Another news sighting… BusinessWeek :)

April 21, 2005

Looks like I’m in the BusinessWeek cover story article about blogging.

Here’s an excerpt from the article:

Two weeks later, Google fired Jen. And that’s when the 22-year-old became a big story. Google was blogbusted for overreacting and for sending an all-too-clear warning to the dozens of bloggers still at the company. A Google official says the company has lots of bloggers and just expects them to use common sense. For example, if it’s something you wouldn’t e-mail to a long list of strangers, don’t blog it.

Not to beat the point to death, but how do you define common sense? A bunch of people are saying how their companies have “blog smart” policies; but my question to them is: how do you define common sense or being smart? Without any clear definitions, what do you do when someone violates your subjective definitions?

On that note, here’s a draft of the public communications policy we’re putting together at Plaxo. Please leave feedback and help us improve it. Oh, and if you’re also putting together a policy for your company, feel free to take what we have and repurpose it.

By the way, if anyone from BW is reading this post, send me a copy please! (You can find my address in my Plaxo profile 😉 )


21 Responses to “Another news sighting… BusinessWeek :)”

  1. Joe Burlas Says:

    In all honesty I think Google is doing the parent thing. You remember, or maybe it’s just me, when you’d ask your parents something and they’d say no giving the “because I said so” reason. Well I think Google’s “be smart” or “use common sense” is just a catch all for lack of a concrete anwser. Sadly, I really don’t find their reasoning as grounds for termination with out a warning. I dunno, it’s just me. Joe from OIF.

  2. Dave Andrews Says:

    >how do you define common sense or being smart? >Without any clear definitions, what do you do
    >when someone violates your subjective definitions?

    If you’re their boss, you fire them. 🙂

    Think about it, if you were paying someone who gave you reason to question whether they were smart or had common sense – would YOU keep paying them? I wouldn’t.

  3. markjen Says:

    Dave – In my opinion, there are tons of smart people in the world, but viewpoints – especially on what the smart thing to do is – varies a lot. I think about meetings I’ve had where I’m arguing with people about how to solve a problem. To me, my solution seems like common sense; however, other people have different viewpoints. At the end of the day, the discussion ends up being extremely constructive since everyone now gains a new perspective and hopefully a good plan of action is drafted.

    Would it be appropriate for the highest ranking person at the meeting to just fire those who don’t agree with his/her solution? 😛

  4. Mark, really?

    You are still asking “Not to beat the point to death, but how do you define common sense?”

    You still don’t get it? It’s one of those things – If you need to ask someone if you are cool/smart, you are probably not cool/smart.

    You shouldn’t need a “clear” policy that explains in detail how you should act within a public traded company. I.e. If you need to be told, you probably should have been hired in the first place.

    A public traded company is there to generate profit for shareholders, regardless of the mantra the owners want to keep: “Don’t be evil.” Sure, but “make money at the same time.” When you joined google, you became an insider and protector of secrets. You became a threat (really quickly) to your own commune, hence your unfortunate and untimely let go. From their point of view, you lacked common sense. As Dave Andrews said: “If you’re their boss, you fire them.”

    Sometimes you don’t need to be told what you can and cannot do within a society – At least for the more normal plebs. I.e. You know that stealing is wrong, not because there is a law for it, you just know within yourself that it is wrong to steal – Again, if you are a psychopath, all bets are off.

    Another silly example: there is no law or policy stating you need to shower regularly, yet, you do it – Why? Common sense? Maybe. But I’m sure you still do it.

    Yet another silly example: would you show up drunk to a meeting with your boss just because there is no policy telling you not to do it? I don’t think so – It’s probably common sense telling you not to do it – Unless you want to get fired.

    Communication and information sharing is nothing new – Blogs are a new medium of communication, that’s all. But the fact of the matter is that the content is (and has been) the same regardless of the medium.

    Why didn’t anyone post or write to a newspaper with detailed information about aspects of a company before? Perhaps cost and effort (you had to pay to be published), but I’m sure common sense had a lot of to do with it. Blogs, however, take that “cost of entry” out of the equation – I mean, it’s free (Well, kind of) – And people read the crap we (bloggers) write. Why? It’s human nature to want to know more and find out what others are thinking.

    Sometimes what we write may not be interesting, but sometimes it is: like your previous blog. The content was compelling, but an invisible line was crossed – A line you still don’t see (as you are still asking), unfortunately for you, your bosses at google did see it (And very clearly).

    You keep throwing your new company’s policy around and trying to get feed back? Why?

    Why would you and your company care what millions of other people think of the policy? It doesn’t affect me? Is your company setting itself to be the de facto blog policy?

    Internal policies should remain internal – Hopefully, you won’t start asking for direction or marketing strategies – Companies ran as democracies probably don’t work as well as the ones with autocratic heads on top 🙂

    You have to see that your company (that most people think is a spam generator – Myself included and I’ve already read your defending responses explaining why it is not – Not convinced yet) is using your notoriety to advance their cause (Whatever it is). It’s not wrong, it’s just business – However, you must be conscious of it – I mean, why would they include you to write such policy? You seem to be a techie guy. The only reason I see: because you “were fired by google for blogging.” And it looks like that to some, even the printed media now as you pointed it out in your current post.

    Finally, I’ve read your past blog, and sometime peep over your new one. Hence, this response to your question.

    I’m not into critiquing others, as your dealings are yours and outsiders never really know the whole story. Only you know what happened. So don’t take it personally, as I don’t really know you. We only know bits and pieces from your posts and what has been written over the wires – However, I was compelled to write you a message due to your question: “how do you define common sense?”

    Mark, you just don’t. I don’t know what common sense is, so I can’t explain it to you or anyone. You just act according to the present situation.

    It’s cool to be opened and try new territories by pushing “unset boundaries,” but some things shouldn’t be blogged, unless you really want to blog them – And then you must sleep in the bed you make for yourself.

    BTW, I doubt the policy you and your company and all of us are writing (You are asking for feedback from nuts everywhere) will define common sense in the future, for you or anyone. This doesn’t mean that you shouldn’t try, though: some of us still need to be reminded that there is a law that prevents us from stealing things.

    A simple one-line policy for everyone (Corporate policy included): “If you blog it for anyone to read, you deal with the rewards your entry generates.”

    Good luck dude, I truly wish you the best.

  5. BTW, I do capitalize my sentenses and did for my comments – I see you are forcing everyone to be like “Mark.” 🙂

  6. Jose, really?

    So you do not see that there is a revolution going on in communications? And that the lines between personal and professional communications have been blown all to hell? And that, for example, what a hard-core Conservative might consider “common sense” may not jibe one little bit with what a hard-core Liberal considers it?

    From what I read, Mark blogged about the downside of Google’s healthcare policy and such. You’re right: it is silly to compare that to showing up to a meeting with your boss drunk! A lot of the blogging flack comes down to how secretive the company is, as Business Week notes.

    I have met Mark, by the way, and I know that he’s an honest, down-to-earth 22-yr-old guy who had a very unsettling experience, and I think he’s dealing with it pretty well. Now I do see your point about Plaxo riding his notoriety. But as you say, that’s business.

    (By the way, Jose, you may capitalize, but apparently you do not spell-check)

  7. Amy,

    I see an evolution of communication media, but I do believe the lines between personal and professional communications still hold. Unless your are professional writter and being in the middle of the issues provides for your livelihood.

    I have certain admiration for Mark (If you can call it that). He has been forced to grow up really quickly and was thrown into ‘blog’ infame.

    I didn’t know he was ‘only’ 22 until I saw the BW article, which makes it even harder for him. I.e. Age and experience give your different perspectives in life and I’m sure 10 years from now he’ll look back and understand more why what happened happened.

    You are right, he is managing the whole experience quite well. But, there seems to be a ‘it wasn’t my fault’ smell in his entries. That’s why I posted my message. He must see that actions come with reactions.

    I don’t think we need to go to extremes with hard-core conservative and hard-core liberal points of view – I’m sure that anything said or written can be taken out of context and probably make someone very nervous. However, ‘common sense’ rules still apply, whatever ‘common sense’ means to anyone.

    BTW, I don’t speeel – There is no policy stated anywhere that I shoood do so 😉

  8. AmyT Says:

    Now you say, “whatever common sense means to anyone…” — acknowledging that it is open for interpretation. You are contradicting yourself, bud! This was the point of Mark’s initial post here.

    btw, if you don’t care to “speeel,” then no need to complain about Mark’s omission of grammar!

  9. Amy,

    I was never complaining about the grammar omission – I found it quite clever actually – The joke was not lost on me – It was all I meant.

    I.e. He’s known to not use capital letters on any of his entries and making his site ommit them for comments is actually funny in a witty-funny sort of way.

  10. AmyT Says:

    Fine, Jose, but I think you’re kinda backpaddling here. You wrote: “I do capitalize my sentenses (sic)and did for my comments – I see you are forcing everyone to be like ‘Mark.'” Didn’t sound like appreciation of a witticism at the time…

  11. No backpaddling at all – Everything can be taken out of context, eh?

    Like I said, it was quite funny when I saw my comments with no capital letters.

    Do you remember Michael Jordan? Everyone wanted to be like “Mike” in some TV comercials (At least the ones transmited in Canada.) Hence the “…to be like Mark” tag line. I guess it wasn’t that funny, as I had to explain it.

    BTW, I saw your blog – Gook luck.

  12. ray Says:

    I’m glad you got a new job.
    Ironically I came across your website while doing research for Google. I have a phone interview with them. I’ve been a “success” in small-medium sized firms that appreciate my ability and now I’m not sure about Google.
    I guess if you scrape away the surface gilt, it’s all the same.
    Atleast if I stay where I am I can make double the $$ and keep my own ideas for my benefit.
    Thanks for helping me make my decsion, I don’t think I’ll bother with Google.

  13. Ram Mallika Says:

    Great stuff, jose.

    Mark, Seriously, you got some brilliant advice, for free. Someone cared enough to let you know to grow up.

  14. markjen Says:

    Hi Jose,

    You make some good points, but I disagree with you on a few.

    The content was compelling, but an invisible line was crossed – A line you still don’t see (as you are still asking), unfortunately for you, your bosses at google did see it (And very clearly).

    On the contrary, I am now very aware of the lines I crossed while I was at Google. Unfortunately, I didn’t know at the time, which made the situation a costly lesson.

    You keep throwing your new company’s policy around and trying to get feed back? Why?

    Take a minute and realize that the whole point of the blogosphere is to have a conversation. Right now, a lot of people are talking about blogging policies and how blogging interacts with the corporate space. Given the events I’ve gone through, I am very interested in this conversation; thus, I’ve made a few posts about it.

    w.r.t. internal policies remaining internal, that is simply a matter of a company’s preference. Plaxo is transparent. In line with being transparent, employees get involved in conversations such as this one. We recognize the value that having an open conversation with people provides to all parties involved. We posted our policy in order to have a conversation about it – and indeed, the conversation has been great for everyone involved.

    As far as a definition of common sense, here’s what wikipedia has to say. You’ll notice that it defines common sense as beliefs that seem to be prudent to most people. The very definition of common sense is that it is subjective. As such, I think we both agree that there is no definition of common sense. Instead, it is prudent to define policies such as our communications policy in order to help employees get a sense for what the management believes is “common sense”. However, I guess we disagree in whether people should be given these general guidelines. If I understand you correctly, you think that it is appropriate for employees to go on gut feel while I believe it is appropriate for a company to clearly define its opinion to help guide employees.

    P.S. You can see everything with correct capitalization by clicking “cased style” at the top of the page or by viewing using my feeds. It’s a simple CSS rule 😉

  15. rose Says:

    you mean…they’re still writing articles about you and you’re still blogging yourself??? no wonder people dont read this shit anymore…or wait, is that just me?

  16. bernie Says:

    I don’t think we should be relying on the wikipedia for definitions…I would prefer the OED. Regardless, common sense is obvious knowledge. Would you get in a car and drive after 6 beers? Most of us with common sense would not. Would you blog insider information at a new company you started at? Most of us with common sense would not. The list goes on and on…it’s pretty obvious.

  17. markjen Says:

    Hi Bernie – The problem is what do you do when a company terminates an employee for blogging about stuff that is already publicly known? 😉

  18. James Says:

    Hopefully Microsoft has the sense to pass on you the next time you go crawling back. I’ve been reading your blog for a while now and I still haven’t figured out what it is that you do. As far as I can tell you’re like Tom Smykowski from the movie Office Space.

    Google did the right thing.

  19. jack Says:

    In 1964, the Supreme Court was tasked with deriving a legal definition of what pornography is. Stewart famously opined: “You know it when you see it”.

    “Common sense” is naturally difficult to define because it’s based on common belief (just like the common law). In a publicly-traded company, I would define “common” as the interest of the majority of the shareholders — absolutely not the interest of the bloggers who publicly criticize the company.

    BTW, any negative comments communicated to the public in a wrong way could potentially hurt the company; it’s just common sense. Anyone who could do something to potentially hurt the company should not be tolerated; it’s just common sense.

  20. markjen Says:

    Jack – If that’s the case, be sure to tell Robert Scoble sometime. AFAIK, his honesty – sometimes brutal – has dramatically shifted the perception of Microsoft from one of an “evil empire” to one of a normal profit-seeking company.

    You think a majority of MSFT shareholders thought it was beneficial when Scoble openly criticized Microsoft’s portable media strategy? Or how about when he talked about how he disagreed with MSFT’s recent reversal of support of the anti-homosexual discrimination bill in WA state.

    My opinion is that common sense says that if you have nothing to hide, then it’s in your best interest to be open and transparent with the world. IMO, building trust with the community at large is definitely in the interest of shareholders.

  21. BaKiLiOgLaN Says:

    Кстати это все придумали ориентировочно лет 10 назад .:

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