on marketing

Marketing is a societal process … attempting to move the consumers toward the products or services offered.

I hate marketing. With a passion. The sentence above shows the 2 biggest problems I have with it. One is the word consumer, which often means “too stupid to make its own decisions”. The other is the fact that it doesn’t talk about the quality of the offer, but only about “moving towards”. To me that means that marketing is deeply unethical because its definition already violates the golden rule and the categorical imperative.

But before I get lost in another philosophical discussion with Christian I’ll get back to Open Source. And no, I’m not going to speak about the fact that “ODF good, OOXML bad” is just a big marketing campaign to close Ubuntu bug #1 or about if Linux is ready for the desktop, because that’d just get all the carnival barkers back on their podiums. They are just good as examples for the point I’m trying to make. And that point is that people generally behave seriously braindamaged when it comes to deciding about products or services they have no clue about (and yes, that likely includes me). Of course, we’re all trained to do the faith-based consumer approach by all the marketing that gets thrown at us, so we have a “good” excuse: And after all, how could the people we trust be wrong?

Turns out, the people we trust have no clue either. That bug report is Debian wondering which Flash player to ship in the default install. Apparently the most important thing in deciding about it is wether Flash starts paused (changing that is a one-line diff) or the amount of people that have submitted code. Stuff like feature completeness or code quality don’t seem to be that important. Why should they be, those are hard questions, answering them is way easier than looking at statistics or the big play button in your browser. Another hard thing for people is realizing that one doesn’t have a clue and asking the developers of the respective projects for their opinion. It still baffles me that people don’t ask.
Apparently in these cases marketing is very easy. Since the people don’t even have a clue what the right questions to ask are, marketers are free to make up their own questions to ask about the project and provide the answers. Which is what is happening in the bug linked above: The Gnash maintainer markets Gnash with made-up questions, the Swfdec maintainer does the same for Swfdec.

An interesting thing about all of this is that the Gnash and Swfdec projects have been using a very different approach at marketing. I have always been very careful, telling people they’d better try themselves, and not promising features; instead reminding them that reverse-engineering a product of that scope is hard. On the other hand, Gnash promoted itself as having “full Flash 7 support” by the end of 2007. That was a year ago. So you have one project that overpromises and another one that underpromises. Now if you browse discussions about Flash players on various mailing lists or forums, you’ll notice that Gnash is known way better. People are very more aware of an application that claims to almost support Flash than an application that claims it might not even work. On the other hand, the perception of Gnash is more negative. Gnash does not deliver its promises. Swfdec on the other hand promises nothing, so it’s likely it’ll be better than people expect, which makes them happy. Now, the question is: What’s the better approach? It’ll be interesting to follow it on Google blogs. If I ever figure it out, I’ll blog about it. Until then, it’ll probably remain nothing but an interesting thesis project for someone studying marketing.


#1 Murray Cumming on 04.29.08 at 11:00

But in the same sentence, wikipedia says “discerns consumers’ wants”. People like to have what they want. That seems reciprocal to me. Not that it’s ever that simple or benign, of course.

#2 Murray Cumming on 04.29.08 at 11:03

Also, with Gnash you seem to be talking about “selling”. And over-selling (false or unrealistic claims) is itself fatal for any marketing effort because people learn.

#3 nona on 04.29.08 at 11:59

While I generally have a very good impression of swfdec (wrt to Gnash for instance), this impression is mostly based on completely subjective criteria. It is quite hard to figure out what it’s aiming to support – there’s no real “status” page. Gnash claiming full Flash 7 support at least let’s me know what they’re aiming, or are close to support.

I guess it’s not easy to have a status page with all the different thing AS2/3 support. But some way of gauging progress would be nice.

#4 JustAGuy on 04.29.08 at 13:23

I pretty much agree with nona on the impression of Swfdec vs. Gnash.
Unfortunately, I also think that Swfdec can state more forcibly what it supports.

However, you’ve dealt with plenty of complicated, dumb and sometimes crazy Flash files. Can’t you make a website with all of them as a test suite?
If the files aren’t yours to share, can you make a list of links (specific links, not “Google Games now works”) of files that Swfdec manages to work on?

This should be a concrete statement. Maybe the Gnash guys will also do something like this. In the best case, it might spurn both projects to work harder on parsing the files they currently don’t.

In summary, keep up the good work, and don’t be discouraged by marketing.

Thank you for writing Swfdec

#5 menko on 05.01.08 at 14:26

Hey, people (read non pgo-readers) are just getting started to become aware of swfdec: http://www.google.com/trends?q=swfdec%2C+gnash&ctab=0&geo=all&date=ytd&sort=0

#6 ethana2 on 05.02.08 at 01:44

Well now they all have specs. Finally.
…so we’ll see which one handles said specs better over the next year or two…