Thursday, August 6, 2009

To Blog or Not to Blog

During the 46th Design Automation Conference (DAC) held in San Francisco, California, I had the opportunity to meet with and talk to John Cooley (ESNUG & Deepchip founder). John was one of the speakers at "Conversation Central" hosted by Synopsys. John's topic was "The Evolution of ESNUG and Deepchip", where he described his journey with ESNUG and now Deepchip. I have to say that over the years, I have met more people who view John with contempt and very few who have directly stated anything to the contrary. When I was at a small startup called Verplex systems, I ran into John at DAC 2000. During my brief conversation with him on topics that included the point of esnug, he abruptly stopped me and said, "Give me the top 10 bugs with Verplex software, known workarounds and fixes in the works and I will be happy to post that on esnug". His position was, "You will get some serious press from that". I was kind of taken aback by his words. I mean who in the EDA world in the right mind would openly put out known bugs and issues for the world to consume. It was imperative that you protect the company and not give the competition any ammunition and openly offer up marketing fodder for the competition. John had ended with "My audience is only interested in hearing about bugs in the software, workarounds and what's being done to fix the bug. This material they will consume, any others they are not interested". We walked away from each other and that was that. We never crossed paths again until now.

This time at DAC, John pretty much repeated the same words that I had heard him say in 2000. I thought, "This guy is relentless, he never gives up his mantra". But there was one change this time around. I had left the EDA world for over 2 years and My time outside of EDA was spent in new areas of Consumer and Enterprise Mobile Applications, and Social Media (SM). Armed with new found knowledge of SM and its acceptance in other areas of the industry, I wanted to come back to DAC to see if I could tie in these new areas and it's relevance and applicability to the high technology industry.

There is no doubt that John has achieved significant success with ESNUG and Deepchip. These forums moderated by John, offers a discussion platform where engineers email him their personal experiences with EDA tools. He forces people to give him real data and not fluff. He wants benchmark data and testcase stats (run time, design size, memory used, crashes, known issues, workarounds etc.). As you know, the tendency within the EDA and the semiconductor design industry is to frown upon this kind of postings by employees. There is the risk that either party may overstep the bounds of their mutual NDA's or that some secrets might be revealed by openly discussing issues at such forums. Also the EDA industry is a small world and one could risk alienating themselves or hurt future job prospects. This is an industry where everyone plays nice. In terms of identity, John gives people the necessary cover if they request anonymity, hoping that they will be elaborate with their posts. While this has mostly resulted in good information exchange for the engineers, much to the EDA world does not look forward to these posts, mainly because this is perceived by them as having their dirty laundry exposed and openly discussed on his forum. I for one, don't believe that John acts against the EDA industry or against any particular company. Neither do I think that he specifically sides with any one company. It is quite clear that he will post articles submitted by his user community as long as they meet the basic requirements he sets for them. John does allow controversial unverified statements or arguments to be posted on his forum. Its obvious he can't really verify the validity of every claim made by these posts. But, he does allow EDA companies to respond to these posts. The only thing John does not allow is people/companies to post any information that he considers as marketing or publicity material. One thing is certain, he seems to cherish controversy.

What surprised me was his comment and strong opinion that, "Engineers should not write personal blogs". He said that engineers should instead post in forums with an established audience, such as He claims to have 25,000 active readers. John argues that the trouble with personal blogs is the following:
  • A blogger may not have enough material to maintain the continuity of the blog site. He quoted some random stats. (#1: 99.5% of blogs fail within 2 months #2: 99.5% consist of 2 or 3 posts on EDA, followed by irrelevant posts or nothing)
  • A blog owner doesn't have time to moderate comments or may be too biased to allow comments against the post.
  • Personal blogs are not focused and some postings are of a personal nature.
  • The audience is limited and that there's no money in it.
  • He says no one ever got a job writing a blog. He counters that by adding that many people on his forum have gotten job offers merely by John's recommendation.
His claim is that established sites like deepchip offer a platform for interactive discussion. Yes, John will give you all kinds of reasons not to write blogs. That's because if you do so and get good at it, maybe he will lose some traffic from his site. He obviously wants to be the center of the universe for EDA discussion. His 25,000 subscribers keep coming back for more and that means he has eyeballs on his site which translates to Ad revenues. Of course he is going to tell you not to write.

I want to tell each and every engineer out there that if you feel like writing, please do so. Don't ever let anyone (including John Cooley) discourage you from creating a blog. Just ensure that you counter the 5 points he raises above which are quite valid. Write because you like to do so and not because it's a one time thing. Be expressive, Be bold and take a stance. Plan your blog beyond just the first article.

Just remember:
  • It is very easy to get a blog site up and running.
  • Create a community, find other bloggers and cross link your sites so that you can share viewers.
  • Identify yourself. Don't ever write anonymously, for it is useless.
  • Have pre-screened guest authors share their views on your site, so your site can have regular and quality updates.
  • Don't do it for money. With falling CPM's and low traffic you will hardly get anything to write home about.
  • Allow un-moderated comments. Have people who comment identify themselves to weed out spammers and flamers.
  • Be prudent about what you say and always use common sense. Your first amendment right does not protect you from slander.
  • If you work for a large corporation, make sure that your personal blog does not meander away from the Social Media Policies of your corporation.
  • Provide value to your audience

Monday, August 3, 2009

Can the EDA industry truly leverage Social Media?

I just got back from the 46th Design Automation Conference (DAC) held in San Francisco, California. Having been out of the Electronic Design Automation (EDA) industry for a little over a year now, I was coming back in with an outsider's perspective. My time outside of EDA was spent in new areas of Consumer and Enterprise Mobile Applications, Social Media (SM) and it's relevance and applicability to the high technology industry. I was intrigued to find out that Synopsys, one of the leading EDA companies had created "Conversation Central" at DAC. This was an area where they had some invited speakers and sessions to educate SM newbies and discuss SM techniques.

I had met and networked with karen bartleson of synopsys via twitter and was very interested in finding out what EDA companies were doing with adopting SM methods. I attended a few of the sessions and did run into some very interesting people and differing opinions. I wanted to talk about the general areas that I see as barriers for EDA's adoption of SM techniques.

From my EDA experience, for too long the EDA industry has been clouded in secrecy and justifiably so. We shall not discuss the reasons for that in this blog. EDA customers have generally precluded EDA companies from talking about their relationship. The amount of Non Disclosure Agreements signed between EDA companies and their customers would only make attorneys happy. EDA companies on the other hand have rarely discussed issues about their applications openly on the Internet other than to use it as a platform for press releases (PR). This is in stark contrast to social media methods where open honest conversations are what it's all about. Many EDA vendors would like to help their consumers openly share and discuss issues with applications. However they are comfortable doing so only under a controlled atmosphere such as a users group (UG) community. While these UG forums have helped the user community, the information however remains within that small forum and the larger group of application users do not generally have access to that information.

For the EDA industry to truly leverage social media techniques, whether it be blogging (regular long form blogs) or micro-blogging (twitter, utterz etc.,) it will need an audience. This audience will be mostly comprised of engineers who are always on a time constraint. Any reading material that they might consume must be far from marketing and more closely related to FAQ's and other helpful hints. They are always looking to save time and avoid techniques that could get them in trouble. For this to happen, EDA companies have to make themselves more vulnerable by openly talking about issues without fear of being targeted. by the competition. When I met John Cooley (ESNUG & Deepchip founder), way back in 1999 he said, "My audience is only interested in hearing about bugs in the software, workarounds and what's being done to fix the bug. This material they will consume, any others they are not interested". John has found significant success by offering a moderated discussion platform where people email him the results of their experiences with EDA tools and he gives people the identity cover (anonymity) so that they will be more open with their posts. This has resulted in good information exchange for engineers much to the angst of the EDA companies, because their dirty laundry is openly discussed out on his forum. On occasion, EDA companies find themselves having to defend themselves from baseless accusations when people post anonymously under the guise of protecting themselves from retaliation. However, in my book, I have always had the opinion that there is no value for anonymity on the Internet. If you are going to state an opinion on the Internet, then the only way that it can carry value is for you to identify yourself. For EDA companies to leverage SM, they will have to make themselves more vulnerable by talking about issues that their audience cares about. If they use SM for just PR, then they risk alienating the audience.

The other areas where I see some burden to leveraging SM techniques are the following.

# User behavior: Can you force people within the industry to change and adopt the above mentioned needed behaviors to dabble in SM?

# Protocols: How do companies moderate the discussion when their people start to leverage SM techniques. Do people know what to do? Many large companies have introduced so called "social media rule book" which can run into pages. These guidelines themselves can be daunting to a new user and can deter some real creative ones. Most times, all that it requires is common sense on what you can say and share. The simple rule is, don't say or write things that you will regret later. Remember, there is no "UNDO" button on the Internet. My two rules for corporate social media users especially twitterers. Don't tweet yourself out of a job and Don't tweet yourself into an SEC investigation.

# Generational Diversity: With respect to information, what the last generation regarded as private, the current generation regards as public. In the EDA world this translates to what is shareable and protected information. How do you overcome this hurdle when this dichotomy exists within organizations where both view points are valid? For large multi-nationals where the company is spread across many countries, there is an additional layer of cultural behavior to contend with. What may be acceptable for open discussion in one country may not be perceived so in other countries.

# Listening v/s dispensing: One thing is that SM is all about listening to the customer rather than dispensing marketing information or press releases. SM also enables companies to track consumer trends. While this may work readily for other industries, the EDA industry in it's current state may not be the most appropriate industry. One thing is clear, EDA companies need to understand that SM techniques should be used to gauge customer sentiment and avert any potential public-relations disasters. The key question is, are there enough customers leveraging SM techniques to talk openly about EDA products.

# Quantitative: Finally the key question that will need to be answered is, Can SM techniques provide any measurable return on time and dollar invested. This will be especially hard because of the initial difficulty in understanding what metrics need to be measured to enable one to objectively measure the ROI on adopting SM methods for EDA given all the hurdles.

One thing is for certain, media as we know it, is changing. With what I call the "now-media" generation that readily records and posts events, articles and blogs to the web for others to consume, the EDA industry may be forced to adopt SM techniques sooner rather than later. In ending I want to note the EDA people who I met at #46DAC are some of the people to watch in EDA for SM adoption. Karen Bartleson, Robert Dwyer, Daniel Payne, JL Gray, John F Macdonald etc.