Engineering Driven vs. Community Driven (was Re: Ugliness)

Lowell Higley higleylh at
Sun Apr 27 19:16:11 CEST 2008

On Sat, Apr 26, 2008 at 11:20 AM, Lowell Higley <higleylh at> wrote:

> On Sat, Apr 26, 2008 at 5:58 AM, Stroller <linux.luser at>
> wrote:
> >So please don't be offended but saying "I don't like it and neither do my
> friends" is totally irrelevant - come back when you've interviewed a hundred
> different people and >they've scored the Freerunner (alongside several other
> phones) in a range of 1 - 10 on size, colour, design attractiveness,
> comfort-to-hold and so on. You need to establish >with each respondent why
> they chose their last phone - was price a factor? features? You can probably
> rule out everyone who got their phone "free" from their mobile >supplier,
> because the Freerunner's market is those who are prepared to pay a premium
> for the features they want in a phone. Now interview another 100 people,
> those who >are prepared to pay a premium for the features they want in a
> smart- or business-phone - do they find the Freerunner attractive or ugly?
> Do they care?
> I'm not sure if I agree or disagree with you so I'll just dump my thoughts
> and you decide..
> I have spent the majority of my adult life in hi-tech, and much of that in
> product marketing.  My specialty has been taking "engineering driven"
> projects and turning them into actual market driven products.  I have come
> into multi-million dollar projects and bet the engineering team a month's
> salary that they would sell less than "x" products.  Why? Because they had
> NO clue what the customers wanted.  They just built what THEY wanted.  Each
> time I made that bet, I won.  No, I never collected the money but my point
> was made.
> When I see a product I like and it doesn't seem to have "marketing polish"
> I do a little informal research. I ask various people what they think.
> These people aren't my friends.  Ok, some of them are but not many.  No, it
> isn't a full focus group but I have learned over the years as a professional
> marketer than I can get a pretty good idea of how a product would sell based
> on the feedback I get from my little research projects.  Just informal chats
> with people on their likes and dislikes.  There was a statement someone made
> earlier about us techie types forcing complex phones with unwanted features
> down people's throats.  VERY true statement.  Unfortunately, the FreeRunner
> Consumer Edition will have to fight products like the iPhone head to head.
> Consumers see the "bling" of the iPhone and have very high expectations, all
> based on cosmetcis and the "wow" factor.  To make matters even worse, if you
> can't get the FCE (FreeRunner Consumer Edition) into the phone shops
> (Orange, TMobile, etc.) it will never sell big numbers.  In Europe I think
> there is a better chance of that happening.  In the US, the carriers LOVE
> their closed, crippled phones.  The deck is stacked against Openmoko ever
> making inroads as a major Treo, Blackberry or iPhone alternative.  Maybe
> this niche market it perfect for them?
> To me, FreeRunner has the smell of being an engineering driven project.
> Shawn has put a lot of effort in making it marketing driven but I don't see
> the conclusive results. (Forgive me Shawn)  I do acknowledge at this point
> that we are NOT targeting consumers.  That's ok.  But if we all want this
> product to REALLY succeed, we have to at some point.  Who knows, perhaps
> Shawn has a business case that involves just the niche market of hobbiests
> and developers such as ourselves. At one point I asked on this list how the
> design was derived.  I received no response from the core team but did get a
> heresay response that a company approached FIC to make a prototype, which
> they did.  That company then decided not to go forward, Shawn got a hold of
> the prototype and Openmoko was born.  If that story is true, I don't see any
> overt marketing involved there on FIC's part.
> Marketing is much more than holding focus groups and creating sales copy.
> There is competitive analysis, business cases, marketing requirements,
> "negotiating" with engineering over the final product, schedule.. and the
> list goes on.  My point is, as I look at things and put the picture
> together, I see no strong marketing presence in the FreeRunner.  Where's the
> MRD?  Where's the focus group?  Where's the business case?  I'm not saying
> this to throw dirt on the Openmoko project, just to point out that there is
> a LOT of work involved on the part of marketing.  Most of it we never see
> and perhaps we shouldn't.
> Let's look at this another way.. I have spent most of my professional life
> in Silicon Valley... Home of Apple, Netscape, Google, and Yahoo,  Between
> 1998 and 2001, I received invites almost weekly to interview with some new
> startup.  Sometimes I would accept and go talk to them.  In two years, I
> probably interviewed with 15 companies.  I would always insist on talking
> with the Director of Engineering (or whatever his title was) prior to
> talking offer, etc.  I would always ask the same question.  "Why do you want
> to hire a Marketing Manager?"  The first 14 companies responded with
> something like "Because our venture funding says we have to."  If I pressed
> the issue it would come out that they thought they had the best product and
> technology and it would sell itself. No marketing required. Silicon Valley
> is littered with the remains of companies like that.  We won't talk about
> company 15 because I did go work for them and the did pretty well. :)
> My last statement.  Openmoko and FreeRunner is REALLY cool stuff.... but
> it's not going to sell itself.  Ok, I'm late to my LUG meeting. I'll get off
> my soapbox now.
> Lowell

So I woke this morning thinking about this.. Yes, I am a sick man.  First, I
realized I made a mistake.. I spelled Sean's name wrong.  Oops.  My

Second, I was thinking about "engineering driven" vs. "community driven".
My impressions thus far is that Openmoko is engineering driven. That is a
bunch of techie types sitting around and deciding what the product should
be.  The decisions usually made in an engineering vacuum.  Openmoko is an
open project.  So a lot of the traditional aspects of defining, developing,
and releasing a product may not apply in the traditional sense.  They should
still apply, but definitely in a much different aspect.  I think sometimes
that is what I have troubles wrapping my mind around.  It makes sense that
it would come across engineering driven as most people that are involved in
the community have a technical background.  So for that epiphany, I
apologize for some of my earlier, possibly strongly worded statements.

So I spent some time in the wiki and noticed the new main page was
implemented.  Right on that page is an "Openmoko Roadmap" link which is
blank with the exception of the telephony piece which is also skimpy on
content.  So I guess my thoughts transitioned to this morning was how does
the community take these traditional roles of defining product requirements,
creating a development specifications, schedule, etc.  From that I had
several core questions rattling around in the back of my head.  I've stated
a few of those questions below and referenced items that I found in the

1) What is the ultimate goal of Openmoko?

>From the wiki:
*Openmoko is an attempt to create the world's first completely open mobile
phone software stack.*

Is this the ultimate goal?  Dunno but it seems like an admirable goal.. just
a little short on details.  Here's something else I found (keyword search:

*The long term goal is that phone software won't be tied to any particular
phone. You can install any OpenMoko software over the whole range of phones,
and if you upgrade your phone, you don't lose the software. Bugs fixed on
one phone are fixed on all.*

Again, admirable goal.  But is this the overarching goal of Openmoko
project?  I think the above statement is a little out of context but the
best I could find to answer my question.

2) Is there commercialization plans for Openmoko products?  That is, will
there be an attempt to put it in consumers' hands?

>From the wiki:

*OpenMoko, while being an open-source project, cannot flourish and become a
major milestone in human history without advanced commercialization
planning. Without an attractive market potential there will be little
interest for companies to invest resources (funding, production capacity,
ISV community) to make OpenMoko a true advanced mobile computing platform.
This section is devoted to the discussion of business-related applications
of OpenMoko for the purpose of attracting more resources into the
development of OpenMoko.*
The way I read this is we (the community as well as Openmoko, Inc) want to
get this device into consumer hands.  We have a lot to do to get there and
very little time to do it.  Time to market is crucial and I think we've
already missed the best window.

3) Is there a roadmap?

As discussed above, there is a prominent Roadmap link from the new wiki main
page. In fact, it is the second link of the first contrasted table (the dark
colored ones).  But you drill down and pretty much everything is blank.  The
Telephony team put some good tidbits in there but the details (schedule, for
example) are still missing.

4) Who defines the roadmap and how?

I really couldn't find much in the wiki about this.  It looks like the
limited roadmap I did find was created by the Openmoko, Inc. team, probably
with input from the community.   Are the wish lists that are contained in
the wiki how we get our requirements to the Openmoko team for inclusion into
the product/roadmap?

Well, I think I beat the horse a little too much.  My personal thought is
the community needs to take some responsibility and initiative to do some of
these things a typical corporate marketing team would do.  I think a lot of
us, myself included, thought that the Openmoko, Inc guys were taking care
most of these tasks.  Maybe they are but if we really want this to be a
community driven project and our ultimate goal is to get this product to
consumers, we need to step up to the plate.  We need to do focus groups,
competitive analysis, requirements definition, etc.  I think this would be a
lot more productive than people like myself stating "no one is going to buy,
it's ugly."  Let's organize, gather the needed information and let's get
this product to the consumers.  I'm tired of sounding whiny and putting
forth no solutions.  Let's truly make this community driven.

If I am stepping on someone's toes, please let me know.  Tell me to sit down
and shut up and I will.  I am willing to help anyway I can.  I'd love to
hear other people's thoughts.  Ok, I'm off to Europe for the week so I need
to do some laundry/packing.  Cheers!

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