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I've been online since 1971 and I like to smoothe the way for everyone else. Among other things I co-founded Sympatico, the world's first easy-to-use Internet service (and Canada's largest).

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Saturday, September 23, 2006

HP and Web 2.0

Naturally I’m going to talk about a Web 2.0 angle on the mess at HP.

In a Web 2.0 world where anyone can publish, it’s much more difficult for a corporation to control a story than back when it was just the traditional media who had to be influenced. To some extent this is because spin doctors haven’t yet learned how to effectively influence bloggers etc., something I’m sure they’ll get better at, but there is also the speed and volume of public commentary. By the time a corporation manages to issue another press release to try to control the damage caused by the last one, it’s too late.

Corporate people are going to have to start thinking more like politicians, who worry about public opinion. It’s not surprising to me that senior officials at a megacorporation like HP were so insular that they only thought about the issue as an internal matter, and were willing to engage in questionable activities as long as they seemed to be “not unlawful”, in the words of Kevin Hunsaker, the HP lawyer who oversaw the project.

Hunsaker was also the company’s Chief Ethics Officer. Why on earth did that position go to a lawyer? Lawyers deal with law, not ethics. I think the answer is that “ethics” have become corporatized, something that I don’t think will prove to be sustainable.

Web 2.0 empowers the small, relative to the big. Big corporations would do well to recognize this and react. But those ships are too big to turn around quickly. And I think that corporate culture is the most difficult thing for a company to change.

When I was much younger I thought I’d like to work for HP some day; it was the only large company I really admired at the time. Now, not so much.

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