Yesterday I had the opportunity to participate in a community meeting of a very large tech company. They have begun to experiment with external blogging under their rubric and have lots of individuals blogging on their own. Inevitably, the topic of weblog policy came up. These conversations have matured lately, as there are clearer benefits for the risk of exposure. But it still boils down to policy and education vs. complete risk avoidance.
What's missing is a standardized weblog employee policy. Today, major tech companies like Microsoft and Sun are embracing external blogging and beginning to realize its benefits. Right now many companies are considering similar moves, but are held back by what they see as a legal grey area. We have been through most all of these issues before, as the web publishing, newsgroups and email are a virtual sieve. But blogs are newer every day and with all the hype its hard for people to get that they are simple tools.
Think of blogging as a market. In general, the greater the standardization and management of risk, the greater the liquidity. Enterprises as potentially important participants that are largely waiting to trade. To enhance liquidity, one step is a common definition of the commodity, something that standards work for RSS & Atom has largely achieved at the atomic level of a post. There are other mechanisms like indexes that help companies understand relative value (Blogdex), but the next step is a standardized agreement. In this case, the counterparties are writers and readers. In effect, writers have guidelines/policies for the goods they produce and readers have rights for what they can do with it.
Enter the lawyers. The problem is most lawyers didn't study under Lawrence Lessig or Jochai Benkler, read Cluetrain and Gonzo, and are card carrying members of the EFF. They come from the school of fear and greed. Just think of the billable hours possible for surveying every risk, asserting control and property and taking what they can from the market. They will come up with their own agreement, backed by their opinions. The human voice of the company will be muffled and the enterprise gains little benefit.
Enter the employees. They have a keen sense of the market and how to arbitrage around these constraints. They set up their own blogs, even anonymously, and benefit personally from the market of conversations.
Employees what to do the right thing. They want to have a voice, get approval and use it for the benefit of their company. Right now, they can point to the Sun Policy on Public Discourse, Groove Weblog Policy and the evolving Corporate Weblogger Manifesto as examples. They can talk their executives into considering it by pointing to Jonathan Schwartz, me (heh) and Bill Gates any day now. But its still an emerging issue.
When an employee proposes external enterprise blogging, she needs to kill off policy debate by pointing to an open and accepted agreement. Either that or wait until a court decision on corporate exposure.
So here we have this little industry, known for its technical and cultural cooperation. To open up the floodgates, lets encourage enterprises to share the process and result of discovery, much like Sun has done. When Microsoft sets their policy, its time for them to leverage their newfound cooperation to define what they have in common, and perhaps in collaboration with Creative Commons set a standard for openness.