Don Marti

Sat 20 Jul 2013 08:06:23 AM PDT

Learning from Second Amendment defenders

The IT industry in the USA depends on the First Amendment and Fourth Amendment just as much as the firearms and ammunition industry here depends on the Second. Today, though, Second Amendment rights in the USA are in much better shape than First or Fourth Amendment rights, and the collapse of the First and Fourth is now a high-profile problem for the nation's IT business. We're failing dangerously where so-called Gun Nuts have been succeeding for decades. What are Second Amendment-based companies getting right that First and Fourth Amendment-based companies are getting so terribly wrong?

When a First/Fourth-hostile regime comes into effect, companies have to comply, just as firearms manufacturers have to comply with Second-violating laws when those pass. But every industry in the USA basically writes the laws that apply to it. Petroleum products cannot be hazardous waste, by definition. The Pillsbury Doughboy collects a government paycheck. You don't need me to go on here. Lobbyists tell Congress, "If you could pass this set of laws to cover our industry, that would be super helpful, mmmkay?" and Congress says, Yes sir.

So why have we as an industry failed on First and Fourth Amendment protections? Because we're not doing some basic political tasks that the Second Amendment crew is doing right.

Model 1911
semiautomatic pistol, partly disassembled.

Fan-friendly vintage products Firearms sellers understand and use the endowment effect. For example, users are happily keeping and using M1911 pistols, based on a century-old design by John Browning. And even buying newly manufactured ones. When Grandpa goes to the store for a vintage product like he's used to, he can get one, not a forced upgrade to flat design.

Should IT companies devote valuable staff to maintaining vintage versions? Not necessarily. The largest producer of M1911 pistols is a company called Kimber, founded more than 50 years after Browning's death. It's hard to imagine a IT company throwing an old product over the wall instead of killing it. The conventional wisdom is to do everything possible to prevent competition with old versions. But now that the market is mature, we can reconsider that. Keep the fangirls and fanboys happy, and they'll be writing letters to Congress instead of THIS NEW VERSION SUX0RZ!!1! rants.

Stick together on the basics Ever see a revolver manufacturer come out for a ban on semiautomatics? Or a manufacturer of long-barrelled firearms come out for a ban on short-barrelled ones? Manufacturers treat policy debates as off limits when seeking competitive advantages. One exception, the case of a CEO who wrote one letter to Congress supporting a magazine capacity limit in 1989, was controversial at the time and provokes boycott discussions even today. The Second Amendment scene understands divide et impera pretty well by now. Meanwhile, IT vendors will throw each other, or users, under the bus for a short-term advantage over some other vendor. And incumbent vendors cheerfully support laws that lock out new startups.

The results of that quarter-to-quarter thinking are coming home to roost. Pursuit of lock-in can be great for sales, short-term, but locked-in users can't switch vendors as fast, which makes every vendor's OODA loop unnecessarily slow. Thanks to the decision to pursue lock-in, we've gone from innovation to stagnation and squabbling, and just making everyone rebuild their stuff over and over for different platforms. Meanwhile, the firearms business is letting users swap in independently developed parts while keeping their platform investments. It's news when an IT person makes noise about We do not break userspace! but mature markets take that for granted. <pullquote>The IT industry isn't a baby any more. So it's time to stop raising it on the steroids of forced upgrades and the crack of lock-in, and move it up to the whole-wheat goodness of sustained customer value.</pullquote> Worst pull quote ever. You're basically saying that you'd give steroids and crack to a baby. Also, gluten moms. —Ed.

Product-membership bundling The Second Amendment industries have the NRA, and we've got the EFF. Even accounting for the fact that the NRA is a century older, the EFF is relatively small compared to the user population it serves.

A key part of the NRA's success is vendor cooperation on membership drives. Just one example: REDRING Offers 5-Year NRA Membership & Redring Shotgun Sight Package at 2013 NRA Show.
I have also seen an NRA membership deal at a company that offers ammunition reloading supplies. Powder, add to cart, primers, add to cart, a year of NRA membership, add to cart. Simple.

IT vendors could easily add EFF membership to product and service bundles. Yes, the EFF does call out some vendors on problematic programs, but see stick together on the basics above. As the industry grows up, we'll be putting less and less importance on infighting, and more on staying in business for the long term.

Conclusion With the Second Amendment safe for the foreseeable future, and firearms vendors sitting on more orders than they can fill, (thanks largely to NRA publicity—that product-membership bundling was worth it, wasn't it?) a lot of Marketing and Public Policy people there are probably getting a little bored. Time for the IT business to hire some.

(photo: Jan Hrdonka for Wikimedia Commons.)