Copyright ©2005 NPR. For personal, noncommercial use only. See Terms of Use. For other uses, prior permission required.

NEAL CONAN, host:

This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

Much has been made of the Internet phenomenon known as Weblogs, online journals for anybody who wants to spout off about, well, just about anything. Some high-profile blogs like Gawker or Wonkette are run by folks who manage to earn a living from their Web sites. The vast majority of bloggers, though, work full-time offline, and blog is a way to share their daily lives with family and friends, which often includes their lives at work. Some companies monitor those blogs to see if their employees are posting comments that blacken the brand, spread rumors or leak secrets. In a few cases, incautious entries have learned bloggers the ax. Late last year, Delta Air Lines fired a woman known online as the Queen of the Sky after she posted some titillating pictures and stories about goings-on at work. And an employee of the health-care company Kaiser Permanente was let go for an entry which revealed confidential information about a patient.

On the other hand, Microsoft sees employee blogs as a way to spread buzz about the company and its products. And there are also corporate blogs where bigwigs communicate directly with consumers.

Later in the program, why your Slurpee fix won't have to wait until you swipe your credit card.

But first, blogging and the workplace. If you blog, do you talk about work in your postings? How do you balance what you blog about in your free time with your responsibilities as an employee? And if you're an executive or a manager, have employee blogs been an issue for you?

Our number here in Washington is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. You can e-mail us, too. The address is totn@npr.org.

Joining us now is Mark Jen, who was fired from Google earlier this year after blogging about work-related issues. He now works as a software producer for the tech firm Plaxo. And he joins us from the studio at Stanford University in Palo Alto, California.

Thanks very much for being with us.

Mr. MARK JEN (Software Producer, Plaxo): Hi. How's it going?

CONAN: All right. Tell us, when did you begin blogging and why? And did you anticipate that there was going to be a problem with work?

Mr. JEN: Well, so I started blogging right when I started working at Google. And, you know, the reason why was I felt that it was an easy way for me to connect with friends and family and kind of relate what I was up to and kind of my experiences after moving down to California.

CONAN: And so you were just writing to your friends and families. Of course you put it on the Internet, anybody can read it.

Mr. JEN: Right. So, you know, my experience with blogs and, I think, the majority of blogs out there is that, you know, it's mostly a private discourse, but it's available publicly. So it's just an easy medium for people to kind of communicate with people they know, typically. So, in my case, I only shared the actual address of my blog with a couple of friends and family, and later it was picked up by the media. And, you know, it was an event.

CONAN: Well, what got you into trouble?

Mr. JEN: So what actually happened was there are some sites that purely monitor what Google is up to. And they somehow stumbled across my blog. And when that happened, they went ahead and...

CONAN: Oh, don't tell me you got Googled.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. JEN: Kind of, but not exactly. What happened was there are feeds, which are automated ways for people to collect content from blogs. And one of these Google-watching sites found mine. And so they went ahead and, you know, said, `Hey, here's an employee of the company and he's talking about stuff that's happening inside the company.' So that's how that all got started.

CONAN: And was there confidential information about the company on your Web site?

Mr. JEN: No, not--I mean, I never actually post any confidential information, although, see, one of the problems was that it could have been perceived as confidential or perceived as insider information. But, you know, actually, I didn't have any access to any actual confidential information.

CONAN: So--and Google's still a pretty hot stock. So all of this was grabbed on by, perhaps, investors.

Mr. JEN: Right. That is the thought.

CONAN: And Google, by the way, declined to comment--this is, you know, a human resources issue and they don't comment about individual employees or, in your case, I guess, former employees. But is that why they told you you were being let go?

Mr. JEN: Yeah. I mean, you know, basically, directly or indirectly, it was because of my blog. You know, they declined to comment to me as well, which, you know, is well within their jurisdiction.

CONAN: Yeah. In retrospect, do you think you should have been more cautious?

Mr. JEN: Yeah. I mean, I made a lot of mistakes there. You know, I wasn't sensitive to the corporate climate there. I wasn't sensitive to kind of, you know, the media climate that they were in. And I just went ahead and, you know, thought it would be appropriate for me to share with my personal friends and family about what I was up to, you know. Now looking back on it, obviously there was a lot of things that I would've done differently.

CONAN: Now you work at Plaxo, as I mentioned, which is another technology company. And as I understand, you're helping them to develop their policy on blogs.

Mr. JEN: Right. And, you know, one of the things about--there's a difference between the way Plaxo views blogging and Google does. Plaxo loves to, you know, encourage this open and transparent communication with customers and just basically users out there on the Internet, whereas Google wasn't as interested in that type of particular conversation.

So at Plaxo, what we're trying to do is, we've crafted up a policy that allows our employees to actually go out there and kind of serve as representatives of the company, but kind of like, you know, in a personal way. So one of the interesting things is that when you're out there on the Internet writing a blog, it may be personal, you know, it may be, you know, completely your own content and unassociated with the company that you work for. But what happens is people recognize that you work for company X, and they associate your thoughts and, you know, your feelings and your experiences with company X. And so what you'll see is people either, you know, consciously or unconsciously make that association. So you end up being a representative of the company.

CONAN: Now Plaxo, I assume, is a much smaller company than Google.

Mr. JEN: Right, right. We are a lot smaller.

CONAN: And is it a private company?

Mr. JEN: Yes.

CONAN: So it doesn't have stock out there to worry about...

Mr. JEN: Right.

CONAN: ...insider information out there.

Mr. JEN: Right. Right.

CONAN: Now a lot of people think that blogging is an important way to--particularly in technology companies--to keep in touch with professional communities.

Mr. JEN: Yeah. And that's one of the great--I mean, I think that's one of the great uses for blogs. Really, you know, at the end of the day, blogs are just another medium for communication. And one of the great aspects about blogs is that it's really easy to build up this community where you have individual voices, but they all interact, where you kind of basically have a conversation. And so one of the ideas at Plaxo behind using blogs is that it's a great way to facilitate that conversation with, you know, our users, even people that don't like our service so much. It's a great way to kind of get into a conversation with them and ask them, you know, for feedback.

CONAN: Mark, thanks very much.

Mr. JEN: Thanks.

CONAN: And good luck.

Mr. JEN: Thank you.

CONAN: Mark Jen, a software producer now for the company Plaxo. And he joined us from a studio at Stanford University in Stanford, California.

Joining us now is John Palfrey, director of Harvard University's Berkman Center for the Internet & Society. And he's with us from Harvard's studio in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

And it's nice of you to be with us today.

Mr. JOHN PALFREY (Director, Berkman Center for Internet & Society, Harvard University): Thanks so much.

CONAN: We mentioned there were a couple of high-profile, or within the online community at least, firings over blogs. Do the crimes, do you think, tend to match the punishment?

Mr. PALFREY: Well, the punishment is obviously quite severe in the sense that it's the death penalty for a job. On the other hand, the effect potentially of blogging in a way that is not something that the corporation's interested in having happen is it can also be quite severe in certain circumstances, obviously trade secret in some way being in some way the most compelling of them. So it's certainly within the corporation's right to do what they've been doing in these contexts. But I do think that the space is evolving in such a way that it will change over time.

CONAN: Now what about the employees? Do they have rights to express themselves?

Mr. PALFREY: Of course there are rights that employees have in lots of contexts. There is a free speech right generally, but that doesn't protect you against things other than the government. So there's no particular kind of free-speech right for employees as against their employer. And to the extent that employers have good reason for disallowing you from saying certain things in a certain way, there's no particular speech right to protect you.

CONAN: Well, there is, though, the issue of whistle-blowers. There was an instance at Los Alamos Laboratories in which a blogger brought important internal issues to light, important internal security issues to light. Would somebody like that be protected as a whistle-blower?

Mr. PALFREY: Sure. There are specific circumstances in which the nature of the speech is particularly protected against corporate policies, and whistle-blowing is the best example. The Los Alamos instance was one in which a lot of people, actually, were bringing up criticisms, of course, of one person and of specific things happening there. And that's likely to be defended in that context. But in most of the cases that you're seeing, it's somebody saying something that the corporation doesn't want to be said for reasons of disclosing something that wouldn't reach the level of whistle-blowing.

CONAN: We're talking about blogging about work. The telephone number is (800) 989-8255; that's (800) 989-TALK. E-mail: totn@npr.org.

And let's talk with Dennis. Dennis is on the line with us from Cameron, Missouri.

DENNIS (Caller): Hi there. Interesting subject. If you're an hourly employee, you're paid by the hour to perform services at the company you work for; that's my understanding. And what you do at home when you're blogging with friends and family--oh, you know, like what did you do at work today; oh, I did this and I did that. And you're talking with friends and you're expressing yourself as you're allowed to constitutionally. And at the same time, if you wish other people to read it, which, when you're blogging, you do, you have to be kind of concerned about those things. But at the same time, the company is not paying you. You're not in their employee when you're at home in your jammies blogging.

CONAN: So you think you have a First Amendment right to say the boss is a jerk?

DENNIS: I think if he is, he is. You know, I call an apple an apple and an orange an orange. And if that's what they are, that's what they are.

CONAN: John Palfrey, does the First Amendment protect bloggers?

Mr. PALFREY: No, not in this context, although Dennis has a good point, which is there are some corporations that are going to see the light here and see that it's a good thing, in fact, to be critical of decisions the bosses make. So Robert Scoble of Microsoft recently criticized something that Steve Ballmer said about a particular public policy issue, and he got away with it in essence. And I think there are really very forward-looking corporations who are going to see this kind of discussion as robust and helpful. But unfortunately, or fortunately, there's no First Amendment right that would protect somebody in Dennis' circumstance.

CONAN: Well, what's the difference between saying something on a blog and saying it around the water cooler, though I guess that's around company time, or maybe at the bar down the street after work.

Mr. PALFREY: That's a great question. The short form, from a legal perspective, is what's unlawful offline is also unlawful online. So you don't necessarily have some special protection because it's in the online context. The big difference really between offline water-cooler conversations and online public conversations of the sort that Mark and Dennis were talking about is that the reach of them is so much greater. Anybody from anywhere, anytime, can access what you've just said. And very often it's very hard for that information ever to go away because of Google's archive or archive.org or the RSS feeds, the Really Simple Syndication feeds that send the information far and wide. So the damage that may be done is much, much greater in the context of an online blog than it is in the water-cooler instance.

CONAN: Dennis, thanks very much for the call.

DENNIS: Oh, I thank you.

CONAN: We're talking about the perils and rewards of chronicling your work life on the Internet. When we come back, it's not all subversive. General Motors tries a foray into corporate blogging. If you blog about your job or read somebody else's, why? Give us a call: (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. You can also send us e-mail: totn@npr.org.

I'm Neal Conan. We'll be back after the break. It's TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

We're talking about Weblogs and their implications in the workplace. Thousands of people blog every day, regaling anybody who stumbles across them with personal anecdotes and opinions. Intentionally or not, sometimes those journals do not jibe with the corporate message. What happens when blogs and bosses collide is our topic today. Of course you're invited to join us. If you keep a blog, does your employer have an official policy or are you just hoping not to be found out? If you're an employer or a manager, has this issue come up in your office? (800) 989-8255, (800) 989-TALK. The e-mail address is totn@npr.org. Our guest is John Palfrey, director of Harvard University's Berkman Center for the Internet & Society.

And let's talk with Jo. Jo's calling from Jeffersonville, Indiana.

JO (Caller): Hi. I'm a educator, and I'm laughing to myself because we are not even allowed to discuss at lunch with one another--and I don't know what FERPA stands for, it's F-E-R-P-A, but there's a federal law that prevents us from even discussing with one another about students even within our own building. Oftentimes I'm the last--I'm a librarian--and I'm often the last one in the building to know. For example, if a student's parent died, they won't even tell me that because I don't have a need to know. So I'm laughing to myself about--that's what they say anyway. I kind of maintain that I would like to know that so I'm not bugging them about overdue books when their parent has died. But...

CONAN: By the way, that's the Family Education and Rights Project.

JO: You're right. Privacy Act, right.

CONAN: Privacy Act, yes.

JO: And...

CONAN: Not Firpo; that's the boxer from the 1930s. But anyway...

JO: Right. But we always just refer to kids as FERPAs. But--so there would be no way that we would blog about our jobs, certainly with regard to the kids...

CONAN: Well, I think, John Palfrey, wasn't there a teacher who did blog about work and left his job?

Mr. PALFREY: There are a fair number of stories of the sort, but--and Jo raises a great point, which is there are, in the educational context, lots of wonderful applications of Weblogs. And there are things that you can't do because of privacy rules. I would submit that the reading of the FERPA law that you're suggesting is probably an overreach in terms of what that law actually says. I actually use blogs a fair amount in my teaching.

JO: Well, yeah, I argue that, too, but they don't tell anyway.

Mr. PALFREY: Yeah. Well, I understand. The real law that applies is as it's interpreted in your school. So I'm not quarreling with that. But, you know, in the context of Weblogs, librarians are often the leaders in terms of using the technology in useful ways. And I hope that there might be some ways that the school could support you using it in the context of the substantive elements of your work.

CONAN: Might there...

JO: Yeah, I could certainly write about what I do in terms of my job, but I couldn't write about individuals. Or, if I did, it would have to be so shrouded in lack of details, I guess; it would have to be, you know, real generic.

Mr. PALFREY: One...

JO: I've got a essay going on in my head right now about the problems we have at school--I'm in a school that's very high socioeconomic, but that doesn't, for example, shield us from lots and lots of problems. But the details would have to be really generic or you could tell who these kids were.

CONAN: I see.

JO: And I'd have to write under a pseudonym. And, you know, it makes it really difficult for us to convey to the public some of our problems, I think...

Mr. PALFREY: Well, one thing, actually, Jo...

JO: ...'cause you can't be very specific.

Mr. PALFREY: One thing that educators often do in this context is to use the blogs as a way of having communication with your students, and even without having to reveal names of students, although sometimes students also blog and you can link to them. But I do find it a very useful way to talk about the things that I'm thinking about in my research and communicate that back to students who are in the classes that I'm teaching. So that might be a way to apply them.

CONAN: Thanks for the call, Jo.

JO: You know, that way, but certainly not to the larger community.

CONAN: Thanks again, Jo. Appreciate it.

So far we've been talking about employee blogging and its ramifications. The flip side of that is corporate blogging. That's when a chief executive or some big honcho maintains an online journal to boost the company profile. Auto giant General Motors has tried its hand in a journal called The Fast Lane. To tell us more about that, joining us now is Michael Wiley, GM's director of New Media. He's with us by phone from his office in Detroit.

Nice to have you on TALK OF THE NATION.

Mr. MICHAEL WILEY (Director of New Media, General Motors): It's a pleasure to be with you today. Thank you.

CONAN: Tell us about The Fast Lane blog. Who writes it? Who reads it?

Mr. WILEY: Well, The Fast Lane blog was created to bring a focus to some of our products. And our primary spokesperson for the blog is Bob Lutz. And Bob is a very busy guy, as you can imagine. And Bob does most of his blogging from a BlackBerry, believe it or not.

CONAN: Really? He's got good fingers.

Mr. WILEY: Yes, he does. And he's quite a writer as well. And I think that's one thing that's really added to the allure of our blog. It's had a big impact connecting us with consumers who we're finding typically would have been going for the imports, people that are not in our consideration sphere these days. And it's ignited an interesting conversation on the Internet.

CONAN: I've forgotten Bob Lutz's title, but he's way up in the stratosphere there at GM.

Mr. WILEY: Yeah, he's a vice chairman. And he's responsible for all of our product development globally.

CONAN: Now what's to stop people from assuming that this is just a PR ploy?

Mr. WILEY: You know, we've had people that have taken stabs at us with that. It basically was something that we had been thinking about for a long time. We looked at blogs for about two years. And when we were first considering them, we--you know, we didn't have the right approach, and we basically took a step back, looked at the successful blogs; we kind of did a little bit of a feeler with some of the blog pundits, saying, `What is the right thing to do? How should a company best blog? What kind of ethical guidelines and policies should we adopt?' and that sort of thing.

So after gathering that sort of information and building credibility with the so-called pundits, we launched our blog. And I think it's been successful because it's candid, it's open, it's not cleansed by the PR staff, and we accept the negatives as well as the positives. If any of the listeners, you know, happen to visit The Fast Lane, you'll see just as many negative comments as the positives. And what we do is we take those negatives and, based on the topic of the negative comment or the positive comment, we then direct those comments to the appropriate people within the company.

CONAN: So people can get action on their remarks as well.

Let's get another caller on the line. This is Joe. Joe's calling from Zanesville, Ohio.

JOE (Caller): Hi, Neal. Great show.

CONAN: Thanks.

JOE: I just wanted to comment. I'm actually an independent contractor for an eyewear manufacturer here, and we actually had a product come out in late November, and the--I'm not sure who it was; I want to say it was the president of our company, actually, invited everybody and anybody to go onto a Web site dedicated to this new product. And he, along with his staff, would actually sign on, I'm going to say, you know, at the beginning, on a daily occurrence, you know. And just like the GM guy here, you know, they would take the negative along with the positive. And it was neat to have those guys actually in there, you know, commenting back to, you know, the average, you know--it's kind of a pun, but the average Joe, you know. I mean, or people who are taking shots at, you know, hey, how about this color or how about this color, how about this size, you know, and different aspects like that. And I'll take the...

CONAN: Well...

JOE: ...response offline.

CONAN: Well, Joe, just let me ask you a quick question. So...

JOE: Yeah.

CONAN: ...would you describe it as a PR tool, and if so, did it work?

JOE: I would describe it as a PR tool, yeah. It was a great advertising tool. I mean, this--we had a lot of exposure on the product, but, you know, of course, like any salesmen know, the more exposure, the better, you know, as long as it's positive. But then again, you gotta take the negative with that, you know. And that's...

CONAN: Yeah.

JOE: I think that's how you make a better product.

CONAN: Joe, thanks very much.

JOE: Thank you.

CONAN: Well, Mike Wiley, GM got some bad news again today. The financial appraiser, Fitch Ratings, downgraded GM's credit to junk bond status. Would that be addressed in the log?

Mr. WILEY: No, this blog is something where we deal primarily with product issues and product focus. We've actually considered moving into more of a corporate issues type space, but as you can imagine, that gets to be much more complicated when you get into the various SEC guidelines and what have you. So it--but it is something that we're interested in doing, yes. We're considering that.

Just going back to your questions regarding the PR aspects of this, I guess when it gets right down to brass tacks, it is a bit of a PR exercise. But for a major company like GM--you know, GM conjures up for a lot of people a fairly predictable image. And by using something like a Weblog in which you give an executive the opportunity to show his personality, it does have a humanizing effect on the company. And that's one of the things we're going for because when people look at big companies like General Motors and, you know, you can list the usual suspects, we often just get kind of painted with a broad brush, and people forget that there are actually people that work here. And by using a blog and letting Bob talk about various things of interest to him, automotive design or--and we've even gone outside the auto space at times--it humanizes us. And that's one of the things we're going for.

CONAN: Now it's OK then for the corporate vice president to blog. What about everybody else at GM? Are they encouraged to take their comments to the Internet?

Mr. WILEY: We are not encouraging that currently, but, believe me, it is something that we are grappling with every day. I mean, it's a complex conundrum. You've got 320,000 people working for the company. They could be your strongest sales force. If they're out there blogging and they're talking about your product, the word-of-mouth potential is, you know, pretty amazing. But at the same time, we've got intellectual property we need to protect. And we also need to make sure people are doing their primary job. So it's something that we've been discussing. But, you know, unlike a few of the tech companies, we do not have a policy today.

CONAN: So this is all evolving because it's all pretty new?

Mr. WILEY: It is. You know, personal Web pages have been around for, let's say, 10 years or so. And we haven't really had too many incidences where people have taken, let's say, private photographs or private documents or what have you and posted them on a personal Web site. So it is an issue that we've dealt with. But the blogging kind of adds this new journalistic, you know, grassroots journalism aspect to it in which people are giving more of a diary of their day-to-day existence. And that then kind of makes it a little more complex than the personal Web pages. And that's something we're trying to deal with.

CONAN: Mike Wiley, thanks very much.

Mr. WILEY: Thank you.

CONAN: Mike Wiley, director of New Media for General Motors, and he joined us by phone from his office in Detroit, Michigan.

Let's get another caller on the line. And this is Ben. Ben's with us from New Haven, Connecticut.

BEN (Caller): Hello. How are you?

CONAN: Very well. Thanks.

BEN: Good. Thanks for taking the call. I just wanted to suggest that considering that employees have the right to communicate with each other to improve their working conditions in a consorted fashion, including organizing unions, it would seem to me that employees would have the right to do that over the Internet if they had their own Web sites.

CONAN: John Palfrey?

Mr. PALFREY: Sure. Ben brings up a good point, which is there are a number of laws you've raised--whistle-blowers before, but he's referring, of course, to labor statutes that would apply in this online context as in the offline context. But I think that you don't want to overstep how far that'll take you in terms of the ability of a company to take recourse if it needs to, so would it actually be covered? It would have to look at the very specific kind of communication and the way that it was happening, and I wouldn't say overall that just because you're organizing some people to do something that you'd necessarily be able to avail yourself of the protection of the labor laws.

CONAN: And then, presumably, if any employee could read it, managers and executives could read it too.

BEN: Sure. But in a workplace where people are highly dispersed, you know, and might not have a whole lot of contact with each other--say, people out in the field or people telecommuting--this could be a great way for employees to get together and share, you know, both concerns and, you know, ways to organize to improve conditions in their workplace.

CONAN: OK, Ben. Thanks very much for the call.

BEN: Thank you.

CONAN: We're talking today about blogging and work.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

The technology firm Sun Microsystems is a company with a very liberal policy on employee blogs. Here to tell us more is Simon Phipps, the company's chief technology evangelist, and he joins us by phone from Southampton in England.

Nice of you to join us.

Mr. SIMON PHIPPS (Sun Microsystems): My pleasure.

CONAN: Can you tell us a little bit more about Sun's policy on blogging? Why is Sun willing to tolerate employee blogs?

Mr. PHIPPS: Well, it's really something that's an expression of a fundamental way that Sun operates. Sun is a company that is based on working with dispersed communities of engineers within the company and working with communities outside the company, so ever since Sun was founded in the early '80s, Sun has been working in Internet communities called Usenet and has been engaged in general conversations with customers and with partners and with other employees electronically over the Internet, and so it was really a very natural evolution of that behavior to get into Weblogs. So...

CONAN: Well, you'd think that proprietary information, technical secrets, if you will, might leak out.

Mr. PHIPPS: Well, that's possible, but that can happen in the restaurant in the evening. That can happen from people making postings on bulletin boards. That can happen with people talking to a journalist at a conference. You employ people who don't do that sort of thing, and we have over 30,000 really great employees who we know can be trusted to do what the company actually needs to happen. And so it's really no problem to empower them to also have a Weblog on some space.

CONAN: You've never had to discipline or reprimand an employee for violating company policy on this in any way?

Mr. PHIPPS: So far no. When we got started around about 18 months ago, we were really quite concerned that something bad was going to happen, and we put together a policy on external discourse, and basically that policy says `Be smart,' and if you're not smart, then something bad will happen. And so far, everyone has been smart, and we're very gratified by the fact that it turns out that we really do employ smart, trustworthy people, and...

CONAN: And...

Mr. PHIPPS: ...I suppose it's shame on us for believing that we didn't employ smart, trustworthy people.

CONAN: And the benefits, other than learning that you can trust your employees, are?

Mr. PHIPPS: Well, we're heading into a marketplace in the computer industry that is very connected, where customers and partners and competitors are all able to converse electronically in a variety of ways, and it's becoming harder and harder to have a marketplace where you just announce what you're about to do from a great height, from an ivory tower. We're heading more and more to a world that is a narrative world, where there are conversations in place between employees and their employer, between company representatives and customer representatives and so on. And we believe that in that sort of world the best narrative is held between the people who are the most authoritative, and in that case, that's our employees, it isn't our PR people. It isn't even necessarily our executives, also we have some very senior executives blogging in the company.

CONAN: And does the company monitor these blogs to make sure nothing terrible gets out?

Mr. PHIPPS: The company doesn't monitor in a formal way. We have around about a thousand employees who have Weblogs on our blogs.sun.com Web site, and those employees all read each other's blogs every day, and when there are cases where people are saying things that are questionable, a fairly vigorous conversation opens up on their internal mailing lists.

CONAN: Simon Phipps, thanks very much. Appreciate your time this evening.

Mr. PHIPPS: Thanks.

CONAN: Simon Phipps is chief technology evangelist--yeah, that's his job at Sun Microsystems, as well as an avid blogger himself, and he joined us by phone from Southampton in England. We're going to take a short break, and when we come back we'll continue our conversation on blogging and work.

And advice to shoppers: Keep your plastic in your wallet. Technology has new ways to get at your money.

I'm Neal Conan. You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

(Announcements)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

And here are the headlines on some of the stories we're following here today at NPR News. The Senate voted to end debate on the nomination of Texas Judge Priscilla Owen to the federal appeals court. That means she's likely to be confirmed, perhaps by tomorrow. Her confirmation had long been held up by Senate Democrats. Today's vote followed a compromise agreement among Senate moderates last night to end the dispute on the filibuster fight. The House of Representatives is getting to vote on a controversial bill to expand federal funding for research on stem cells taken from human embryos. You can hear details on those stories and much more later today on "All Things Considered" from NPR News.

Tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION, America's policy on defensive and offensive weapons in space is being reconsidered. We'll look at the international implications and technological challenges of weapons in space tomorrow on TALK OF THE NATION.

Right now we're wrapping up our conversation on blogging at work. Our guest is John Palfrey, director of Harvard University's Berkman Center for the Internet & Society, and let's get another caller on the line. This is Clint. Clint's with us from Stoughton, Wisconsin.

CLINT (Caller): Right. Neal, Stoughton (pronounced differently), Wisconsin. Thanks...

CONAN: I apologize.

CLINT: ...for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure. CLINT: Yeah. I actually started a blog when I was in school and continued it now as a--I'm a pastor in a Lutheran congregation, and one of the things that I discovered as I went along is you have to pay attention to the difference between when you're blogging just as an individual and when you're blogging on topics that might be related to your work, and then you now are like a public figure.

CONAN: Uh-huh.

CLINT: I'm not in danger of giving away trade secrets necessarily, as a pastor, but it--definitely there's the risk that if you're blogging on anything that's related to the life of your congregation it's not unlike blogging on topics related to your corporation. And I actually maintained for a while a blog that was a group blog where I invited some other people to participate, and what I found out after I invited them in is not everyone had had the longtime experience of blogging and therefore didn't realize the distinction necessarily between, you know, who could read it, how many people could read it. So I think that I would agree with some of those who have talked before about how this is an emerging technology where we're going to have to keep learning as we go exactly what's appropriate to blog and how to educate everybody about that.

CONAN: Sure, you could certainly see how your congregation would be sensitive about even stuff where you say, `The following opinions are my own.'

CLINT: Yeah. Even if I do that, I'm still representing my congregation, I guess, in a certain kind of way. I even went with deciding to put a disclaimer on the blog that says that, you know, although these things are related to things like theology and maybe in an abstract way my work, they're only my own reflections and don't represent the views necessarily of my denomination or my congregation.

CONAN: That might work. Clint, thanks very much.

CLINT: Yeah. You're welcome.

CONAN: Here's an e-mail we got from Dana in Jacksonville, Florida. `For the person simply trying to communicate with friends and relatives, there are options. Blog sites like LiveJournal.com allow users to privacy-protect certain entries so that only certain other people can read their entries. There are options.' John Palfrey, is that an option for many people?

Mr. PALFREY: I think it's a really important point and actually ties up to some of what Clint is saying too, which is there's not one size fits all for blogging where you're thinking in terms of the voice--who you are that's saying it--or the intended audience. I think this is a great idea that you can have open and closed spaces on the Internet.

If you are a pastor of a church and you're speaking to your congregation, that requires one set of rules and one set of expectations around it. If you're a student who's talking to other students or to your parents, that might be another set, and maybe if it's labor organizing, you want a closed space. And it's not that hard to find blogging software that's open to the world and there's--not that hard to find blogging software that'll let you have a closed conversation.

CONAN: And if you did want to scurrilously gossip about your employees and complain about the quality of the products and management's incompetence, can you do that anonymously and get away with it?

Mr. PALFREY: Sure. So much better to use LiveJournal or some other software that allows you to have a closed community and, best of all, to do so without disclosing who you are. Now it's obviously possible to determine who the anonymous or pseudonymous person is, so you don't want to go too far with this, and obviously law enforcement needs a way to get in and find out if something really gets to an egregious level. But certainly if you do feel the need to say something about your corporation and it's negative, it obviously would be sensible not to disclose who you are.

CONAN: Let's see if we get one more call in on this. Sarah joins us. Sarah's been very patient in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

SARAH (Caller): Hi, Neal. Thanks for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

SARAH: I had an employee who just left the company, and while I was cleaning her computer out of miscellaneous files, I came across in her favorites file her own personal Weblog. And I started reading it and much to my surprise, and somewhat dismay, she spoke about company employees in--well, not a nice way and executives and went ahead and revealed some very personal stuff about her own life, and did all of this for the past two and a half years on company time because it showed the date and times of the entries.

CONAN: You did note `former' employee.

SARAH: Former employee. She just left to take another job, and that's when I discovered this.

CONAN: Oh, so this was not--she's not former as a result of these activities.

SARAH: No, she's not. Matter of fact, she doesn't even know that I know this site exists.

Mr. PALFREY: Maybe she does now, Sarah.

CONAN: Maybe she does now. Broadcasting's a little like Weblogging.

SARAH: Yeah, well, she could.

CONAN: Do you suspect that there's interesting information about her new company on the Weblog?

SARAH: I checked it as of recent, and there hasn't been a recent update, but I just was surprised by how honest she was about how much she didn't like her job and speaking about other employees and--although it's unlikely I would have found out about this Web site, I have to shake my head, 'cause why would you leave it in your favorites folder?

CONAN: Yeah, you'd think `Bloggers, beware' would be enough to get--erase that particular item.

SARAH: Exactly. Yeah.

CONAN: Sarah, thanks very much. We appreciate it.

SARAH: Thank you. Bye.

CONAN: And, John Palfrey, thank you so much for your time today. We appreciate your time as well.

Mr. PALFREY: Thanks, Neal. Great show.

CONAN: John Palfrey is director of Harvard University's Berkman Center for the Internet & Society. He joined us from a studio on the campus of Harvard University.

Copyright © 2005 NPR. All rights reserved. No quotes from the materials contained herein may be used in any media without attribution to NPR. This transcript is provided for personal, noncommercial use only, pursuant to our Terms of Use. Any other use requires NPR's prior permission. Visit our permissions page for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by a contractor for NPR, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of NPR's programming is the audio.

Comments

 

Please keep your community civil. All comments must follow the NPR.org Community rules and terms of use, and will be moderated prior to posting. NPR reserves the right to use the comments we receive, in whole or in part, and to use the commenter's name and location, in any medium. See also the Terms of Use, Privacy Policy and Community FAQ.

Support comes from: