How Can Sony Extend an Olive Branch to Makers, Hackers, and Innovators?

Computers & Mobile Technology
How Can Sony Extend an Olive Branch to Makers, Hackers, and Innovators?

Pt 101201

We’ve been covering Sony and their “war” on makers, hackers and innovators for awhile here and I wanted to share a thoughtful reader email, Kyle writes in…

On your post RE: Sony and GitHub/Linux on PS3, you and I had a bit of a spirited discussion. At the end of it, you encouraged me to write an email on how Sony can change for the better for makers. Well here is that email.

Sony’s biggest problem, is also why they have been successful. They are huge. It is hard not to consider purchasing Sony products when you are in the market for electronics because they generally make a good product at a good price. I think that you said this the best when you wrote “If you’re over the age of 25 you likely have a long history with Sony. They were the company we all had something from.” As companies grow larger, they typically become more litigious because they face lawsuits from people wanting a perceived piece of their success, and they also have to protect the products that they have innovated.

Keep reading… and post your suggestions in the comments!

It is rare for a company Sony’s size to stay nimble with changing technology and stay ahead of the game. This makes someone that is able to innovate based upon their products a threat. (Apple is probably one of the few exceptions to this, they have innovated and been able to be at the front of technology movements time after time, but it does not make them any less litigious.) So, how does a company that is large and ‘threatened’ by innovation embrace the maker movement?

Software Developer Kits are a good beginning. When Nintendo made the Wii, they were unprepared for the onslaught of makers trying to use their software in creative ways. Nintendo tried to continually update the Wii with system updates to thwart people from modifying the console, but did not make changes to their Bluetooth controllers and the maker community thrived. Microsoft also quickly reacted when this same thing start to happen with the release of the Kinect. Microsoft saw the community start to buy and “hack” the Kinect controller, they used their knowledge of working with software developers to release a Kinect SDK. This is the first avenue that is open for Sony to welcome makers back to their hardware. And it is not unprecedented within Sony, look at their Chumby-based Dash. They are encouraging writing applications for it at:

Open Source/Open Hardware is a tougher hill to climb for a company that has focused on closed source for as long as Sony has. They currently see that anyone that builds item X out of a Sony product as competition, I am guessing that internally someone has realized that Sony hardware modified to become item X is still a sale of a Sony product, but it’s hard to embrace that change. Sony has taken a small baby step in this direction by making their PS3 games region free, this shows that they understand the benefits of region free systems but the people pushing this internally have only gotten a little traction. Maybe Sony could look at releasing and supporting a firmware that vitrualizes the internal hardware of the PS3 so that the OtherOS option could safely become available again without direct access to the internal system hardware.

Finally, Sony could attempt to connect with maker groups and make available some older/depricated hardware specifications. They could even hold a contest to highlight some of the neat remakes/new products that could be produced on this hardware. If they positioned themselves correctly, it may be a “Stand on the shoulders of giants” moment, where Sony would be recognized for building a foundation for these new ideas.

As much as I would love to see this happen, corporate culture is historically glacially slow to implement changes. One thing that could impact their corporate culture faster than internal change is a repeal of the DMCA. If Sony (and other corporations) can no longer sue people because of this set of laws, they will have to adapt and the above options go from risky to safe bets. For the DCMA to be repealed and the club taken out of these corporations hands will require every maker/hacker to use their voices, dollars and votes to say that we are “for the people by the people”, not for the corporations by the people. If someone is hitting you with a stick, you can either take it away and end the issue, or start an arms race by getting a bigger stick. I think it is time to stop the arms race and just take away the stick!

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