Sunday, September 25, 2005

Off the record

Mark Rittman had some interesting comments this morning (not that he isn't interesting other times of course). At then end of his blog he mentioned the responsibility of confidentiality and trust placed in people that do this blog thing right now. The concept is "if you are talking to someone that has a large public readership - is what you are saying to them 'on record' or 'off record'".

To me, it is all off record unless I ask your permission. Just recently, I wrote about Trust, in there I named a person I had a conversation with (Kathy Sierra) and quoted an email from her. Prior to doing that I asked for her permission.  I had to wait for a couple of days since she was away at a conference without connectivity - so that blog sat in my folder for a while before I printed it.  In that same one, I quoted Gunnar Bjarnason - and he knew I was going to (right after he said that quote to me, I told him I want to put that into the blog and he said that would be great). 

For me, it is a two way street.  I've been quoted a couple of times on dbdebunk, most recently with this posting. Each time however, I knew it was coming and on an earlier one - I even got to say "if you are going to make that public, I'd rather it be said this way" and he obliged, since he was quoting an email message that was otherwise private (he contacted me, not the other way around).  I also had the choice in that case to say "no, don't publish that". Fabian does have a printed policy on commentary you send him however.

That is more than professional courtesy, that is the way it has to be done. I've some emails that would be "fun" to print, but would never do it. What goes around, comes around as they say and I sure wouldn't like everything I've ever said (or typed, email to me being a form of conversation) posted. 

So, yes, I agree with Mark that what is said to someone should be "private, not for the blog" unless you ask first - or make it known that the question you are asking the person is going to be written about.  Just so they know and are not surprised.

Even something as simple as "what company did I talk to", I ask permission first. Anyone could have a valid reason for not wanting others to know.

So, now you know, if you ever end up sitting next to me at dinner at a conference, or on a customer visit or because I'm there to fix a problem you are having and we talk - it is off the record.  The concepts might come through - if you say something "deep" or teach me something new (and I'll try to attribute you - if you let me) but the confidentiality, it is there.

On an unrelated note, it was fun to watch what OOW did to the hits on the blog:



while I don't expect it to remain at that level - it was neat to see that event cause such a spike.



Blogger Peter K said....

I agree with you there. For any emails sent to me, they are considered private and if I wish to share, then I would get permission from the sender before doing so. This is the same for any conversations/discussions between myself and someone else BUT I could blog in general terms what was discussed without giving specifics unless a NDA is in place.

Are there any exceptions? How about emails containing threats supposely from known persons (after all we all know that email addresses are easily spoofed)? Personally, I am okay with releasing general details as in "Received an email which contains threats of the following nature in response to comments/blog entries made." but not will releasing the actual contents word for word.

Sun Sep 25, 02:06:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Mark said....

An interesting variation on this is writing about issues you come across when working with clients. I've posted a couple of articles like this ( and are good examples) where I've come across and issue that I felt was worth sharing with a wider audience. Now I've always been very careful to not name the customer or the sector they're in (often to the point of changing their details to "blur the trail") and I've tried to leave a few weeks since I was there before I post; in all cases, table names, type of data and so on are all changed.

In both those instances I didn't specifically ask the client whether I could post the article, but as I blurred the details and made sure that there was nothing embarrassing that I printed, I thought this would be OK. I did however get concerned when I noticed one of the client's staff had posted a follow-up on one of the articles, although as it agreed with the article's point I took this as being OK.

Now, I guess by the "letter of the law" I was in the clear as the client couldn't be identified from the example, and there was nothing uncomplimentary in it, but of course a future client could take it differently and other potential clients could be put off from using me at all if they thought all of their "mistakes" were fair game for articles on the blog. Therefore, I think Tom's approach, "everything is off the record unless I ask otherwise, and you give permission" is both the clearest and safest, and certainly stating this upfront (most of my clients know of the blog, in fact many have come about because of it) is probably the best way to go about things, certainly keeps things on the level and everyone happy.

Sun Sep 25, 02:27:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Eddie Awad said....

I have blogged and will blog about anything public without hesitation. By public I mean any non-privileged information that is available to the masses be it through the internet, books, newspapers, magazines....

However, I would ask for a written consent before I write about any private material like e-mail communications, personal conversations, private documents..., my intimate life...

Sun Sep 25, 03:44:00 PM EDT  

Anonymous Anonymous said....


Tom you say
So, yes, I agree with Mark that what is said to someone should be "private, not for the blog" unless you ask first

doesn't resemble the 2PC (2 phase commit) where you, the quoter, are the master database?


Sun Sep 25, 05:08:00 PM EDT  

Blogger Howard J. Rogers said....

I personally take the Fabian Pascal line: if you send me something, what I then choose to do with it is up to me. I find that approach tends to cut down the number of threatening emails I get from certain quarters, on the grounds that the author knows what will be done with such threats.

But obviously, I also get emails from all sorts of people saying, in effect, 'please keep this one under your hat', and I respect those sorts of requests. Those sorts of correspondents are ones you get to know over time, and I presume they get to know and trust me in return to honour such requests.

So, where there's a relationship built up over time, it's irrelevant what the 'published policy' is, because it all comes down to personal trust, and professional and ethical conduct. But for posters out of left field, I think an unambiguous 'I have the right to do with this as I will' (a) acknowledges reality and (b) is helpful in establishing clear guidelines. And, entirely incidentally, it happens to (c) cut down on abuse.

What goes on with clients under non-disclosure rules of commercial conduct is another matter entirely, of course!

Sun Sep 25, 06:56:00 PM EDT  


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