Get On Board the Android Cluetrain

Better Ways to Reach Out to Android Developers

Recently, a few device manufacturers and carriers have begun reaching out to Android developers, ranging from posts on official Android Google Groups to holding developer conferences. Compared to life a year ago, this is great, and we really appreciate the gestures. However, in other respects, these attempts were somewhat fumbled, posting what amounts to press releases in a developer forum and spending lots of keynote time on company positioning statements.In short: while this is a net gain, there is still room for improvement. The good news is that improving is rather easy...if you are willing to learn from those who came before you.In 2009, Basic Books released the 10th anniversary edition of The Cluetrain Manifesto. The original edition coalesced a lot of the “rules of the road” for business interaction with online communities. It sparked many other works on the same topic, from authors ranging from Seth Godin to Tara Hunt. All pretty much say the same thing:Don't talk at us.Don't talk to us.Talk with us.One firm on the cluetrain for Android is T-Mobile. Their open source group has placed a few engineers on the key Android Google Groups to answer application development questions. They are not serving as T-Mobile spokespeople in the traditional sense, yet they provide a constant “face” for T-Mobile in the eyes of those developing for Android. They are building trust — or what Ms. Hunt and Cory Doctorow would call “whuffie” — every day just by being useful. A lot of that whuffie is intrinsic to this engineering team, but I'm sure a bit rubs off on T-Mobile as a whole. Someday, T-Mobile may call upon that team to spend some of that whuffie, perhaps to deal with some T-Mobile/Android blowup (e.g., some high-profile tethering issue). T-Mobile is no saint, and having a few engineers help answer questions does not give them carte blanche to do whatever they want. However, T-Mobile demonstrates that they do indeed care about Android as an ecosystem, beyond just its benefits to them as a carrier. Similarly, Motorola's developer boards and the like are a positive move to help make a very large firm seem more approachable.This does not mean that the only way to interact with Android developers is by having engineers sit on discussion groups. But:

  • Announcing products on a list will be far better received from somebody perceived as being a community peer and delivered in conversational tones, rather than somebody who pops on the list out of the blue and pastes in a typical press release. That may mean you need to spend time becoming a member of the community and build up your own whuffie, to spend it on commercial announcements.
  • If you are going to collect hundreds of developers in a room, don't waste their time jersey-popping on behalf of your firm. Tell them how you will help them be successful, technically and financially, with Android, pointing out along the way how that will help you in turn. Titles are immaterial — if they outnumber you 400:1, the event is about them, not about you.

Both sides need to heed the Manifesto: markets are conversations. Big businesses need to converse rather than announce; communities need to converse rather than rant.

Android's ecosystem will be a bit more rough-and-tumble for marketers than other communities, in part because of the open source tendencies of many of its members. You will get the occasional reply from the community that is juvenile, and not just chronologically. We work to try to raise our game and improve how we interact with marketers, and sometimes we fail. Any community worth interacting with is imperfect, almost by design, and peer pressure takes time. If you work with us as a community, and not as a market, you should receive fewer sophomoric replies and it will be easier for us to improve our interaction with you in turn.

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Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.

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