Chris Anderson has two network cables:
On my desk at work I have two ethernet cables. One is black and one is white. The black one is connected to our corporate network. I use that one when I want to print things. I could also use it for Internet access and stuff, but I don’t because the corporate network blocks a number of ports, including those used for Skype and Second Life. It’s also pretty slow.
The white cable, meanwhile, is a standard consumer-grade DSL connection to the Internet, with nothing blocked at all. Our local IT staff installed it by popular demand, possibly without checking with headquarters (we love our local IT staff!). It’s fast. I use it all the time.
These two cables are a handy metaphor for the two worlds of corporate computing: end users and the IT department. The chasm between them has never been greater, in part because the tools available on the wide open web have never been better.
I have only one – the black one. Except that it’s grey, which seems significant, somehow. Living in a black cable world is an odd existence. It isn’t just about the connection to the outside world – though what is allowed and what is blocked has a strange capriciousness to it, for me it’s more the frustration of not being able to control quite basic elements of my working environment.
Of course that’s not without reason – as Chris fully acknowledges. Those reasons are good and compelling. Inevitably, though, trade-offs are made. The problem is that the weighting doesn’t put any value on the time or energy – let alone the frustration – of end users. In other words, producer capture is almost automatic, which makes the social part of the problem just as interesting as the technical part.
Update: Jeremy Gould, a Whitehall webmaster, has also spotted Chris Anderson’s post and seems to reach a similar conclusion. He in turn links to a pithy post on the risks of not offering controlled access to the new stuff – which is essentially the old saw that the internet and its users will route round damage and that censorship (in any form) is damage that will be routed round. And to complete the chain, a commenter to that post links to a broader argument that the internet-immersed generation will just walk away from organisations which do not recognise their communication needs and preferences – and that smart companies will embrace their characteristics, not reject them:
Born between 1977 and 1996, the Net Generation grew up immersed in a digital world. The internet dominates their personal and social lives, from instant messaging to peer-to-peer filesharing to virtual communities. They publish and participate in online social networks and swap ideas as easily as they swap songs and videos.
So what happens when one of these fresh college graduates joins a firm and finds a staid, traditional intranet with a tightly controlled publishing model?
They hate it.
This is a very real problem for companies trying to attract and
retain new talent. These twentysomethings operate on principles of openness, participation and interactivity. If a company’s technology infrastructure, including the intranet, does not encourage free communication and collaboration, it misses a big opportunity. Worse, it alienates these younger, internet-savvy employees.
This issue is obviously bigger than just the IT department. It involves the culture of the entire organization.