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January 06, 2005

Official vs. Personal Voice.

Something happened a few days ago that is related why I have trouble posting about technology issues since I have moved to Amazon. The short version is:

Regardless of how many disclaimers you put on your weblog that your content is private and not related to your employer, people will treat your statements as representing your company.

And with the "traditional press" monitoring weblogs they will use content from weblogs as representing company statements.

About a week ago Adam Bosworth wrote a posting on that database vendors/developers need to address their customer’s needs for dynamic schema and partitioning, and for improving indexing. He ended the post with challenging the open source community to address these problems in their projects and beat the commercial vendors to it.

For a large part I agree with Adam, there is a real need for databases to address the changing user requirements. And I understand his challenge to the OS community as it would be great to see this development happen in the open, in a way that all developers can contribute and benefit. At least that was the way I interpreted his post.

There was an interesting polemic posting that portrayed Adam's posting as an official Google statement, and that Google wanted the OS community to solve their problems without giving anything back, and lots of discussion erupted over that posting. It was interesting to see the conversation evolving, as I was sure this was not at all what Adam intended.

Things however got completely out of hand when Dare Obasanjo (MS) referenced the original post and the counter-post and added some opinion to it. Adam in a comment at Dare's weblog blasted Dare's posting, and compared Microsoft (one of his former employers) to Nazis. Godwin's Law says that you should not take such a statement serious, it is just an indication that reasonable debate has finished.

Why is this relevant? Because yesterday the exchange appeared in the Wall Street Journal (they were wise enough to leave out the Nazis though) (the link is to the transcript at Dare’s weblog, as the regular WSJ is paid subscription only).

A number of things happened in the conversational exchange that shows that we do not honor the 'weblogs are personal' principle at all.

  • Adam's original post was distorted and portrayed as Google's view that software should be free.
  • He had no other option but to respond with additional post and comments to trying and clarify that Google is doing good stuff for the OS community. Remember that this was not the gist of his original post, but he is forced to defend his employer.
  • No matter what thoughts Adam had on being screwed by a part of the weblog community, he added to the controversial by countering Dare's post rather forceful (including Nazi's, Swiss and refugees) and indirectly turning it into a Google vs Microsoft fight.
  • The Wall Street Journal then reports on this in an article starting with "The rivalry between Google Inc. and Microsoft Corp. has been heating up ..."

So who is respecting the "weblogs are personal statements" principle? Nobody! Everyone immediately made Adam’s posting into a “Google” statement or “Google vs Microsoft” battle.

As soon as you are a visible employee, every word your write will be seen as a potential statement from your company, whether you like it or not. Maybe not if you post 10 or 20 articles a day on a variety of issues, but if it is once or twice a week, which would be a more normal pattern for me, a lot of additional scrutiny needs to be applied before you write something up. I am sure Adam is going to think twice about his next posting.

This indeed forces me to also weigh my words before posting a lot more than when I was at Cornell, and this threshold is sufficient to often kill my interest in posting. I’ll see what I can do to fix that, but the Adam & Dare experience is in no way reinforcing the idea that my words will be see as personal by my readers, the community at large, or even the more traditional press.

Posted by Werner Vogels at January 6, 2005 02:33 PM

Werner sums it up
Excerpt: Extended Entry (?)...
Weblog: Bill de hÓra
Tracked: January 6, 2005 03:28 PM
Say It Ain't So, Adam
Excerpt: I'm not going to fan the flames that followed a recent post from Google's Adam Bosworth, mostly because I thought the reactions that it spawned were wildly overblown, but hunt around and you'll find the entries in question. Confirming either...
Weblog: tecosystems
Tracked: January 6, 2005 06:57 PM
Stallmann, Free Software and Responsibility
Excerpt: While I don’t agree with his views very much, I really admire Richard Stallman’s consistency. It must surely be great not to be plagued by even the slightest doubt about one’s own views as RMS is … it’a also very interesti...
Weblog: Stefan Tilkov's Random Stuff
Tracked: January 7, 2005 03:06 AM
What can I say?
Excerpt: I set this blog up thinking I had lots to say and contribute, but find myself very wary of saying anything that makes people I know or my employer recognisable. Werner Vogels really hits the nail on the head with
Weblog: Was it worth it?
Tracked: January 25, 2005 03:24 AM

I know what you mean. I feel somewhat free to comment using my anonymous slashdot journal, but I have hesitated to have a real blog for fear I'd put my foot in my mouth....

Posted by: Fred on January 9, 2005 06:24 PM