I’ve written before about how I believe that blogs are nothing particularly special in the online world and that fundamentally a weblog is just a collection of Web pages, with no special requirements or rules. Having said that, I will hasten to add that there are certainly best practices in the blogging world, but at its core, a weblog tool like WordPress is a slick content management tool.
Given that, what’s to be made of Robert Scoble’s complaint about IBM wiping a few weblogs out of its system? Robert says: “Blogs should never be erased — for any reason. That breaks the Web. A kitten was just killed and IBM did it. Put the blogs back.”
I’ll ignore the kitten reference since that’s just hyperbole and I’ve been known to turn a colorful phrase or two myself, but does removing a blog entry or deleting an entire blog truly “break the Web”?
The core issue is one highlighted by former IBM employee Simon Phipps, who notes on his Sun Microsystems blog (he’s now a Sun employee) that:
“I see IBM’s former Fellow, “Father of Websphere” Don Ferguson, is already in the process of being airbrushed out of history. His blog already redirects to the home page for IBM’s dW bloggers (he’s still listed as I type this) despite the cached version showing no signs of being any less defensible than it was a month ago.”
What Simon and Robert don’t seem to understand is that anything with a corporate logo atop de facto represents the viewpoint of the company and/or its employees. I don’t care what kind of disclaimer you have about “representing individual views”, for example, if a sun.com or microsoft.com blogger was writing racist, sexist or similar vitriol, the company would be liable and suffer the consequences too.
There’s also no latitude in the law, for example, for a company to say “yes, those views are inconsistent with our current corporate thinking, but they’re from a former employee”. If they could, companies would probably like to have previous years Annual Reports vanish in a puff of smoke after 12 months too, leaving just a thin sheaf of financial data and legalese.
But I don’t want to pull the lawsuit trump card because I imagine that’s not why IBM has removed Don Ferguson’s weblog from its suite of blogs. The answer’s more simple: Don is no longer an IBM employee so it makes no logical sense for his weblog to remain accessible on the ibm.com domain.
Remember, corporations aren’t worried about “the historical record” they’re focused on profitability, on producing world-class products, getting them into channels and producing a share price increase to benefit shareholders and employees alike. That’s it.
I just don’t see what’s so hard to understand here regarding IBM’s behavior. Corporations do this all the time and companies have been doing this for aeons, as far as I know. Indeed, I was involved in the creation of a small conference but parted ways with the others after our first event. The conference site has completely erased my involvement and replaced me with someone else for their follow-on event. We parted ways and that’s fine: I certainly don’t imagine for a minute that they have any obligation to retain evidence of my prior participation.
There’s a second issue here too. First off, whether a former employee should have their blog or Web area retained when they depart, and my answer is obviously that they shouldn’t, and that just as they’re removed from the corporate phone book, so should their online presence be wiped.
Robert goes quite a bit further, though, stating that he believes that all blogs are sacrosanct and shouldn’t be deleted. Hmmm… I find that a bit puzzling, but perhaps that explains why his Scobleizer blog was never hosted at Microsoft while he was an employee: perhaps he expected that once he left they’d shut it down?
I just can’t see why it makes any difference whether you keep all your blog entries and blogs forever, versus deleting material you dislike retrospectively, material that might get you into trouble legally (or socially!) or even entire weblogs that reflected your past ideas and interests, but no longer are relevant to your life.
It certainly doesn’t break the Web.
Indeed, if something that trivial broke the Web, then we’d have a very different write-once sort of Internet, one that would be far less interesting and valuable, at least in my eyes.
That’s my view. What’s your opinion of this issue?