Groklaw is on-message

Beautiful unanimity

By Rick Jelliffe
June 14, 2009 | Comments: 3

Waiting on this wintery Sydney day for my dear flatmate's Chinese roast pork knuckle with bamboo to cook, I thought I'd check up on a suspicion that had formed in my mind: had Growlaw ever published anything on OOXML/ODF recently that was not just Big Blue's message of the week?

Groklaw is a mixed bag website. They have done a great job finding court documents on the SCO case, and are widely respected for it, and they have quite a community of supporters or readers. The site claims to have a strict policy against comments with insults or ad hominem attacks, but it does not seem to be enforced if is against someone they disagree with. It has been involved in the anti-OOXML lobbying effort over the last few years, and its articles are widely quoted.

Here is a little PDF timeline that shows all the recent articles I could find on Groklaw concerning OOXML/ODF: it goes back almost a year. Maybe things were different before then, I ran out of time and the bamboo was ready. The positioning is imprecise.

The G letters are clickable links to the recent Groklaw articles.


I started off first tracing back (green arrow) any explicit quote, link or reference to the usual suspects at IBM, who usually operate through their private blogs. These are shown with the blue letter: W for Rob Weir (IBM Chief ODF Architect), S for Bob Sutor (now IBM VP for Linux and Open Source), I is for an IBM press release. I also traced in grey where there either was a link in a reader comment, or where some significant aspect of the blog was following themes being persued by recent IBM material.

Then I looked through the remaining blogs, to see the provenance of other material that triggered the item:

  • ODF Alliance. According to Wikipedia, The Open Document Format Alliance (ODF Alliance) is a Washington, D.C.-based lobbying organization established by IBM, Sun Microsystems and SIIA to "promote and advance the use of OpenDocument Format (ODF) as the primary document format for governments"
  • Jomar Silva, director general of the ODF Alliance Brasil
  • ECIS. According to Wikipedia, The European Committee for Interoperable Systems (ECIS) is an international non-profit association founded in 1989 in order to promote interoperability and market conditions in the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector allowing vigorous competition on the merits and a diversity of consumer choice. ... ECIS' members include large and smaller information and communications technology hardware and software providers as Adobe Systems, Corel Corporation, IBM, Linspire, Nokia, Opera Software, Oracle Corporation, RealNetworks, Red Hat, and Sun Microsystems.

(The odd man out: OASIS lawyer Andy Updegrove's Consortiuminfo standards blog.)

Finally, I've added a little star where the article had a criticism of SC34's Alex Brown, for my own interest. He really seems to have got their goat, unfortunately.

Anyway, readers are invited to click through and see whether I am being fair or mean. (Readers are invited to see, for example, how many of my articles spring directly from Microsoft blogs to contrast: fair enough. I don't recall any, indeed I do recall withdrawing a couple of articles I had written spurred on by material by MS bloggers, to avoid being on message for someone else's agenda.)

I should stress that not all Groklaw material is like that: for example, the Groklaw article What is this astroturfing of which you speak? is a pretty good read.

(And how did the pork knuckle go? Delicious. Simmered in soy/rice wine for a couple of hours before roasting with the reconstituted bamboo giving the familiar smell of the Taiwanese markets. The crackling looked like a dress on a meat puppet, but it might look like something else to you.)

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Wow, blogs with similar interests link to each other. More outstanding insights, Rick. Let's give it a name. How about... say... we can call it the 'Blogosphere'. That has a nice ring to it.

In any case you forgot to mention that SlashDot, LinuxToday, ZDNet, ComputerWorld, Lxer, etc., and even your very own blog, and Alex Brown's, have several times make articles based on my blog posts.

Do you think they are all IBM puppets? Or only the ones that you disagree with?

Or maybe, just maybe, I write some well-researched, well-argued blog posts that are timely, relevant and provocative, with a little style. Since I tend to write on topics related to file formats, my blog posts will be discussed and linked within that small community of bloggers who also have interest in this topic.

I don't deny that my blog is influential, but it is because of its content, but because of my identity or employer.

Enjoy your pork. I hope it is not as undercooked as your argument.

Of course one person is allowed to agree with everything else that another person writes, without it making them a cypher in their mind. That they get their ideas from a limited number sources may be completely unconscious. And the originator of the ideas may making their points without any awareness that they will push the right buttons and provoke the desired reaction. You are right that being an influencer does not necessarily mean being a manipulator.

(If one reasonable person can come a reasonable conclusion, it is not surprising that another reasonable person may agree with it; which is not to say that all reasonable person must agree. And I agree that people involved in the same project will be thinking about the same subjects, such as the SC34 WG1 members, or the ODF TC members. )

My little graph shows that Groklaw gets its triggers from a very small variety of sources (one from you, one from Silva, one from its own but still on-message, in rotation, though I expect this is an accidental pattern.)

If someone can show that my ODF/OOXML articles have a similar 'influence' from any other 'private' blogs by corporate technology evangelists, to the extent that almost every blog of mine could be directly traced to a blog a few days before by the suit, please let me know so I can try to broaden my sources and reduce the mental captivity. It is certainly possible, I am only human, though I hope it is unlikely...

But people thinking about Groklaw as a independent source of information (I am referring only relating to OOXML/ODF) need to consider the thoroughness of the "influence".

It would be a good project for undergraduate students to trace the memes at play to their initial propagators: Discuss: Using this timeline, are influence, captive parrots, viral marketing and astroturfing essentially different, or are they points on a continuum?


"Of course one person is allowed to agree with everything else that another person writes, without it making them a cypher in their mind."

Actually, I remember (when I was still reading Groklaw) a user claiming that simply agreeing with Microsoft on a particular subject would qualify for being a "Microsoft shill".

It really broadens the spectrum.


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