Friday, May 04, 2007

Business Blogging

Recently I have been speaking to executives about getting involved in the conversations about their companies and products that are already happening in the blogosphere. Everyone wants a shorthand for thinking about the "best practices" and so I have been working on boiling down my recommendations to a few simple and easy-to-remember guidelines. I thought I'd throw them into the blog here and perhaps generate some interest in a conversation -- can we as a community together refine a set of messages to use in speaking with folks that really should be involved in blogging but aren't yet because they need help understanding the why, how, etc?

First, I talk about how the blogosphere is about peers and that the challenge any company has in joining the conversation is that they start out by being something other than a peer. So the first key is that joining the conversation has to be perceived as authentic. Here is my simplified equation:

access + accountability = authenticity

The point I am trying to communicate is that real executives have to join the conversation so that the other participants in the conversation feel like they are talking to a real person who actually can speak for the company and influence outcomes.

Secondly I talk about what it takes to be a good citizen in the blogosphere:

1. Listen

2. Engage -- correct inaccuracies, respond to issues

3. Be a conversation leader

Participation means joining the whole conversation not just the parts you want to join.

I make the point that there will typically be a whole range of voices out there -- from supporters to detractors and everything in between. Most people are in the middle but you can't ever hope to win these people over in a conversation if you merely ignore detractors. Certainly some of the most extreme will never listen and never change their views and there is typically nothing that can be done to change those people's minds. But their issues left un-addressed will capture mindshare amongst the middle in the conversation. So it is always worthwhile to pay attention and provide reasonable responses (and corrections) for those extreme voices - even if the point isn't to win those people over.

This is just a start -- very interested to hear from other folks also struggling with how to explain this medium to others.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

An Innocuos String of Characters

A very interesting drama has been playing out over the last 24 hours amongst the technical sophisticates of the Internet economy. Digg, which allows it users to post and vote for stories has come under enormous pressure to cease censorship of a simple string of characters.

As this article in UK magazine "Computing" explains, the key is part of a battle over the future of digital rights management (DRM). Google now finds 297,000 references to this hexadecimal sequence, a key to unlocking certain copy protection systems.

The Advanced Access Content System (AACS) which developed the affected DRM system has been attempting to use legal strong arm techniques to prevent the distribution of this string. The result has been an enormous increase in attention to what otherwise would have been a minor matter ignored by almost everyone.

Digg has become ground zero for the conflict because it attempted to comply with the cease and desist order sent to them by AACS. But an enormous portion of the sites community began to repeatedly post and vote for the offending information, incensed by the imposition of their free speech rights. Finally, on the Digg blog, CEO Kevin Rose wrote that the community cannot survive if all of the members are at odds with the sites staff:
But now, after seeing hundreds of stories and reading thousands of comments, you’ve made it clear. You’d rather see Digg go down fighting than bow down to a bigger company. We hear you, and effective immediately we won’t delete stories or comments containing the code and will deal with whatever the consequences might be. If we lose, then what the hell, at least we died trying.
This is an important day for the people's Internet. A company bowed to the possibility of an expensive lawsuit, testing first amendment rights of free speech. The company's customers then said "NO!" and forced the company to reverse course.

This kind of first amendment test has happened before. In an earlier case a math professor was pursued by the US government (under Clinton) for violating export controls when he wished to publish cryptography code on his website. Ultimately Daniel Bernstein won this case, with a federal panel determining that software source code is a language, and therefore export controls violated his first amendment rights.

This case is somewhat more complicated, in part because of the Digital Millenium Copyright Act. Here is a copy of the AACS complaint letter to Google. As the above link explains in the notes below the complaint, there is a substantial conflict between the first amendment and the DMCA:
The tension between the DMCA and the First Amendment is at the heart of several ongoing lawsuits. [Felten v. RIAA; Universal v. Corley] The mere posting of a link to a computer program that can be used to circumvent technical protection measures was held to be a violation of the DMCA. [Universal v. Corley (2d Ciruit cite)] The Recording Industry Association of America used the threat of a DMCA action to silence a professor whose research paper discussed circumvention of a technical protection measure. The professor subsequently mounted a legal challenge to the DMCA on First Amendment grounds and presented his paper. While courts in both of these cases have found in favor of the copyright industries, these cases are being appealed and the state of the law is yet to be determined.