Keep Two Thoughts

Personal essays

Free - Essay from Newsletter 109

As in speech - not beer

Three things

When Maggie was little, she told us that all she wanted for Christmas one year was three things: A diary that she could lock and a doll with red hair.

“But Daniel,” you say, “that’s two things.”

I know.

There were three things in her original list and she always said them in the same order. “I want , a diary that locks, and a doll with red hair."

She said it over and over again for months and always used the same words.

We should have written it down but we didn’t and we forgot that thing that we thought we couldn’t possibly forget.

Years later Kim thought it might have been “A doll that wet herself” but we were never sure.

I think of that because I was trying to remember my three rules for bloggers at years ago and I could only come up with two.

Fortunately, I had written them down and Chris located them and sent them to me.

Back in those days blogging was new and most people didn’t have their own blog. We set up blogging on the website and invited people to participate. It was a curated list of people. They would help set the tone of the site. We got Sun to give us free passes to the annual JavaOne conference for a dozen of them in return for them posting daily reports of things they saw and were interested in.

There were many things that we did that made that site a special place and our cadre of bloggers was one of them.


So what were the rules?

They weren’t overly restrictive and were intended to set a tone for the bloggers.

Here’s the relevant sentence from my email invitation to bloggers (retrieved by Chris):

“The only thing we ask is that you agree to the three rules: be nice to others, no marketing, and your posts must be of interest to Java developers.”

Three rules.

(1) Be nice to others. It shouldn’t have to be said - but saying it made it clear that this wasn’t a platform where people took shots at others or said snarky things about the achievements or even mis-steps of others.

You’ve seen this in other settings. A group of nice people often sets the tone so that others joining the group behave in the nicest way as well.

But you’ve also seen the downside. It doesn’t take many jerks to change the tone of the whole gathering. Suddenly people are one-upping each other with cruel comments because others are laughing.

So rule one (and notice it was the first rule) was “be nice to others.” We never had to remove anyone for not being nice because everyone embraced that rule.

(2) No marketing. This rule didn’t have to be said at all for the benefit of our bloggers. It was there to help when their bosses and co-workers pushed back. It allowed our bloggers, even if they worked for Sun, to write “In Java you do …” and not “In the Java Programming Language (TM) you do …”

This rule allowed us to invite people who worked for companies other than Sun and made it easier for them to tell their employer, “sorry, I can’t post sales pitches.”

It wasn’t that someone working on a cool project couldn’t mention it, but it gave them the backing to keep their own pr and marketing departments off their backs.

(3) Your posts must be of interest to Java developers. Again, you’d think this didn’t have to be said. We were building a site to be read by Java developers. All I asked was that you consider your audience and write things that would interest them in their role as a Java developer.

Three fairly non-restrictive rules, presented in as friendly a way as possible.


About a year or so into the project, our liaison at Sun suggested some senior engineers that he’d like to see added as bloggers.

I contacted them and one objected to the rules. Well, not all of the rules. Just one of them.

I thought his objection would have been to the first rule. I’d been on a phone meeting with him a week earlier where he’d exploded because he could hear someone breathing on the call. “You’re all supposed to be muted,” he said sharply. When the breathing continued he exploded and shouted, “mute your f’ing phone or I’ll kick you off this call.”

With that incident in mind I thought he would object to the “be nice to others” rule.


He worked for the company funding the website. Perhaps he objected to the “no marketing” rule. It was their money, they should be able to market all they wanted.


He had a problem with rule 3, “your posts must be of interest to Java developers.”

Really? That’s what we’re going to argue about?

When MTV started I knew that if I turned it on I would get music videos. When A&E launched I knew I’d see Arts and Entertainment when I chose to watch it. The Food Network used to have shows that taught you how and what to cook.

If I was to have a chance to keep on topic, I should be at least able to expect that your posts must be of interest to Java developers. Note that the restriction was not that your post had to be about Java or development.

He explained his objection in a tone that walked the line on rule 1’s be nice to others. “If I want to write about my cat,” he concluded, “then I should be able to write about my cat.”

“You can,” I told him. “Just not here.”

He grumbled but agreed and it was fine. He was never going to write about his cat on that site - he was just pushing back against restrictions that didn’t in any way restrict.

Free as in

In the open source world they talk about software being free and they have to distinguish between types of freedoms.

The language is “free as in beer” or “free as in speech.”

This baffled the heck out of me. Beer mostly isn’t free. But the distinction is that beer is something that you either pay for or is given to you at no cost. “Free as in beer” means that it won’t cost you any money.

“Free as in speech” means unrestricted.

But unrestricted speech does not, as we’ve seen, lead us towards freedom.

If I were in charge of Twitter, I would have rules and guidelines.

Mine might be different than yours. For example, I would ban the posting of Wordle results.

The problem of what to restrict and how to enforce these restrictions around the world with a large user base is a hard problem that is well beyond me.

But the answer is not free as in speech.

It also looks as if there may be restrictions coming for free as in beer as well.

After Elon Musk’s purchase of Twitter was announced last night, one of my neighbors posted on Facebook that she deleted her Twitter account because of it.

I may also leave the platform. I haven’t decided yet. I’ve driven a Tesla for the past three years. It’s the nicest car I’ve ever driven and I’m moving to another manufacturer in September when my lease is up because of Musk. We’ll see if Twitter is different. I’ll wait to see how he treats the Twitter employees and customers. I’ll wait to see how my timeline changes.

When I read my neighbor’s post on Facebook I smiled and heard Kim’s voice saying, “poor honey.”

You’re posting on Facebook and have no problem with that platform and how it currently is and who currently runs it. You’re deleting your Twitter account which hasn’t yet changed in any way and isn’t yet owned by Musk.

As I said, I’m waiting to see three things. How the Twitter employees are treated and how the Twitter employees are treated and how my timeline changes.

Essay from Dim Sum Thinking Newsletter 109. Read the rest of the Newsletter or subscribe

See also Dim Sum Thinking — Theme by @mattgraham — Subscribe with RSS