Tag Archives: blogs

Banned Blogs

So I’m fed up. I’m tired of hearing about fantastic blogs written by fantastic people that are banned by different federal departments of the Canadian public service.

Banned you say? Isn’t that a little dramatic?

No! I mean banned.

The IT departments of several federal governments block certain websites that are deemed to have inappropriate or non-work related content. Typically these include sites like Facebook, Gmail and of course, various porn sites (a list of well known mainstream sites that are blocked can be found here).

I’ve known for a while that my site – eaves.ca – is blocked by several departments and it hasn’t bothered me (I’ve always felt that blocking someone increase people’s interest in them), But as whispers about the number of blogs blocked grows, I find the practice puzzling and disturbing. These are not casual blogs. One might think this is limited to casual or personel blogs but many of the blogs I hear about are on public policy or the public service. They may even contain interesting insights that could help public servants. They are not sites that contain pornographic material, games or other content that could be construed as leisure (as enjoyable as I know reading my blog is…).

So, in an effort to get a better grasp of the scope and depth of the problem I’d like your help to put together a list. On eaves.ca I’ve created a new page – entitled “Banned Blogs” that lists blogs and the Canadian Federal Government Ministries that ban them. If you are a public servant and you know of a blog that is blocked from your computer please send me a note. If you know a public servant, ask them to check their favourite blogs. If you know of a site that is blocked you can send me an email, at tweet, or an anonymous comment on this blog, I’ll add it to the list. It would be fantastic to get a sense of who is blocked and by which departments. Maybe we’ll even knock some sense into some IT policies.

Maybe.

(Post script: Douglas B. has some great suggestions about how to deal with blocked sites and lists some of the ancient policies that could help public servants fight this trend).

CBC: A Case Study in what happens when the Lawyers take over

Like many other people, I’ve been following the virtual meltdown at the CBC over its new (i)copyright rules. For a great summary of the back and forth I strongly encourage you to check out Jesse Brown’s blog. In short the terms of use of the CBC seemed to suggest that no one was allowed to report/reprint excerpts of CBC pieces without the CBC express permission. This, as Cameron McMaster noted, actually runs counter to Canadian copyright law.

And yes, the CBC has been moving quickly and relatively transparently to address this matter and hopefully clearer rules – that are consistent with Canadian law – will emerge. That said, even as they try, the organization will still have a lot of work to do to persuade its readers it isn’t from Mars when it comes to understanding the internet. Consider this devastating line from the CBC’s spokeperson in response to the outcry.

You’ll also still be able to post links to CBC.ca content on blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter or other online media at no charge and will continue to offer free RSS stories for websites (found here).

Really? I’m still allowed to link to the CBC? How is this even under discussion? Who charges people to link to their site? How is that even possible?

Well, if you think that that is weird, it gets weirder. Dig a little deeper and you’ll find what what appears to have so far gone unnoticed in the current debate over the CBC’s bizarre terms of use. On the CBC’s Reuse and Permissions FAQ page the second question and answer reads as follows:

Can we link to your site?
We encourage people to link to us. However, we ask that you read our Terms of Use, which outline the conditions by which external sites may link to ours.

So what are the CBC’s terms of use to linking to their site? Well this is when the Lawyers really take over:

While CBC/Radio Canada encourages links to the Web site, it does not wish to be linked to or from any third-party web site which (i) contains, posts or transmits any unlawful, threatening, abusive, libellous, defamatory, obscene, vulgar, pornographic, profane or indecent information of any kind, including, without limitation, any content constituting or encouraging conduct that would constitute a criminal offense, give rise to civil liability or otherwise violate any local, state, provincial, national or international law, regulation which may be damaging or detrimental to the activities, operations, credibility or integrity of CBC/Radio Canada or which contains, posts or transmits any material or information of any kind which promotes racism, bigotry, hatred or physical harm of any kind against any group or individual, could be harmful to minors, harasses or advocates harassment of another person, provides material that exploits people under the age of 18 in a sexual or violent manner, provides instructional information about illegal activities, including, without limitation, the making or buying of illegal weapons; or (ii) contains, posts or transmits any information, software or other material which violates or infringes upon the rights of others, including material which is an invasion of privacy or publicity rights, or which is protected by copyright, trademark or other proprietary rights. CBC/Radio Canada reserves the right to prohibit or refuse to accept any link to the Web site, including, without limitation, any link which contains or makes available any content or information of the foregoing nature, at any time. You agree to remove any link you may have to the Web site upon the request of CBC/Radio Canada.

This sounds all legal and proper. And hey, I don’t want bigots or child molesters linking to my site either. But that doesn’t mean I can legally prevent them.

The CBC’s terms of use uses language that suggests they have the right to prevent you, or anyone from linking to their website. But from a practical, business strategy and legal perspective it is completely baffling.

In my mind, this is akin to the CBC claiming that it can prevent you from telling people their address or giving them directions to their buildings. Or, the CBC is claiming dominion over every website in the world and that they may dictate whether or not it can link to their site.

I have my suspicions that there is nothing in Canadian law to support the CBC’s position. If anyone knows of a law or decision that would support the CBC’s terms of use please do send me a note or comment below.

Otherwise, I hope the CBC will also edit this part of its Terms of Use and its Reuse and Permissions FAQ page. We need the organization to be in the 21st century.

Background on Missing the Link

Two years ago the Columbia Journalism Review (CJR) hosted a panel (audio available here) with Steven Rattner, Jim Brady, Amanda Bennett, Jill Abramson, and Robert Kuttner (with Nicholas Lemann moderating). The purpose was to discuss an article the CJR had commissioned Robert Kuttner’s to write on the future of print media where he essentially argued that the then status quo of print-digital hybrids would ensure newspapers’ survival.

The CJR however, interested in the perspective of bloggers, invited my colleague Taylor Owen to write a response. We ended up collaborating and wrote Missing the Link: Why Old Media Doesn’t get the Internet.

Ultimately we ended up writing a much longer piece, one that was critical of Kuttner and the print-hybrid model. In addition to the CJR we got a couple of sniffs from some other print journals/magazines (Wired for example) but they eventually could not get it published.

Ironically, we were more concerned with getting published (in print or digitally) than simply releasing it on our blogs. Part of this had to do with the piece’s length, but, if we are really honest with ourselves, we got trapped in an institutional mindset and began thinking like priests, not entrepreneurs. Eventually we got busy with other exciting projects and forgot about it (except for this op-ed we wrote in the toronto star).

Two years later the piece could do with some updating but sadly it is just as salient, if not more so, today as it was then. So we are pulling it out of the C drive and sharing it. Better late than never.

Of course, we aren’t devoid of our desire for a better channel. If anyone out there (Slate? Huffington Post?) finds the piece interesting and knows a home for it – print or digital – we would be happy to update it. Mostly, we just want it read.

Here again is a link to the full version of Missing the Link: Why Old Media Still Doesn’t Get the Internet.

Blogging: Dealing with difficult comments

Embedded below is an abridged version (10 minutes!) of my 2009 Northern Voice presentation on managing and engaging the community the develops around one’s blog. Specifically, one goals of this presentation was to pull in some of the thinking from the negotiation and conflict management space and see how it might apply to dealing with people who comment on your blog. Hopefully, people will find it interesting.

Finally, a key lesson that came to me while developing the presentation is that most blogs, social media projects, and online projects in general, really need a social contract – or as Skirky describes it, a bargain – that the organizer and the community agree to. Often such contracts (or bargains) are strongly implied, but I believe it is occasionally helpful to make them explicit – particularly on blogs or projects that deal with contentious (politics) or complicated (many open source projects) issues.

At 8:43 in the presentation I talk about what I believe is the implicit bargain on my site. I think about codifying it, especially as a I get more and more commentors. That said, the community that has developed around this blog – mostly of people I’ve never met –  is fantastic, so there hasn’t been an overwhelming need.

Finally thank you to Bruce Sharpe for posting a video of the presentation.

So, I hope this brief presentation is helpful to some of you.

(Notice how many people are coughing! You can tell it was winter time!)

Journalism in an Open Era (follow up link)

Been getting a number of great comments and emails from people on the post on Journalism in an Open Era.

Another blogger I meant to link to he’s ideas on the future of organizations I find smart, edgy and thoughtful is Umair Haque, the Director of the Havas Media Lab who blogs for the Harvard Business Review.

In a piece entitled How to Build a Next-Generation Business Now, Haque’s concludes that the problem that dragged down wall street is in part, the same one that is killing (or transforming to be nicer) journalism. My journalism in an open era piece is set, in part, on the belief that the gut wrenching changes we are experiencing economically are part of a transition to a new rule-set, one that will favour, and possibility require, more “open” institutions and business models. This will require – in part – a new journalism but also real leadership in the private, public and non-profit sector (the type Henry Mintzberg raged about in his excellent oped in the Globe and Mail).

Here’s Haque (bold and italic text is mine) on the subject:

The first step in building next-generation businesses is to recognize the real problem boardrooms face – that we’ve moved beyond strategy decay. Building next-gen businesses depends on recognizing that they are not about new business models or even new strategies.

The stunningly total meltdown we just witnessed in the investment banking sector – the end of Wall St as we know it – was something far darker and more remarkable. It wasn’t simple business model obsolescence – an old business model being superseded by a more efficient or productive one. The problem the investment banks had wasn’t at the level of business models – it had little to do with revenue streams, customer segmentation, or value propositions.

And neither was it what Gary Hamel has termed “strategy decay” – imitation and commoditization eroding the returns to a once-defensible strategic position, scarce resource, or painstakingly built core competence.

It was something bigger and more vital: institutional decay. Investment banks failed not just as businesses, but as financial institutions that were supposedly built to last. It was ultimately how they were organized and managed as economic institutions – poor incentives, near-total opacity, zero responsibility, absolute myopia – that was the problem. The rot was in their DNA, in their institutional makeup, not in their strategies or business models.

The point is this: the central challenge 21st century boardrooms must face is not reinventing strategies, or business models, but reinventing businesses as institutions.

Old stuff is breaking fast. The rot is in the DNA – we may, in may circumstances, need a new institutional make up. And the new rule sets need to be understood quickly. Are we coming into an Open Era? I don’t know, but I think open and/or transparent organizations are going to have a leg up.

The Death of Journalism? (or journalism in the era of open)

For those that missed them two of my favourite authors – Clay Shirky and Steven Johnson – posted brilliant pieces on the future of the news industry this week. I’ve pulled some of the best lines from both so you can glimpse at why these to writers are models for me. These relevant paragraphs also reveal a further analysis, one I think both authors stop shy of but that both pieces hint at: the Death of Journalism.

…in the long run, we’re going to look back at many facets of old media and realize that we were living in a desert disguised as a rain forest. Local news may be the best example of this. When people talk about the civic damage that a community suffers by losing its newspaper, one of the key things that people point to is the loss of local news coverage… I adore the City section of the New York Times, but every Sunday when I pick it up, there are only three or four stories in the whole section that I find interesting or relevant to my life – out of probably twenty stories total. And yet every week in my neighborhood there are easily twenty stories that I would be interested in reading: a mugging three blocks from my house;

But of course, that’s what the web can do. That’s one of the main reasons we created outside.in, because I found myself waking up in the morning and turning to local Brooklyn bloggers like Brownstoner, who were suddenly covering local news with a granularity that the Times had never attempted. Two years later, there are close to a thousand bloggers writing about Brooklyn: there are multiple blogs devoted to the Atlantic Yards real estate development; dozens following the Brooklyn foodie scene; music blogs, politics blogs, parenting blogs. [A veritable rain forest of information where there was once a desert]

Steven B Johnson

When someone demands to know how we are going to replace newspapers, they are really demanding to be told that we are not living through a revolution. They are demanding to be told that old systems won’t break before new systems are in place. They are demanding to be told that ancient social bargains aren’t in peril, that core institutions will be spared, that new methods of spreading information will improve previous practice rather than upending it. They are demanding to be lied to.

Clay Shirky

Both Shirky and Johnson’s pieces acknowledge that the trends hitting the news industry are hitting every part of society but – because they have written articles and not books – they deal with the changes to the news industry ecosystem in isolation. As a result, their analyses account for the death of the newspaper in its current form. However, both shy away from explicitly looking over that bigger cliff – are we seeing the death of Journalism? I for one, hope so, as it will mean a more profound change may be upon us.

Step back and look at the relationship between news gathering institutions and the organizations they report on. A large piece of “investigative news” has been about one set of opaque institutions – the news organization – covertly gathering information on another set of opaque institutions – government, corporations or non-profits – so as to shine a light on some malfeasance.

What if it isn’t just the business model newspapers and TV news that is faulty. What if it is the underlying structure and values are eroding not only among news institutions but also among the entities they normally cover? What if the belief in objectivity and trust in opaque structures are dying? This would mean that the public’s confidence in products, ideas, services, policies and news created behind a curtain – within any opaque institutions – is slowly crumble. In his Bertha Bassam lecture, this is precisely what David Weinberger brilliantly argues is already taking place:

“Wikipedia is far more credible because it shows us how the sausage is made makes Wikipedia far more credible. Yet this is exactly the stuff that the Britannica wont show us because they think it would make them look amateurish and take away from their credibility. But in fact transparency – which is what this is – is the new objectivity. We are not going to trust objectivity, we are not going to trust objectivity unless we can see the discussion that lead to it.”

Such a transformation, a reshaping of credibility from objectivity to transparency, would have profound implications for every organization – corporate, non-profit and governmental – in our society.

The trends Shirky and Johnson describe as killing newspapers – the fact there are more eyes, able to create more information, that is able to flow faster, and freer than ever before – may be making openness and transparency a strategically salient choice for an increasing number of organizations. Firstly, it is simply becoming harder and harder to keep secrets. More and more organizations may decide that, rather than devote energy to hiding secrets that will inevitable see the light of day, why not devote energy to solving the underlying problems that are creating them? More importantly, by being transparent allows these organizations to access the long tail of analyses an additional powerful incentive to being open. Those who share information and invite criticism and analysis may be better positioned to survive crises and challenges than those who don’t. Many eyes makes the bugs in any institution more likely to be shallow.

As a result we may see an organizational ecosystem emerging that strongly favours transparency. This is not to say that every organization will instantaneously become “open” overnight… but there would be increasing pressure, and more powerfully the adoption of the naked corporation as the default model in the new system.

Such a shift would forever change journalism. The first is that opaque news entities – those that don’t make clear the bargain with their readers, that fail to spell out their editorial decisions and philosophy and allow readers to hold them to account, will themselves be at risk. I suspect this will be true even if some magical financial solution (like the terrible idea of subsidizing news with an internet access tax) were to emerge. The problem would simply shift from being a financial crisis to a credibility crisis. If journalism prides itself on objectivity – then it had better find ways to be transparent. This means news sites had better engage with legitimate critics: and this means doing more than having columnists who ignore commenters that poke large holes in their arguments or electing to publish retractions on the bottom corner of page 8 or on some lost webpage.

More profound however may be that journalism in a transparent ecosystem could look very different than it does today. If investigative journalism has been about uncovering the dirty secrets within opaque institutions – what does it do if an increasing number of institutions have no secrets?

I suspect the ideal of good journalism will shift from being what Gladwell calls puzzle solving to mystery solving. In the former you must find a critical piece of the puzzle – one that is hidden to you – in order to explain an event. This is the Woodward and Bernstein model of journalism – the current ideal. But in a transparent landscape where huge amounts of information about most organizations is being generated and shared the critical role of the journalist will be that of mystery solving – figuring out how to analyze, synthesize and discover the mystery within the vast quantity of information. As Gladwell recounts this was ironically the very type of journalism that brought down Enron (an organization that was open, albeit deeply  flawed). All of the pieces of that lead to the story that “exposed” Enron were freely, voluntarily and happily given to reports by Enron. It’s just a pity it didn’t happen much, much sooner.

I for one would celebrate the rise of this mystery focused style of “journalism.” It has been sorely needed over the past few years. Indeed, the housing crises that lead to the current financial crises is a perfect example of case where we needed mystery solving not puzzle solving, journalism. The fact that sub-prime mortgages were being sold and re-packaged was not a secret, what was lacking was enough people willing to analyze and write about this complex mystery and its dangerous implications.

Interestingly this is precisely what many blogs – alone or as part of an emergent network – already do. They take large complex stories, break them down and, by linking back and forth to one another, create a collective analysis that slowly allows the mystery to be decoded. I hope this post is part of such a mystery solving exercise – I’m trying to build off of, and extend, the brilliant analyses of Johnson and Shirky.

Does this mean the death of journalism? Well, in a world where everybody can be a journalists… is anyone a journalist? I don’t know. I’m sure there will always be some professional journalists, but in a world where people distrust opaque institutions I’m not certain they will reside in organizations that look even remotely like the news institutions of today. Most importantly, in a world of mysteries perhaps citizen journalist and bloggers, and their role in the news ecoysystem, will be less frightening than the one most present day pundits (especially newspaper columnists) would have us believe.

friends of eaves.ca now online

A couple of friends and colleagues have recently made the transition online and I wanted to point readers in their direction:

For foreign policy fiends Daryl Copeland – who has always had a thoughtful and forwarding looking view of foreign policy – has a new blog up in anticipation of the release of his new book Guerrilla Diplomacy. I like Daryl cause he’s smart, outspoken and has been a supporter of anyone, like those of us who worked on From Middle to Model Power, who are trying to figure out what the future of diplomacy and the foreign ministry is. He and I agree that that the current model probably isn’t working.

On the environmental front Chris Hatch has launched his new blog – Zero Carbon. Part of the PowerUp Canada initiative, it serves as an outlet for the ideas and thoughts of several long time Canadian environmentalists as well as an aggregator for environment and climate change related news.

Finally, for the men out there who are looking to look good for less, my fiend Chris K. has recently launched his new company, Moniker. As Chris puts it on his site: “Moniker is a global group of friends who have cracked open the luxury supply chain.” And cracked it they have! Finally, I’ll get some french cuffed shirts for all the cuff-links I own…