Civility: is Open Source exempt?
Conference talks are usually governed by simple rules of civility, which equally bind employees of vendors and their surrogates, whether customers or academics.
- You can point to your own strengths, even if perhaps arguable. But if you point to your rival’s weakness, that weakness must be conceded by all.
- You can point to your own virtues (a fun place to work! free food! massages!), but if you talk about your rival’s vices, those vices must be conceded by all.
- You can talk as much as you like about your own motivations, but if you discuss your rival’s motives, you’d better have strong documentary evidence.
In other words, if you’re speaking for Gimbel’s, you are expected to behave as if Mr. Macy himself were sitting in the front row.
Open source advocates routinely break these rules. You hear this all the time. They impugn the motives of their competitors, from Microsoft to Twitter. They argue from deficiencies that cannot be demonstrated (they're proprietary, so might not add new features you want) and virtues that will be implemented any day now (we're going to replace Twitter, except without downtime!). This makes our conferences worse. It drives good people and good firms away from conferences. And there's no way to push back: when some junior sales rep crosses the line at a trade show, you can send a note to his management, but there's no one to sit down with OpenSource surrogates and explain how to behave.
Update: I'm reminded that software sales people break these rules when talking about Open Source competitors, too.[#pcb3]