Whose voice is it anyway?

Last Friday night I posted a modified poster originally created by Albert Dome in 1942 for the U.S. government’s Office of Facts and Figures. The struggle of corporations to come to terms with a printing press at the fingertips of every employee is very interesting to me and as a history enthusiast I decided to express these curiosities through visual imagery from another era, an era of fear that the consequences of any action might be more than any individual would like to bear.

First, the full story. Every time I read stories about fear within organizations about employee weblogs I think of historical parallels and how society eventually moved on. The 95 theses of Martin Luther nailed to the Church of All Saints and the 95 theses of the Cluetrain Mainfesto posted on a website for everyone to view and comment. The struggle of Johann Gutenberg as he mass produced bibles in Frankfurt and the fear of the church that their authority would disappear as the ink no longer flowed directly from their quill to the eyes of the people. Control is usually exerted through fear, and propaganda posters from the Second World War and the subsequent Cold War epitomize a culture of fear and dire consequence awaiting you at every corner. I have talked about wanting to remix the themes of old cultures of fear represented by these propaganda posters with the new culture of fear emerging from corporate board rooms. I modified Albert Dome’s image to show this culture of fear in a medium most people are familiar with as being over-the-top and reminiscent of an Orwellian world we would never like to experience.

I published the an image on Flickr showing the dropped note depicted on the poster replaced with the logos of Movable Type, WordPress, Blogger, UserLand, and Blojsom. I picked these companies because they represent the new printing press and the new medium of communication causing fear and excitement simultaneously from varied audiences.

I pinged a few people over IM after I posted just to make sure I was not being too strong or offensive. A coworker contacted me to let me know he thought some people viewing the image might not comprehend my message and may take offense, but I like art that elicits a point of view. When I got to work I met with my boss to hear his opinion and I talked about my view on the image and the historical contexts. He pointed out to me that others might not see the image as my own work and opinion, but rather as a Technorati opinion. I was convinced this may be true for him, a company executive, but not for me. He expressed concern there was not even a disclaimer in the image description to designate the work as my own. I republished my original post and Flickr entry and added a disclaimer of individuality thinking it would be enough.

So what changed? Towards the end of the work day I find out Technorati received some feedback about the image. I was surprised since no one had contacted me directly or left a comment on Flickr or on my weblog. What I had previously perceived as corporate paranoia became a reality as I saw the feedback channel did not pass through me.

I have since realized the imagery was in bad taste, especially to the organizations involved. I used the logos of other corporations I felt represented the printing press at the fingertips of the masses and associated those companies with an image of a dying American soldier, a rifle butt, and barbed wire. It is not the type of image I would want associated with my business. I apologize to the companies and open source projects pictured. I see you as leaders in the space and empowering the conversations I love to see happen. At some point in my blogging history I have used every piece of software pictured.

I failed to comprehend the effects of my actions on Technorati. I have always operated under the assumption that until I reach executive status at any company I work for I remain an individual voice and do not represent the organization. Just as weblogs and corporate transparency changed the world we love to interact with daily, it has also changed the way we see corporations. We establish relationships with companies through their engaged employees for better or for worse. The voice and actions of individuals become associated with the companies and organizations of their employ.

The past day has been a huge wake-up call. I see now that the voice of a company is not limited to top level executives, vice-presidents, and public relations officers. It is a huge responsibility on the individual and a bit difficult to fully comprehend until you have seen the effects of an economy of conversations. I need to be more aware of my actions as they are perceived as the actions of Technorati.

My interpretation of Technorati’s current blogging policy is an attempt to make sure employees are aware of the weight their words carry in this new medium and new industry. It is a really difficult thing to communicate and I am still not sure how to communicate this message effectively to new employees. I will give the issue of corporate blogging some more thought and post again soon with my experiences and observations. It is for this reason it is recommended that Technorati employees seek the opinion of a coworker if they are unsure of how a post might be interpreted by others, to lend a fresh pair of eyes and an experienced mind to your intended message. Technorati subscribes to the idea that markets are conversations. We are all about a direct line of communication to our users and I intend to help facilitate those important conversations.

I am willing to answer any questions about what’s going on with Technorati or general issues of blogging within corporations. An important aspect of any conversation is for both sides to speak with a human voice. I am human, I made a mistake, and I hope to continue to have open and honest communication.