On the Importance of Free T-shirts

My friends at SyncRO Soft, the makers of the oXygen XML Editor, frequently hand out oXygen t-shirts to their users at XML conferences, and the recently concluded XML Prague was no exception. I’m wearing my new one as I write this. It’s a very nice shirt, the quality is good, and while the oXygen brand is clearly visible, it is unobtrusive and has a non-commercial feel to it.

I also plan on decorating my laptop with some of the stickers they gave away, and I’m always backing up my data on their USB sticks.

Free t-shirts are a difficult art to master. There’s the issue of quality, obviously, and we don’t really need to go there, do we? Then there’s the issue of the logo, the basic message, and the key here is unobtrusiveness. Yes, it will have to be visible, but that’s about it. I’m not a commercial message, I’m a pro, and want to be regarded as one. Your logo is fine but keep it simple, please.

But most importantly, I need to like the brand.

Here, the oXygen people have a unique advantage. Their product is used almost universally in my chosen field. It’s used by my peers, pretty much every single one of them, and it’s used by our customers. The fact that it is a terrific product and we all rely on it helps, but that’s not really why. A lot of people use Windows every day but would never dream of wearing their shirts.

I think the real reason to why I like the product is that it always feels as if oXygen is updated based on our feedback and what we need. Part of the reason is that they are as much XML geeks as we are; they are a knowledgeable bunch. It really helps if you know your market, basically.

They also sponsor markup conferences which, to me, makes a lot of business sense. Our field is highly specialised and rather small, so these gatherings are hugely important. I do think that without them, eventually development would stop or be taken over by the really commercial entities.

But even more importantly, they participate. They show up at conferences and they present papers. They share what they know and are glad to listen to us share what we know. They are the most non-commercial commercial entity I know of, because while I certainly know that they are selling a product, I don’t really care. See it’s not really us and them, it’s just us, license fees or no license fees.

When you are in a position like that, a t-shirt is an opportunity not to be missed. For all of us.

There’s another company that I like, MarkLogic, that sells what’s probably the most expensive XML database in the world. Lots of people I like and respect work there, which is why I noticed them in the first place. They also participate, they sponsor, and they frequently help develop the standards we all rely on. I have yet to try their product more extensively, but there are free developer licenses for non-commercial purposes and so I will, at some point.

They also hand out t-shirts, and even though I have yet to test MarkLogic Server more extensively, I wear them. And at one point they handed out this awesome USB stick slash bottle opener, a true collector’s item.

They key here, though, is participation, not the nice give-aways. They show up and they share, and so I’m much more inclined to share back.

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