Wondering why people don't like you

In the hallowed halls of Sony, there’s probably a fairly large number of people who really do ask themsevles: "Why do so many people not like us? We’re putting out some incredible technology, yet no one pays attention to that – instead they focus on something else, calling us hacks and fools".

Yes, strange as this may sound, I’d be be willing to bet money that a vast majority of the Sony employees know that something’s wrong, but just don’t quite get what it is.

In that vein, here’s a handy primer of what happens when you focus on absolutely everything except forming a good relationship with your consumers:

Proprietary Formats
To start with, we have to go with the favorite complaint of just about everyone I’ve ever heard talking about this – my highly non-techie friends included. Sony loves to create formats for just about anything and everything that they produce. From the Memory Stick to the UMD movies for PSP, it’s all closed. Sure, they claim open formats like they do with the MS:

Q1. What is the policy on licensing the Memory Stick format?
A1. As an open format, Memory Stick licensing conditions and other information are readily available to a broad range of companies covering all types of industries. In line with this policy, the Memory Stick Developers’ Site (URL: www.memorystick.org) has been established, making it possible for companies to obtain licenses online. A variety of activities are also held involving Memory Stick supporting companies, including a forum to exchange information and joint promotional events.

But it’s clear that they have a fundamental misunderstanding about what "open standards" means. This definition is the one that I and most of the world adheres to:

Open Standards are available for all to read and implement

If you look at their developer site, clearly only "licensees" get to use the format. That’s not "open", my friends.

Content selection
MiniDisc was a great format – I bought an early MD stereo component for the home stereo that was also bundled with a portable MD player. In the days before iPod, when I was living in Manhattan, I upgraded my portable MD player to an incredible device.

The problem was, however, that anything I wanted to listen to on MD had to be recorded manually by me at home. If I could actually find MD discs to buy, they were crap music, from Sony Music’s own library. The only good content was typically content I already had. Sony created a terrific format – one that was much more robust than a CD, smaller discs thus smaller devices, optical recording, and more. But they forgot the most important rule – it’s all about the content.

I’m sure there were a great many issues involved with allowing other record labels to put their content on the MD format, but did Sony honestly think it could go it alone, having widespread industry and consumer adoption of a new format when the only content available was from their own library?

Apparently they did –  because they did it again, albeit not quite so bad with the PSP movie format, UMD. At the launch of the PSP, there were an insignificant number of uninteresting UMD movies released. Only recently has there been a more interesting movie selection. If you look at the early adopters of the PSP, did Sony really think the way to get them excited about spending more than double the price (yes, $30!!) of a DVD was to offer movies like You Got Served or XXX? Perhaps the audience they were going for was a teen market, and this was right up their alley. The way they launched the product didn’t seem to be focused on the teens though, so as a marketer, it’s hard for me to understand the logic.

The UMD rollout, while very slow to gain momenteum seems to be picking up steam. So just when we’re thinking to ourselves "maybe Sony is getting it", they give us an answer in the form of a big fat smack on the head – their first foray into Blu-Ray discs. What, pray tell are they going to be releasing on the most advanced audio visual delivery medium to date?

Charlie’s Angels: Full Throttle

Way to skip right over the buzz builders, the community members, the geeks that are likely going to be the first ones buying the Blu-Ray players. The first ones who will be sharing with the world how cool Blu-Ray is, and convincing their non-techie friends that it’s worth the money. Not only skip over them, but do it in a way that makes every Blu-Ray buying geek feel insulted and ignored.

Protectionism
Sony has also played right into the hands of the industries they work with when it comes to DRM and overall protectionism attitudes. From the CD rootkit debacle to the fact that they continue to shun homebrew PSP developers by doing everything in their power to lock down the PSP, Sony is trying to protect the unprotectable. And while doing so is creating a bigger and bigger perception that they’re the cold, callous fools people used to think of Microsoft as being.

These days, with the Channel 9, Robert Scoble, community-minded efforts of Microsoft, geeks have been looking for a new punching bag. With the rootkit debacle, Sony handed themselves to the wolves on a silver platter.

As a community guy, the PSP firmware thing really hacks me off. There is a dedicated and brilliant group of people out there who are doing amazing things with the Sony device. They’re creating their own software, based on the PSP. People are buying the PSP not just for the Sony approved games and movies, but because you can do so much more with the device.

If Sony was to embrace the community, and start working with them, they could a situation where the device was a geek must-have. This would cost nearly nothing – other than maybe the time for hiring a community relations specialist. Sure they could spend money on the developing support tools, support Web sites, etc. But those things are secondary priorities behind the first – communication. Imagine how enthused PSP homebrew developers would be if Sony actually started talking to them about what they were doing. Imagine if instead of ignoring, Sony started guiding them. I’m telling you – the PSP would be a geek must-have, in the hands of geeks as much as the iPod is.

Imagine if Chevy or Dodge started to go out of their way to ensure that car buffs weren’t allowed to modify their cars. Imagine if each subsequent model year created more and more methods of ensuring that only manufacturer approved mechanics could even open the hood. We wouldn’t accept it from the auto industry, why do we accept it from Sony?

Oh, and by the way – even if Sony’s core market target for the PSP isn’t geeks, who do you think is going to be spreading the word-of-mouth to the non-geek targets?

What Sony fails (and has always failed) to realize is that consumers and content are what drive technology. Imagine where Windows would be if there weren’t many third-party software developers creating applications. Minidisc stays alive in no small part due to the community.

My assumption with Sony is that if any of their employees were to read the above rant, they’d write it off. They’d be seeing my outsider, uninformed opinions without any of the insider information and just chalk me up to being a clueless hater.

But the thing is, the reason I spent so much time writing these thoughts down is that I love Sony. I’ve been a Sony whore for two decades – ever since I got my first Walkman. So my complaints, like so many other Sony fans, come from love. Much like that drunkard uncle that you want to take to rehab, this is my attempt at an intervention.

Does Sony need an intervention? You tell me –  here’s the wikipedia description of the rootkit situation:

XCP.Sony.Rootkit installs a DRM executable as a Windows service, but misleadingly names this service "Plug and Play Device Manager", employing a technique commonly used by malware authors to fool everyday users into believing this is a part of Windows. Approximately every 1.5 seconds this service queries the primary executables associated with all processes running on the machine, resulting in nearly continuous read attempts on the hard drive. This has been shown to shorten the drive’s lifespan.

Furthermore, XCP.Sony.Rootkit installs a device driver, specifically a CD-ROM filter driver, which intercepts calls to the CD-ROM drive. If any process other than the included Music Player (player.exe) attempts to read the audio section of the CD, the filter driver inserts seemingly random noise into the returned data making the music unlistenable.

XCP.Sony.Rootkit loads a system filter driver which intercepts all calls for process, directory or registry listings, even those unrelated to the Sony BMG application. This rootkit driver modifies what information is visible to the operating system in order to cloak the Sony BMG software. This is commonly referred to as rootkit technology. Furthermore, the rootkit does not only affect XCP.Sony.Rootkit’s files. This rootkit hides every file, process, or registry key beginning with $sys$. This represents a vulnerability, which has already been exploited to hide World of Warcraft RING0 hacks as of the time of this writing, and could potentially hide an attacker’s files and processes once access to an infected system had been gained.

That’s right, in an effort to "protect" themselves, Sony has written malware and open up their consumers computers to other hackers and virus writers.

If Sony were a person, its friends and family would be having a sit down right now, because clearly they’d have gone of the deep end.