Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Where to Err? Business

(Read the Introduction if you haven't already done so.)

For alphabetical order and other reasons, I decided to start with business. Again, we're looking at the question, "What level of control is appropriate for a given information source?"

When looking at business, one has to bear in mind the whole "confidential information" scenario. A company may choose for strategic or other reasons to designate some information as confidential. Provided that the "confidential" tag isn't being applied to hide illegal behavior, the company can argue that a completely free flow of confidential information may impede the company's ability to do business, and could harm or bankrupt the company.

Let's look at an example. On October 23, 2003, Michael Hanscom posted a picture of a Microsoft loading dock, along with these comments:

took this shot on the way into work on the loading dock (MSCopy, the print shop I work in, is in the same building as MS’s shipping and receiving). Three palettes of Dual 2.0Ghz G5’s on their way in to somewhere deep in the bowels of Redmond.

Six days later, after Hanscom lost his job, he reflected on the episode:

My posting of a photo taken at the Microsoft campus was (most likely) a breach of contract. The only reason I qualify that with “most likely” is that, due to my particular employment situation (a temp worker contracted to a vendor who had an account at Microsoft), I never went through any Microsoft-specific orientation or “rules and regulations” session, so I can’t say for certain that there is a “no cameras” clause as a condition of working at or for Microsoft....

[I]t may very well be that the picture itself is not what caused Microsoft to decide that I was no longer welcome on their campus....[I]t appears that it was the combination of the picture with the information about what building I was at when I took the picture that prompted them to make the decision that they did.

I think that most of us, including Hanscom, will agree that this type of information should not have been shared.

But what about Joyce "Troutgirl" Park? In her case, her "crime" appears to have been her two blog posts of June 29 and August 14, 2004, in which she referred a Friendster platform rearchitecture that was intended to remove "unacceptably poky site performance." (In a bit of irony, I tried to go to the original posts, rather than my own subsequent post that is linked above, but it took too long to get to them. This could be an issue on my end, however.)

Anyway, Friendster fired Joyce Park, resulting in a non-unanimous condemnation of Friendster from the blogosphere. TDavid was one dissenting voice at the time:

What is the saying: loose lips sink ships? I’m clearly in the minority on this recent Joyce Park AKA troutgirl firing from Friendster because she blogged about her job apparently without a disclaimer or advance permission. I think she should have gotten permission to be doing PR, because she seems to have been hired to do coding, not PR.

Jeffery McManus agreed with the majority:

The clueless choads at Friendster fired my good pal Joyce on Friday. The reason, as near as she can tell, was for judicious blogging about her job. One of the things she did there was replace their Java infrastructure with PHP and she was pretty candid on her blog about the decisions that went into that, but she certainly didn't say anything bad about the company on there....

So Friendster took the "control" road...and look what happened to Friendster. No, I don't think that anyone is claiming that Park's firing led to Friendster's decline, but it's interesting to see what Brady Forrest does cite as causes:

I have always attributed Friendster's decline to two issues. One was its performance issues (well-addressed in the article). The other was that Friendster fought its users. Its users wanted groups and Friendster tried to stop them from making it happen. In Friendster all of the nodes were people. To connect to another person it had to be through other people and their set of relationships. Some people wanted to cut through this and have nodes that represented interests, locations, or celebrities.These were known as Fakesters and were routinely deleted by Friendster for not being real human beings and for connecting formerly disparate nodes of Friendster's social network. It was a chance for Friendster to listen to their users and learn what they wanted instead of sending them off to Tribe.net, Orkut, and eventually MySpace -- all of which allowed groups from the beginning.

In my view, if Friendster had erred on the MORE information side of things, then perhaps the performance issues may not have had such a negative effect on Friendster's user base. If your company had people such as Joyce Park running around saying, "Yes, performance is abysmal, but we're working on it," isn't that better than keeping the cone of silence over your performance issues?

Business - err on the side of MORE information


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