Making Friends

It’s harder than making lemonade without lemons

A friend of mine once worked for the EPA where he was privy to the meetings and conversations they had with companies, experts, and special interests. He summed up those meetings like this (paraphrasing):

The environmentalists would come in and say, "You need to end X now," where "X" is any issue you can think of. "We want the EPA to stop 100% of X immediately and assess huge fines to anyone who doesn’t comply.

The companies would come in and say, "We know that the EPA has tough decisions to make, but it would really help us if you would let us do 5% more of X."

If you were the EPA and those were the arguments presented, whose side would you choose?

How to make friends (when you would otherwise be enemies)

The first time I really got angry at the digital freedom movement (groups like the Creative Commons, EFF, EPIC, etc.) was when Cory Doctorow spoke at Microsoft. This speech was given to MS Research in 2004 and after he introduced himself, he said this:

Here’s what I’m here to convince you of:

1. That DRM systems don’t work
2. That DRM systems are bad for society
3. That DRM systems are bad for business
4. That DRM systems are bad for artists
5. That DRM is a bad business-move for MSFT

Note all the negative words in that — "don’t work", "bad for society", "bad business move for Microsoft". I’m not the best public speaker, but I do know that opening yout speech by telling your audience that they’re doing the wrong thing is a bad move. Making that the subject of your entire speech is doubly so. (Making claims like DRM is bad for artists, society, etc. without strong evidence to back it up is equally a bad idea, but I’ll cover that later.)

That was the moment I put the pieces together. No wonder these groups can’t get anything laws passed that reflect their ideals. They complain, fight, and argue rather than offer help, set examples, and above all make friends.

You have to make friends to build your movements, no matter what the cause. And so I offer this advice to any group who wants to take it so that they might be more successful in executing strategies that lead to their goals.

Step 1 – Find your friends

The first step in any attempt like this is to locate allies. They’ll help you recruit others to your movement, or at the least hold your bags when you need to tie your shoelaces. And you can always buy more bags for people to hold, so the more people you have, the better.

You find your friends by going public with your opinions — but carefully (more on "carefully" in a moment). You’ll never know who is on your side until you let them know what you think. And even then, those supporters may be in a place where they can’t publicly show their support of you. You must be the pied piper of sorts, playing your flute to draw out all your friends.

So go to meetings, conferences, parties.  Write a blog, send letters to the editors, and take part in the community.  Do whatever you can to get your perspective out, then latch onto the people who respond.

Like I said, you must be careful. In this process of going public, you can’t offend or turn off potential allies. That’s why you need to…

Step 2 – Show understanding

When Cory went to MS and chastised them for their business move, he made no attempt to show empathy, understanding — in fact, I didn’t even see a single nice statement about MS in the entire speech. Worse, he didn’t even address the problems that MS was facing as they were developing DRM solutions.

In my speech to MS, I’d open with something like this:

You’re in a tough situation, Microsoft. You have this new DRM technology, but you’re getting lots of pressure from big Hollywood to do it their way. You also know there’s a potentially huge market of businesses who will purchase MS DRM technology, so there’s lots of money at risk too. You’re also dependent on customers to buy DRM media and use MS products to play that media.

It’s a tough situation to be in, and I’m sure you’ve faced many difficult decisions while building this technology.

And so on. It doesn’t matter who you meet with — your next door neighbor, a politician, a room full of ravenous MS researchers, or me. The first thing you must do to win them over is show empathy and understanding for their problems.

A little while after the discovery of Sony’s CD root kit , the EFF sent this letter to Sony. Add "sending an ultimatum" to the list of things you don’t do when trying to make friends:

But if you truly intend to undo the harm you have caused, your company should immediately and publicly commit to the following additional measures:

<list of changes>

We look forward to hearing that you are in the process of implementing these measures by 9:00am PST on Friday, November 18, 2005.

On one hand, I have to hand it to the EFF for clearly defining what they would like Sony to do. On the other hand, this hardly shows that the EFF understands what Sony is going through.

Think of it like this: You are an ant. Your audience is the 800-pound gorilla. You will take that gorilla, put him on his back, and start rubbing his belly. It’s hard. But you absolutely must disarm them. Do not give them any reason to tune you out, like telling them their business strategy is terrible. Or that they smell funny.

Step 3 – Make them understand you

You have an agenda. Your next goal is to make that audience understand your point of view. This is yet another difficult task. And again, I’ll demonstrate this by example.

In response to the EFF’s demands, Sony sent this letter (PDF warning) explaining their side of the issues. Read it. You’ll see that Sony sounds pretty reasonable in their response, calling out the EFF’s inflammatory language (like calling them "infected" CDs). Sony also explains in pretty clear language what they’re is doing to correct the problems. I think Sony’s response makes the EFF look like a big ass for their huge list of demands.

The EFF obviously didn’t see it that way, and three days later they filed a lawsuit against Sony.

You must clearly communicate your point of view to the audience in a way that doesn’t offend them. Show that you understand the concerns you’re representing. And above all…

Step 4 – Find common ground

Show that you and your audience have a common goal. For the EFF, tell Sony you want the best for Sony’s customers just like Sony does. Sony has built a brand around high quality, and this fiasco has really battered their name. You don’t need to rub it in any more. Instead, make it clear to them that you also want what’s best for consumers.

This isn’t easy. It takes a great deal of humility to say that you have a common goal with someone who would be your enemy in other situations. However, this is the first step of compromise. If you can find these common goals, communicate them to your audience, and get them to agree with you, you’ve just overcome the biggest hurdle.  If you can’t find any common ground, then you’re not looking hard enough.

Step 5 – Help them help you

The last step is to ensure that you and your new ally will work together to reach your common goals. Put yourself on the table. For MS, I’d say the following:

I know we’ve had our differences, but I think we’re both committed to making sure that the consumers have the best experience possible while using technologies including DRM media. I want to help you however I can — offer advice, provide experts, give you research — so that when we’re done, you’ve created a technology that I can endorse whole-heartedly. We’ll be better off for it, you’ll be better off for it, and everyone who uses it will be better off for it.

How can you argue with that?

Find a way to help them. For MS and Sony, point to the bottom line. Say that you can make MS more money if they include first sale rights in their DRM technology by creating secondary markets for music since those companies will then have to buy more MS products. Tell Sony they’ll really be champions of consumers if they let anyone swap their old CDs for new, unprotected ones.

These steps are really a framework to keep in mind when you’re trying to champion a cause. I’ve got some other guidelines that you should pay attention to as well…

Look for an olive branch.

At the end of Sony’s letter to the EFF, Sony thanks the EFF for the opportunity respond and offers the EFF a chance to speak directly to Sony about these issues. That’s the perfect opportunity for the EFF to make peace with Sony.

Take those opportunities any time you see them. Even if you can’t come to an agreement, at least you tried. And I’d much rather have those discussions face-to-face across a conference room table than in a courtroom. Or yelling at the TV from my couch.

Reward good behavior

This brief article in Forbes describes how Wal-Mart just opened their first eco-friendly store. This is the Sierra Club statement. It’s short and pretty mixed in response. A good line from the statement:

More companies should take these positive steps towards safer and healthier communities.

Nice. Tell them they’re doing a good job. Let others know that this is the example you want them to follow. But then a bad line:

While this announcement shows that Wal-Mart can be leader, it also demonstrates that they should be able to take equal steps to protect workers.

Not so nice. Say something like, "We look forward to the opportunity to work with Wal-Mart and other companies to reduce their environmental impact," and leave it at that. Don’t throw your politics into it, and stay on the point. You’re an environmental group, not a labor rights organization. Be their ally in their efforts, and let them know it.

Don’t overreach

Do not claim you speak for a silent majority or otherwise represent a group that you don’t. Do not stretch your claims where they don’t need to go. Stick to your guns and your goals, and make sure you’ve got the evidence to back your points.

And under no circumstances do something that lets me make a fool of you. In their paper (PDF warning), two lawyers I once worked with at UC Berkeley made the following claim. The paper was about DMCA takedown notices — the kind that Google gets from Scientology when the Scientologists want to remove an accusatory web page from Google’s search results.

The specifics of our data set may limit the ability to neatly generalize our findings. Yet the findings are troubling, and seem to indicate a need to further study, and perhaps revisit entirely, the DMCA takedown process.

Let me get this straight… You say you need to do more research and at the same time suggest that your research warrants revisiting the DMCA. Shouldn’t you do that further study first, then decide whether or not you want to revisit the DMCA? Total overreaching. And even worse, it’s a dead giveaway about their political perspective.

Don’t be that guy. Don’t be that guy that I make fun of when you say something stupid.

No fearmongering

This is the ultimate sin. Do not ever scare people into being your allies.

A student was suspended for something he did in his blog (what it was, I’m not certain). The description of the story includes the line:

Perhaps now is the time to consider joining the EFF if you attend a private university and have a blog.

Statements like that make me want to join the NRA. "Oh no! Something bad happened to someone somewhere! Let’s all join the ACLU!" Fuck no.

Don’t cave into fearmongering like that. And absolutely, positively do not use fearmongering to bring people to your side. In the end, you’ll only drive away people who might otherwise be your allies if you instead treated them nicely.

Take part in the community

Sometimes actions speak louder than words. That’s why I was amazed that Microsoft has applied to make their XML Office formats an open standard, that they adopted the Mozilla orange RSS icons, and that their RSS extensions are under a Creative Commons license. Lots of people have been badmouthing MS for this, seeing it as a sign that MS wants to take over RSS and Office.

I say it’s the right move and a big departure from old MS tactics. Old MS would take RSS then add extensions in a way that nobody could figure out how they changed it. New MS makes those changes public and free.

Be a part of the community. Speak on panels. Write papers. Go to conferences. Release your goods to the public. Sure, people can be suspicious of MS, but I’d much rather see this behavior than any other. And best of all, it doesn’t give others an excuse to badmouth you for the same old tactics.

Don’t give up

Above all, never give up. Not like the EFF did. Every three years, the DMCA is reviewed, and the Copyright Office can add exemptions to the DMCA’s rules. Rather than take part in the process and offer ideas for what works should be exempt from the DMCA, the EFF wimped out and decided not to participate. They say their efforts were futile. I say they’re wimps.

Those wimps.

Never give up. If you believe in the cause, this should never be a problem.


I’m not convinced that the EFF, Sierra Club, etc. actually want to find a compromise to their organizations’ problems. Their actions show they would rather fight than work together with the people they have problems with. This is understandable in part; I wouldn’t want to work with someone who I perceive as my enemy either.

But part of solving problems is rising above the fight. You have to be willing to extend your hand, turn the other cheek, whatever — as long as you make it clear to the other side that this gesture signals a true change in your relationship. Be genuine, candid, and flexible. If the other side has any sense at all, they’ll see you’re serious about working together.

Of course, this is a pretty idealistic view. Some issues, like abortion rights or the death penalty or what’s the best movie ever, stir so much passion that it may not look like there’s room for compromise. And even if you don’t think Die Hard is the greatest film, you may still like it a little bit. So start from that, and the scene with the fire hose and the window… You never know when the person you’re talking to may become your new best friend.