Tuesday, April 19, 2005

Thinking Aloud; Blogging Allowed - "When the blogger blogs, can the employer intervene?"

My longest blog post yet:

Received this email from Chonz: "Ivan, I am one of those people who use the NLB a lot and enjoy your blogs." Thanks, Chonz! It's always nice to hear from a library user.

I don't know Chonz personally. He or she probably decided to email me after reading my blog. Chonz also alerted me to this NYT article*, "When the Blogger Blogs, Can the Employer Intervene?" (Tom Zeller Jr., 18 Apr 05)
* Register for free access, or check out other alternative links at the bottom of this post.

Thinking aloud, from reading the article:
1) The article mentioned Niall Kennedy, who works for Technorati (he still does, as of this post!). Hey, I know Niall. He was the guy who replied to my suggestion to Technorati;

2) It reinforced my view that while Blogging Guidelines for employees are important, common sense and respect are more critical;

3) When we blog, we are in effect writing for the Whole Wide World;

4) Freedom of speech does not mean irresponsible speech. Blogging is about personal accountability. Expect to be taken to task if the majority feels you have posted something unacceptable -- as shown by this "Racist post" episode (do check out the excellent compilation of related posts by Huichieh);

5) If you want to keep something secret, don't email it. Certainly don't blog about it. As explained here in the 4th para;

6) Like it or not, as employees, we have to follow the rules set by the organisation. Either we follow those rules, or we leave the organisation. That's today's reality of work;

7) As an employee, the organisation has a right to stop me blogging. I'm obligated to comply, regardless of what I think;

8) In the long run, we're all better off NOT being anonymous when we blog. I stand firm on this, even if it goes against what's espoused here (related article here).

Right... I'm not sure if you agree with the above, particularly points 6 and 7. I did not make them on a whim.

I make no secret that I work for the NLB. I do this because I find blogging a good way to extend the reach of the physical libraries, run by NLB, to the online world. My belief is that public libraries are about connecting people to people, and people to ideas. Not merely connecting people to information. There are good people with excellent ideas in the Blogosphere.

But should my organisation disagree with my blogging activities for whatever reasons, and wants me to stop or modify my blogging activities, then I will respect that decision.

Quote from NYTimes.com article:
"As the practice of blogging has spread, employees like Mr. Kennedy are coming to the realization that corporations, which spend millions of dollars protecting their brands, are under no particular obligation to tolerate threats, real or perceived, from the activities of people who become identified with those brands, even if it is on their personal Web sites."
Quite a few of my colleagues know I blog. So does my immediate boss and some bosses a few layers removed. So far, nobody has told me to stop, although some did express concerns about employees blogging in general.

I did ask myself, "What if I was really asked to stop my blogging?"

First, I'd be very disappointed. I believe in librarians blogging. When you believe in something strongly and your views are not accepted, then disappointment follows. Especially when I've experienced first-hand how a librarian blog can engage and interact with people, like this, this, this, and especially this one, this one, and this, this, also this, plus this one. It's also a way to promote NLB libraries and services, like this and this. So far, there have not been any rude or vulgar comments. I've not removed any comments to date.

I'd probably feel sad too. I've met many interesting and intelligent people (some who've become fast friends, even though we've not met face-to-face) in the Blogosphere, like Kevin, Preetam, C. Callosum, Calm One, Roxanne, Idler, Huichieh, GadgetDude, Shel... just some of the bloggers whom I've had protracted conversations (in the blog or off). Through blogging, I've conversed with librarians from the Philippines - Clair, Von, Mal'akh, Marj... lots more other people. I can still stay in touch with all of them if I don't blog (via newsfeeds subscriptions), but it wouldn't be the same.

I may feel angry, but it might be more of an ego issue, i.e. things don't go my way...

So in conclusion, if my organisation insists that I stop blogging, regardless of whether I accept the reason or not, then I have two options: (1) Stop blogging, or (2) Continue to blog.

Obviously, option two will get me dismissed. It's that simple. Do I have a case? Maybe. But to what end? Let's say I fight the dismissal and the court agrees that the organisation was wrong. Would it make me feel better? Totally lose-lose situation. The organisation gets negative publicity, and I won't feel comfortable working for the organisation anymore.

Does that mean I've sold out if I stop blogging? That I've given up my right? Not really. My reasons for blogging is to demonstrate the potential of blogs for advancing librarianship. If the organisation does not agree with that view, then it's the organisation's loss.

I'm not a crusader or evangelist for blogs. I'm a librarian who's passionate about what I do, and wants to provide not just good but great services for users ("Wah! Sure or not?", I hear the skeptics say. Nevermind lah, you take me at face-value).

Apart from knowing more friends, there are other positive benefits for me from past 10 months of blogging:
  • I articulate my thoughts better. I notice this when I speak with staff and colleagues.
  • I've always liked to write. I have an outlet for this hobby on the blog. I would like to think that my writing and communication skills (so important as a librarian and manager) have improved.
  • My self-confidence has increased. When you post your thoughts to the world, you'd better be confident!
  • I've learnt to take myself less seriously. You can get slammed in the Blogosphere. Big deal. If you're wrong, apologise and get on with life (fortunately, I've only been "gently let-down" rather than slammed. People are kind to me).
  • Of course, I've also learnt to be more humble. There's a greater sense of humility. I have to be when there are so many superb bloggers out there. Read them, and it's clear they are much more intelligent than me. So much to learn from them.
The only downside is that my home electrical bills have gone up from using the PC and modem... ah, you win some, you lose some. At least I'm reading (blogs) and writing rather than playing online games.

Last thought for the day: Let's say I'm the boss of my own company, and I know that my employees are blogging. Because I have personally experienced the positive power of blogging, and I also understand better the accompanying risks when employees blog, I'd definitely encourage responsible blogging among employees.

I'd develop guidelines, organise training for staff who are interested (no need to force those who aren't), and then have a strategy to utilise blogs to enhance my business and the bottom line. I'd reward employees who show how they've utilised blogs to create better value to customers.

The other option would be this: Stop my employees from blogging, resulting in some dissentation among some staff (especially the younger ones, who are also usually the more passionate ones who will work wonders if you push the right buttons). And I'll end up driving them to blog underground.

See other related articles/ posts:
IndianExpress 19 Apr 05)
The ledger.com (18 Apr 05)
jennydavidson (17 Apr 05)
NewZealandHerald.com (28 Mar 05)

[Tag: singapore, ]


  1. Well friend :) this is an excellent post. Also explains why I don't and won't blog about work related stuff... But even then, I'm already feeling as if I am threading thin, especially given the most recent events...

    I think employers could think through this more. It's not as if blogging is so special and different compared to the general issue of how much employees should be allowed to talk about their work/workplace to outsides. The same guidelines that conver the latter could in principle cover the former as well. And unless one's work is classified (or something similar, e.g., involving trade secrets, clients, etc.), I see no real reason to indiscriminatingly gag all talk/blogging of work/workplace...but am I being too optimistic?

  2. Anonymous10:01 am

    I agree, very nice post!

    There are many reasons I feel fortunate to work for my employer and this is one of them. As a company, Microsoft encourages it's employees to express themselve...from art on your office walls...to dressing in shorts and a t-shirt (my normal attire) or a dockers and a chambray collared shirt...to comics on your door...to blogging about your job.

    I also agree with the sentiment that "common sense and respect" are the key components to successfully blogging about your work. Remember your NDAs and if you have any question at all if a topic is considered "confidential" then play it safe and assume it is.

    In fact, I just found a place in my RSS reader for you. :)


  3. employers can stop you from blogging about your work and the company, but they don't have the right to stop you from blogging personal stuff. if they do try, it's a good time to move on anyway.

  4. Hi Ivan,

    I came across your post at the Red Couch and I must admit I am partial to your Slavic rambling. Lets hope that this is not your longest ramble and that more will come as other important issues and events crop up ...

    BTW this is the Reference: She Israel and Robert Scoble

  5. I think it depends on where one works. I blog anonymously (almost anonymously), but I rarely mention work. But, academic librarians who are tenured (or equivalent) really have no worries anyway. There is a good deal of academic freedom at most universities.


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