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Technorati and the evolving corporate conversation

Update 3/9/05 @ 9:16 AM: Dave Sifry, CEO of Technorati, has a nice writeup of the situation from Technorati’s perspective. Not only are they not censoring their employees’ weblogs, they are sticking by an employee (and a relatively new one at that) who did something foolish when they could have just pulled the plug on him. I especially liked the point about the speed at which the situation was handled…people these days want instant results (it’s easy to see how weblogs tie into this), but things don’t always work that way. Note to self: slow down sometimes, will ya?

Update 3/8/05 @ 9:11 AM: Niall has posted an apology on his site with a little more information on what happened. Here’s his most recent take on Technorati’s policy:

It is for this reason it is recommended that Technorati employees seek the opinion of a coworker if they are unsure of how a post might be interpreted by others, to lend a fresh pair of eyes and an experienced mind to your intended message.

Read the whole thing…I don’t think Technorati’s position on this is unfair at all. It’s a tough issue and it’s going to be messy at times (as we saw with Mark Jen’s situation at Google). Companies in the past have typically been very top down with everything, including the “message”, emanating from upper management. As companies have become more open, they’ve relied on their employees “drinking the Kool-Aid” to ensure a uniform message to the outside world. But lately, customers have been wanting something more authentic and some companies, particularly in the blogging space, are attempting to provide it. And they’re probably gonna get a little bloodied for it in the short term. Is it even possible for a company to participate in a conversation in the marketplace with multiple opinions represented, some of which may even be in direct opposition with each other? How will customers react to a company disagreeing with itself in public? (Answer: probably not very well in the short term.)

Note: I modified the title of the post to something more accurate and less inflammatory given the situation as it currently stands.

Original post

On Saturday, Niall Kennedy posted some Photoshopped “propaganda posters from the 1940s to express how corporations would like to control what their employees say on a weblog, at a bar, or even to their families”. At some point after that, he took the post down after Technorati (his employer) complained about it and replaced it with the following:

Technorati would rather I did not express an opinion on issues such as corporate blogging policies that are affecting the world of weblogs. This post has been overwritten and my artwork posted to Flickr is now marked as private and available only to Flickr contacts marked as friends.

Yes, I was threatened with “serious consequences” for not seeking corporate approval for a weblog posting relating to an industry issue. Tomorrow will undoubtedly bring many conversations about if employees are allowed to have their own voice and write weblog entries without passing through an executive mouthpiece first.

It should be interesting. A blogging company applying strong filters to employee weblogs about public issues that affect the community.

If my original post is not up for a while, you will know how things turned out. I love the industry and writing about weblogs, technology, and search and hope to continue to share my personal point of view in the future.

The original post is back up on Niall’s site (update: looks like the post is down again) with the following disclaimer:

The commentary expressed on this weblog is my point of view and may not necessarily represent the point of view of Technorati.

On a post about this on Buzzhit, Niall explains what happened (italics mine):

Technorati executives are concerned about how employee weblogs expressing opinions may be interpreted as an official Technorati position. All Technorati employees have been asked to review weblog posts with staff members before posting. I reinstated my original post this morning and I am ready to willing to hear the community’s response to my individual voice. I hope to continue to share my passion for the industry through my weblog without editorial oversight.

For a company that relies on aggregating content by scraping full posts from almost 8 million blogs, vetting their employees’ personal writing seems like a curious (not to mention ironic and hypocritical) position for Technorati to take. Aside from this specific incident, I’ve noticed that blogs written by people who go to work in the blogging industry usually get updated less, are less about blogging than they were before as well, and are also less critical of blogging. If everyone who’s really into blogging gets snatched up by blogging companies and eventually clam up, I don’t see that as a positive thing for the industry as a whole.