Why it would not have helped to demand money from Xerox

There is another question I keep getting asked a lot in the aftermath of the Xerox saga: Whether or not I accepted cash (or non-cash benefits) from Xerox. The answer is simple: I did not. I did not even ask for a refund of the DHL Express stamp I used to send my originals over to Francis Tse.

As a result of this answer, I keep being asked unbelieving and doubtful questions. “Really?” – “Really. Not a single cent.” I was okay with this, though. However, in the light of some recent specialized press articles, I got word of a business manager's opinion that surprised me quite a bit. The trenchant outline is as follows: I would have been stupid not to demand at least several tens of thousands euros from Xerox for my work – in consideration of the enormity of the issue probably more. Well, this is the opinion we all expected. Here comes what actually surprised me: Every single reader of the specialized press articles would be supposing I accepted money for this anyway.

I do not want to demonize this view after all. There obviously are valid reasons supporting it. What's more, the one to state this view reportedly has a precise intuition on the state of affairs due to his wealth of experience and business success. Additionally one might consider a nice cash injection to be always welcome to a 29 year old computer scientist right at the start of his active life. Therefore, in this blog post, I lift the lid on the reasons of my way of proceeding in the Xerox saga. May the reader decide for himself, whether or not I was stupid (I appreciate any feedback on my stupidity :-)).

My primary objective was pretty clear: The issue was severe, and in the light of the affected number of devices I wanted it to be fixed as soon as possible. After I stretched the nerves of different Xerox support levels for like a week, I was not able to get any form of help. They neither knew about the possibility of character substitution, nor did they know that Xerox actually was aware of the issue and placed some tiny remarks in the manuals and admin panels (only with respect to one single compression mode though). Most frustrating: I did not receive a single signal that someone was going to do something about the issue. This support reaction may be understandable in part, as such a problem is a PR nightmare for a large corporation, and as is generally known, the messenger is the one who is shot first. This is especially true for support employees. Still, the reaction was not wise.

I had to realize: In this way, the issue had no chance of going to be solved. So, how do you get a behemoth corporation moving to roll out a fix for a vast family of devices, contrary to any PR or legal considerations? A fix significantly mutilating a feature being praised in the brochures? And how do you get them to come up with it quickly? In a corporation of this size, decision paths can consume days even for trivialities. From this, one can easily derive the odds and handling times an outsider can expect when coming up with such a suggestion.

This is why I decided to try and get Xerox moving driven by a bit of publicity, which I hoped would also strengthen my negotiating position. I decided to put the information in a blog post in a nice and readable way and – maybe most important – I added do-it-yourself instructions for people to replicate the issue their selves. All of this in both German and English. After that, I would try to make a few popular web sites link to my post. The exact point of time – right before publishing my blog post – would have been the one at which I should have thought about asking for money, if I had wished for some after all. Right at this point of time, I however thought about different things. I was trying to convince a large corporation of the existence of a likewise large problem carrying unforeseeable consequences in it. For the following two reasons, I still think this was the right and most straight-forward way to go.

Getting money from a corporation for such a bug is difficult in general.

The evidence a bug exists often leads to the fix right away. With respect to the Xerox scanning bug, this was exactly the case: All of you were able to see how fast they managed to roll out the patches for a whole lot of devices, including development and – for sure ;-) – an extensive test suite. A mechanism like “a smaller evidence not helping to fix the issue” (like delivering the small finger of a person being held hostage to the one you demand ransom from) is hard to achieve. On the other hand, without evidence, you cannot expect to be taken serious, as a corporation of this size (140.000 employees) has lots of weirdos on the line wagging their fingers and blaring out threats every single day. Maybe, I could have achieved some sort of “If my evidence turns out to be valid, then I get”-deal. However, negotiations like this take their toll in terms of time, provide opportunities to stall each other, and I wanted them to have the issue fixed ASAP.

If Goliath has superior firepower, David should try to be untouchable.

Every once in a while there are reports about individual persons that, with the help of the internet, manage to publicly get their ice-cold hands on the ivory carvings of a large corporation. Let the corporation be named Goliath here, and the single person David (any parallelisms of names with actually living human beings are coincidental). Put in a simplyfied way, there are two ways how the story may develop.

  • Either, David got something wrong, presented wrong data, or similar. This is not only a heck of an embarrassment for David. Additionally, Goliath will now proceed suing the sh*t out of David beyond belief eventually leading to David plunging into ruin.
  • Or, the David is right (or, alternatively, has a protective publicity, but such publicity is volatile). In this case, the David still has no guarantee to carry the day, but at least, things will get interesting.

If in the second case David is hard to attack, he can manage to even get global player Goliaths moving. Keep in mind that Goliath, in contrast to human beings, does not know about such things like friendship. All Goliath knows are its own interests. If David is vulnerable in any way, Goliath – understandably – will be willing to put quite some effort in removing David's ice-cold hands from his ivory carvings. Goliath can do this by putting false colors upon David, and – likewise understandably – Goliath will try to do so before being forced to do something expensive (like rolling out device family-wide update). Note that even if Goliath is willing to solve the problem by doing something expensive, David is not safe at all, because – again understandably – Goliath still will try to get David off his back to at least choke off the PR nightmare.

Now, everyone reading news can tell you how this can easily be accomplished: Goliath will try and give David money or other non-cash benefits. Then, Goliath will wait for an appropriate point of time and let the news surface somewhere. Long story short: If I had accepted money and word about this would have been spread early in the saga, it would have looked shady, no matter if the payment would have been justifiable or not. As a consequence, I never would have gotten the huge help from the community and friendly media coverage (there were hundreds of articles in the media world-wide).

What's more, the contact to Xerox their selves would also have been less productive if I would have had accepted money before. As you may remember, one of the most important blog posts on the issue was the one stating that the device's factory settings are affected as well. From this point of time on, it was clear to everyone that things were getting serious. As I also stated in the blog post, it was written closely collaborating with Xerox. In fact, they proofread the blog post and I also gave them the opportunity to edit it, so they put a few things in a more diplomatic way (obviously, I would not have accepted edits distorting the message or omitting facts though). The great advantage for me however was threefold: I was provided legal security from being sued by Xerox for this blog post, I was able to publish the information first and additionally, the existence of the issue was confirmed by Xerox, so this significantly increased odds they would try and come up with a solution. Such a collaboration between Goliath and David cannot be seen very often. I think you will agree with me I would never have been able to negotiate in this way if I had accepted money before.

Conclusions - and striking up the cudgels for Xerox

The most important conclusion one can draw from this is, that demanding (or even just accepting) money would have decreased the probability the primary goal is achieved. I never would have been able to pull through this thing after having accepted money.

Nevertheless, I obviously drew non-cash benefits from the Xerox saga. Most obvious things first: This web site now has some more visits than before the saga (still I do not add ads, as they garble my lay-out and design 8-)). Page impressions however are not the central point here. With pulling off such a thing, one can make his voice more heared. And last but not least: Even though I was quite a bit nervous at some times across the saga, it is a lot of fun to follow such a big rabbit hole all the way to the ground, pull it through against a bit of resistance and eventually getting it done in mutual agreement with the counter-party.

This leads me to striking up the cudgels for Xerox. Xerox never offered me payments of similar. Some of the people I mailed with considered this behavior scrooge-like. I do not agree Xeroxes behavior can be seen as an indicator for close-fistedness, but rather it indicates both parties did the right thing.

On the one hand, by my above logic, I would have had to put any cash offer down anyway. On the other hand, keep in mind that after a very short time, I was not in touch with some PR guys or their legal department any more, but with people who actually are in charge and who wanted to, you know, do something. Additionally note that during our calls, they found themselves in kind of a distress. In one call, they just learned there might be a serious problem with no fix available. During other calls, they were painstakingly figuring out a solution as fast as they could. From the conversational tone I was able to derive the observation, that top managers are people, too ;-). And during these moments, they for sure did not think about anything related to cash payments to the benefit of mine, and neither did I.

Last but not least: I got several hundreds of helpful mails with professional technical advice and maybe thousands of reports from others replicating the issue across the world. Without this help, I could not have pulled this through in this way and in this speed. Nobody of the people mailing me demanded money for his work. Sometimes, this is just the way it works in the modern internet community. Also, I let us not forget there were other helping hands, more close than the internet community, that got behind me, as well unpaid. This, however, might be the story of another blog post.