Thursday, July 24 2008, 11:31
Sun/MySQL: Charity is not free
Some days ago, I read a story about a MySQL support engineer named Andrii Nikitin, whose son, Ivan, has a mortal disease and is requiring a bone marrow transplant operation to keep living. Unfortunately, Andrii Nikitin lives in Ukraine and it seems this country does not have locally the technology to perform this complex surgery operation, which does not seem to be covered by their social security system either. The total cost of the operation is expected to range between $235.000 and $400.000 (gotta love accurate estimates, but I guess it can’t be helped with health issues).
As a result, a support webpage has been put in place by Sun on the MySQL website, where people can donate. This support page makes its way around the world and the blogosphere, in a way similar to a scam or an hoax… while it seems like it isn’t in this case (or so I hope for a serious-business company like Sun). Of course, it seems to work well: after all, most bloggers use MySQL as their blog database engine and consider donating since they got it for free.
While I’m very sad for what happens for Andrii and sincerely hope for him it will work, if we look at things without considering the human tragedy, isn’t that a perfect definition of targeted marketing?
But, even beyond, the question I can’t stop asking myself when thinking about this is: why Sun didn’t simply lend/give him the money ? After all, his son’s condition seems pretty bad and while I’m certainly no Dr House, it seems pretty logical that in these cases, the sooner you get the surgery the better, especially on young children, to not let the disease do too much damage to the body.
Even if giving the money away was not possible for Sun, they could have lent him the money at a 0% interest rate and deduce some of the money from his wages on a monthly-basis and deduce the donation money from his debt (it is something that has been done in my company in the past). Some people may argue that it would mean opening a breach in which other employees may engulf themselves into, constantly requesting money to cure their most serious diseases (even though I sincerely hope there isn’t many employees who have as serious problems as Andrii), but helping people isn’t a one shot operation you can carry out half-way.
Now, let’s look at the marketing benefits it offers to Sun: granted, Sun is a successful technology company and MySQL is probably one of the most used database engine in the world, so does it need any form of promotion anyway? My answer would be that only successful and wealthy companies and individuals are donating to charity in big amounts, and that while it may be for some part a personal conviction, they are still, most of the time, expecting some form of return-on-investment.
For this reason, and unlike the vast majority of the blogosphere, I don’t think that putting a support page on the product’s website is a very generous and gratuitous act from Sun: to me, it is just the cheapest way to seem to care for your employees while not paying a single dollar and watch the buzz create around the Internet and rip some reputation benefit out of it. In other words, if they wanted to do anything, they could have done more.
Funny thing however that the open-source movements are always bragging about how their ideology will bring about a much better world, but that the companies supporting it are unable to put $300.000 on the table as soon as possible to maximize the survival chances of the son of one of their hard-working employees… Meanwhile, Bill Gates, who donates billions of dollars and finances for years a foundation saving thousands of people every year, is still the most hated man of the IT market for being a (so-called) greedy capitalist who only cares about money… Go figure…
Of course, this is only my personal opinion as an individual and you should not let this refrain you to donate if you want to… I don’t think Andrii has to pay for Sun’s lack of vision when it comes to charity, but on the other hand, I believe a “please” and “thank you” would be an appropriate addition to his request message… that’s the least you can say when you ask complete strangers to donate $400.000 to save your son.