Why Apple doesn’t have a blogging policy (it ain’t what you think….) (Apple Post-mortem, part 4 of some number….)

The Apple Post-Mortem series
Jobs I wish I could have taken at Apple (Apple Post-mortem, part 2 of some number....)

Here’s my view of why Apple never implemented a blog policy. It’s not what you think, either….

But first, a digression through Sun:

ongoing · Oh My Goodness Gracious:

In a recent piece on the new Project Blackbox, I used some coarse language, in an idiomatic way, not giving it much thought. The consequences were surprising.

NearWalden » Tim’s Bomb:

Last night I got back from Pop!Tech and found that I had 110 new emails. While I always get a lot of email, this was a surprise since I’d just checked it 4 hours earlier. The trigger for this email was a posting by Tim Bray on his Ongoing blog where he dropped the F-Bomb, and which had been picked up and written about by the Inquirer citing Tim as a Sun employee.

Since Sun one of the most open companies from a blogging point of view, these discussions are critical. We’re in new territory, and the best way to sort through these issues is through open dialogue, which was taking place on the bloggers email list inside the company.

Instead of being the 198th email, I thought I’d just post my thoughts here. First a disclosure: I’m a Sun VP and a private blogger, so I’m writing this from both of those perspectives. It’s also important to understand that Tim has on blog which he uses for everything. Given the overlap in his personal and professional interests, there’s some sensibility to this. Others of us at Sun keep personal and Sun blogging separate in two blogs

This, in essence, is why Apple has no blog policy. Sort of.

People who knew me at Apple knew I had a couple of catch phrases I used a lot. One was “it’s all my fault”, which was how I and my team described the project we worked on the last few years. That actually tied back to a project review early on where I did a presentation to upper management where I introduced all of the team members in a dilbertesque org chart (Michelle was She Who Must be Obeyed, Jason was Boy Wonder, and my director — who fortunately has a sense of humor — was the pointy-haired boss and the person in charge of saying “no”.). Me — I described my role as “it’s all my fault”, which, like the project code name (“Chatterbox”), took on a life of its own.

The second catch phrase was a bit less positive; it was “if they’re not trying to fire my butt at least once a year, I’m not working hard enough”. That, like “It’s all my fault” also had some basis in truth, and only partially because I insisted on blogging without hiding my employment identity. Doing so would have been rather difficult, given that I’d been blogging, or doing equivalent public discourse, since before I actually worked at Apple, and in a number of situations (like my work for lists.apple.com) was the public face of the project and primary contact. It was generally realized that this genie wasn’t going back in that bottle, and I didn’t particularly want it to. And, of course, every so often I’d say something that would piss someone off and create a fire drill, although I never really got more than a good talking to about watching my butt. (the other reason I tended to almost get fired is that I had this tendency to every so often call bullshit on something — usually correctly, but not necessarily in a politically safe way, and usually to someone rather high up on the food chain. usually when I was on deadline and exhausted and not being quite careful enough. Fortunately, I’ve never been afraid to loudly apologize for being a twit, either, and we always found a way to turn these into learning experiences — and usually got the damn project fixed to boot.

(digression: a basic reality of being willing to speak your mind: you are going to put your foot in your mouth. that’s a given. It’s how you extract it that matters — and one thing that many bloggers do poorly, or pretend is unnecessary. People have long memories, and I believe we should strive that those memories be pleasant ones. A well-placed and EARNEST apology does wonders to undo a nasty situation, especially when you realize that they’re right and you were a jerk. We all are at times, folks. Smart people admit it and do something about it. Trust me, flowers help — a lot. So does walking office to office to talk to folks; email apologies suck, unless you have no other choice due to distance. Try the phone….)

Anyway, back to now. There have been various discussions about Apple, blogging, and policies (and lack of). There have been any number of discussions about Apple and its blogging policy (or lack of one), both external and internal. I spent a fair amount of time at one point talking to people and trying to see what was possible, what made sense, and the question finally was taken to Apple Legal informally for their thought. And they thought about it for a while, and came back with “we already have one that governs employee communication — why should we need a special one for blogging?”

And that’s true, of most companies, not just Apple. In Apple’s case, it governs email, IM, blogging, public speaking, pretty much anything. There’s no corporate “no blogging” policy. there IS a corporate “don’t act as a spokesman” policy, but it applies equally to all communications, not just blogging. And in my discussions with the people involved, the only argument that could be made (or, at least, that I could figure out to make) in favor of a formal blogging policy, other than it’d be good PR, is that it would override some manager’s decisions to put their own policies in place for their group (especially out in the retail stores area). To be honest? I frankly DON’T have much problem with giving a manager discretion here to manage this kind of policy a bit, but a few managers around the company overdid it (IMHO), but it was rare enough that I don’t think anyone felt it was worth putting the time and energy into formalizing a policy when existing policies covered it. It wasn’t broke, we all had better things to do. end of story.

So, now we have the Masked Blogger. I have some ideas who it might be, actually. And I honestly think there’s a fair chance it’s sanctioned and designed to generate feedback on topics in a way that a non-anonymous blog from Apple couldn’t. that’s the joy of non-transparency, you don’t know who’s pimping who.

And, of course, Scoble chimes in with the same old, same old.

Anonymous Apple blogger starts up « Scobleizer – Tech Geek Blogger:

I don’t like anonymous blogs, but Apple deserves a raft of them. Apple’s PR department has employees freaked out about having conversations with customers in public.

Robert, that’s bullshit. And you should know it.

The reality is, Apple employees can blog, and do. I know a few dozen. Most of them simply don’t telegraph their affiliation. Not because they can’t, not because they’re afraid to, but because they’ve seen what happens to people who DO (like me). They don’t WANT to be Apple bloggers. In my discussions with various ones over the years, if Apple DID in fact “legalize” blogging, I’d say 90% of them would continue to fly under the radar and do things the way they are today. Very few of them WANT to come out of this particular closet.

Why should they? putting an apple on their breast simply makes them a target to every anti-mac pc-bigot or customer with a problem looking for someone to solve it for them. These folks don’t WANT that sort of fun.

Here’s the fun part: while Scoble talks about blogging as if there is no way to communicate without it being on a blog, he completely misses the bigger picture.

IT AIN’T ABOUT BLOGGING. It’s about communication. it’s about sharing information. It’s about solving problems. And while Scoble loves to babble about blogs (because he is, ultimately, a blogger, not a communicator), Apple employees have been out there working with the customer base.

Wander through any of the lists.apple.com mailing lists, one of Apple’s core communication tools with their developers. On EVERY list, you’ll come to realize there are Apple engineers on them, answering questions, helping people, doing things. Same with the online forums (Apple’s and others). There are people out there, doing ad-hoc tech support on a regular basis. Some of them actually have it as part of their job description, some of them do it because they feel they should. I’d guess there are 100 Apple employees active on lists.apple.com alone, and likely that many on the Apple support boards.

They just don’t advertise who they are, or use apple.com addresses. But if you follow the conversations going on, you’ll start recognizing names that keep popping up. And this tradition of Apple employees getting involved in communities predates blogging, predates Scoble — it ties back to Apple’s early attachment to USENET and MUGs and mailing lists and forums going back into the Apple II days, and it continues today. Dozens of Apple employees committing hundreds of man hours a week.

The difference between them and someone like Scoble? Apple people do it to solve problems. Scoble seems to believe the purpose is to get credit for doing it. Scoble believes that the future is in blogging. Apple long ago figured out that the REAL need is communication, and blogging is ONE tool that can be used for some aspects of communicating with customers. Scoble only has a hammer in his toolbox, so all of us look like nails.

And THAT is why Apple has no blogging policy. Because, frankly, it’d just get in the way of what is already going on: working with and communicating with Apple’s customers. Apple and its employees long ago figured out it was better to get the job done and not worry so much about taking credit for it.

One need only look at what happens on lists.apple.com to see how well that model works. To say that it has to be blogging, or it isn’t real or isn’t useful, is really to admit that you don’t understand the internet, or what this is all about online.

it’s not about blogging. It’s about communication, and it’s about solving problems. And Apple doesn’t NEED employee blogs to do that. It’s been doing that all along.

(to me, the difference is like giving to charities: do you do it to solve problems? Or because you want to be known as a humanitarian? It’s obvious which answer Scoble’s bought into….)

This entry was posted in Computers and Technology.
  • Ari

    Blogging is pretty much useless for supporting users with software or hardware issues. Forums and mailing lists are a much better method of getting a proper answer.
    If you enable comments on a blog, you likely to a really bad signal to noise ratio with spammers and trolls taking up most of the bandwidth.
    I am worried about this trend towards blogging. It is no substitute for direct two way communication via a mailing list or forum.

  • Anonymous Hack

    The point of blogging for many is to gain the fame and noteriety it takes to get into a place like Apple. Once you’re in, it’s gluttony.

  • Under the Radar

    I am an Apple employee who blogs. I do not speak for Apple, but because of the profile of the company, and the rampant pro and anti users, I have to watch what I write. BFD. If I don’t like it, I can work for a company that nobody cares about. I hear Symantec is hiring…

  • http://foolswisdom.com/~lloyd Lloyd D Budd

    Scoble’s statement matches my own experience. Apple bloggers I know always seemed to be doing a dance. They could not provide any personal opinion about anything to do with their work or any part of Apple.

  • Bill Lee

    Looks like Dave Winer has stepped in to the discussion (www.scripting.com) on blogging at Apple. My own experience are that you could blog, as long as you never mentioned Apple, its policies, its internal operations or actions, its people or its effects on your life. So you could run a blog on your homelife where you could wax lyrically on your cat and what you did in the weekends but couldn’t practically say anything else related to Apple because someone might construe that as you being a ‘spokesperson’ for Apple. If you did blog and talked about Apple things then you might fly under the radar – that is until someone quoted you in a wider forum or used your blog to further their agenda. At this time you were considered to have acted as a Spokesperson For Apple and action is likely to result. The higher up the chain this attention went, the more drastic this action was likely to be.
    I found that over a year after leaving Apple, I still have to be careful what I say and ask “…because people perceive what you said as coming from inside knowledge at Apple”. Those who have worked on the inside know how much we know about future products, policies and actions.

  • http://code404.com Señor Pantalones

    Good points.
    One major difference, imho, is that mailing lists and usenet groups are destinations for collaborative information exchange, whereas blogs are (mostly) solitary points of transmission.

  • http://www.irin.co.uk jean

    To blog you do not have to talk about macs, or a resolving issue or a new product.

  • http://thesandtrap.com/ Erik J. Barzeski

    I was one of “those bloggers” that, for a few years, also worked for Apple. I was also one of those bloggers who had a manager that was threatened, stupid, inept, or otherwise or for some reason overstepped the bounds of common sense and attempted to push a hard line on “acting as a spokesperson” to include simply mentioning the word “Apple,” even when that word was published strictly from an end-user perspective.
    As such, I also spent a good bit of my time quietly investigating the existence of an even informal blogging policy, and discovered, as you know, that there wasn’t one.
    Where one could have been helpful, however, was in clarifying what was and wasn’t valid. Is talking about a bug in Safari “acting as a spokesperson” (and thus “bad”), or do you have to dish corporate trade secrets, comment on unannounced products, etc.?