it and see.

Researching these matters, there is more. In all these "avantgarde" companies, there is a definite distaste for hierarchy, bureocracy and bull-shit. "When you get rid of the BS, it's amazing how much work you can get done", says Duffield. We are not immune to it so let's go to war with our own BS too.

"Everyone should know everything" is another big "cultural" point these days. Fun, egalitarianism, agility. Ah, this is a big program and requires great open-mindedness. goes that word. People should have access to everything, good AND bad, news, problems, solutions, difficulties, victories. Innovations will appear where old methods are failing. The vertical, rigid, hierarchical one has had it, it's old, tired, confrontational and no fun. Duffield: "The challenge isn't to keep an eye on competitors. It's to pay attention to the innovators..."

Question for us: How open a "infomocracy" system can one create in AmigaLand? A huge one, IMHO. And without giving away so-called secrets. Look again at NDAs, rethink them, create discretionary niches of information, even if it just talks about what happened in the office or on a "private" mailing list like ICOA that week. Who respresented what argument, position. Humanize the entire process.

If you can't give hard-fact-news, give human ones. Our community very badly needs INCLUSION, the one most important psychological factor in establishing trust and freeing energies. We've never had it, not with C=, not with Escom, not with VisCORP.

OK, this is a transition period and Amiga Inc (son of Gateway Culture) doesn't like to make "announcements". To which one could answer: Amiga ain't GW but if you can't challenge the wisdom of that policy, by all means don't make "announcements". Tell stories instead. Above all don't stay silent. Silence may be golden but it's deadly too. Anyway, what can anyone pinch that isn't out there somewhere? Custom chips? I'd like to hear more recent views on this NDA mania! But never mind, I'm sure some special AmigaSpeak coding could be invented so as to preserve REAL stuff to reach the competition (which one?)!

I think we must be careful not to split the community in too many SIGs pursuing their own agendas. If we are to invent a new-fangled computer- community and give ourselves a competitive advantage in the big wide world out there, we must practice a "culture" that keeps the "Big Picture" of the community well in focus. That means INCLUSION.

"Group Intelligence" is a formidable weapon. Spread what you can spread. Overcome doubt and suspicion and frustration in the community by offering an banquet of information if necessary. If you can't give it out, seek it, bring it in. Ask the community to tell you what's happening in their part of the world. Flux and reflux. Give them tasks. ICOA are having THEIR "inside track" fun everyday. Few others are, this is why Amigans have become commentators and speculators instead of doers. In AmigaLand there are artists, musicians, animators, writers. Keep 'em busy. Run a few competitions, give away a few prizes - a week in South Dakota! Two weeks in South Dakota. Start an Amiga University. Collect every bit of info on this anecdote-rich platform/community. Sponsor logo design, theme music, whatever. Waiting for the big "revelations", keep the remaining community busy, create some fun, INCLUDE THEM! In a million years you won't find better proselytizers, even salesmen, than Amiga owners. I don't know, invest a bit of money in buying and updating some "classical" Amiga software and speeding up Internet connectability. Give away 2.04 or even 3.1 to those still labouring with 1.3 (Can't believe only 20% of Amigans are connected). Jeezes, start a program to find out once and for all how many practicing Amigans there still are out there and, why not, how many there were (Commodore Registrations must still be around somewhere). Found scholarships...Invent "working groups", put together some cool archives of Amiga stuff, no start a virtual Amiga Museum...Think how usergroups could become "regional resource centers". Start Radio Amiga International...And it could go on and on and needn't cost a fortune!

Losing the remaining user-base, however, would not just be a mistake, it would be a crime!

But hurry, the journalists Ben Vost and Thomas Svenson, are right. Time is running out.

Rethinking "corporate" (Amiga) culture. New models of operating, co-operating within a really alive community. Rethink everything, including PR and Marketing concepts. Throw out old musty, dead customs and mindframes. Rethink capitalism. Socialize business. Perhaps even figure out how to offer some kind of shares to users, let them contribute, participate. Ideas are afoot in the big wide world in this area also.

Example: Ray Anderson, his company Interface, makes carpets out of petroleum wastes! Figure that one out. He's holding that "Sustainability has become as important a consideration in every business decision as profitability". Interface doesn't just sell carpets, it leases, installs and maintains them, takes 'em back and recycles them. Wow! He says: "For its first century, industrial caitalism has been obviusly, relentlessly linear: raw materials, energy, product, packaging, marketing, distributing, waste. In the century to come business will evolve to the next level: cyclic capitalism. Among other things, companies will consume their own waste. In nature there is no garbage; everyone's waste becomes someone's food..."

Amiga Inc: Think of recycling old machines, give' em away to schools in Africa, South America. In a few years those people will be fully-fledged Amigans. A man from a small town in Canada went on Safari to Kenya, came to a small village, found out the people had no water. He decided to buy them a pump, went back to Canada, convinced the people of his town to get involved in this pump caper. Now there are 50 more villages in Africa with water pumps...and growing their own tomatoes!

OK, you wanna talk about PR? Big changes happening there too. Used to be you had to dine and wine important writers and seduce them into writing about your product. Now the focus is on the client and "personalizing" what his "values" are. What "persona" can the company project, where and how is the company spending its advertising and PR money. What is its relationship with its customers, its employess, the community. PR, according to Anne Cunningham, (Cunningham Partners), "Is to tell a company's management what its many constituencies are thinking. The PR person needs to out-report the best reporters -- to talk to journalists, analysts, stockholders and customers in order to understand the marketplace better than any of those audiences can. The payoff comes when the PR person can convey the constituents' messages to executives at the highest level of the company -- and then demonstrate to those constituents how their input has helped inform top management decisions. You can get all of these constituents to participate in your success -- but most companies don't involve them and that's a mistake."

Or another concept, this one from NRG, Chicago-based PR company: "Branding is dead. Long live sustainable identity! When everyone is applying brand-marketing, it doesn't work anymore. Now the mind-space is getting crowded. Companies will have to do more -- or do something different -- to stand out."

What could Amiga Inc do that would stand out? When the time comes, push their users forward, send them out on adverts and commercials, honestly, simply. Much cheaper than hiring actors and models!! Put them out there, let people see and hear them, no stupid scripts. Gateway says, defining themselves: "You have a friend" AmigaInc should say nothing, let the users do the talking. They call that THE POWER OF THIRD PARTY ENDORSEMENTS. What better if the credibility of your company doesn't come from your own statements, pronouncements and hype but from being "endorsed" by your customers?

So, gather your users around you Amiga Inc and start now, so when you are ready to go everybody will know what to do!

In the meantime, to pick up on yet another "modern contemporary" PR idea , what about this:

Create an event that evangelizes your vision and that of your users. Establish venues, real or virtual. where you can bring together customers and key industry people (AmigaInc/GW/ICOA/etc,). And use your Web presence to share what you know. The Internet has introduced a whole new group of players (sorry Thom and Ben that's the truth!) into the "influencer" chain that PR people MUST connect to. What is the object of PR in this fast-changing environment? NRG think: To establish a "sustainable identity" for your company. A sustainable identity doesn't mean a fixed one, it means an active one! (A really cool Amiga Festival in the hills of The Little Bighorn on Summer Solstice?)

Finally, a quick look at Marketing. Marketing is a contest for people's attention.

Follow this: Seth Godin (Yoyodyne Ent.), Internet marketing pioneer, holds the following, stark and radical, argument: "Advertising just doesn't work as well as it used to -- in part because there's so much of it, in part because people have learned to ignore it, in part because the rise of the Net means that companies can go beyond it. We are entering an era that's going to change the way almost everything is marketed to almost everybody."

He sees the biggest problem with mass-marketing advertising as the fight for people's attention by INTERRUPTING them. A 30-second spot interrupts a Seinfeld episode. A telemarketing call interrupts a family dinner. A print ad interrupts an article. "The interruption model is extremely effective when there's not an overflow of interruptions. But there's too much going on in our lives for us to enjoy being interrupted anymore."

The new model (another time "model" is being used!), he says, is build around PERMISSION. The challenge for marketers is to persuade consumers to volunteer attention -- to "raise their hands" (one of Godin's favorite phrases) -- to agree to learn more about a company and its products. "Permission marketing turns strangers into friends and friends into loyal customers", he says, "It's not just about entertainment -- it's about education."

Yet again, this seems a perfect answer for the Amiga and the idea of compiling its "culture" and employing the users" to spread the word. Ok, this might not work -- yet I'm not sure -- on the level of selling corporations a zillion machines. But it certainly would work on the level of the "informed" computer user. Word Of Mouth, very effective. And then again, corporations have individual "people" manning the workstations. Even if it takes a bit of an effort, a convinced -- and convincing -- Amigan, could bring his machine to work and demostrate it during a lunch break. Provided the platform has real performance advantages, even in a rather specialized field like graphics, video or multimedia (a growing industry!) -- it could well turn a few heads. If a solid customer-support system, a la Gateway and more, (Usergroups involvemnt) backs that up, a new Amiga, would have a fair chance of making some impact on the scene. I'm not saying it would ever outdo PC's, not as we are seeing the situation now, but who knows what changes of attitude might occur. Strangely, big companies, so sure of their turf, are slower than upstarts and not so agile. With an agile OS, and an informed and an informed, well-cared for userbase, who knows what could happen.

Conclusion: Whichever way one looks at these most recent developments in the fields of PR, Advertising and Marketing, it seems to me the perfect opportunity for the Amiga Gestalt (developers, users and parent company) to create an entirely new "model" of integration and operation.

INCLUSION is very much the KEY word. I know this all implies a very shrewd understanding of the new forces at work in society and marketing, and a considerable imagination on the part of "corporate" thinkers to see further than their noses and show innovative and original enterpreunership. Difficult times need intelligent, well-informed, courageous and dynamic leadership. The AMIGA community is crying out for such a lead. ICOA has clearly demonstarted there is plenty of leadership ability, talent and serious dedication in our community. The trick is to unleash it and co-ordinate it. This is something Amiga Inc has to do if it wishes to stake a claim in the future of computing.

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