The Perils and Promise of ?You?

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Several events in the last few weeks have served to underscore the perils and promises of the user-driven web.  Is a backlash starting against “you”?

Last week my Collaboration Loop colleague Mike Gotta wrote about the response of Digg users to the pulling of an article that exposed HD-DVD encryption keys (See “What if a “Mob” ruled your company?”).  Mike’s post underscored the potentially chaotic and disruptive nature of the user-driven web in which events can spark on-line uprisings against web sites for a variety of different reasons.

Since then, we’ve seen several other incidents that further underscores the power (or disruptive ability) of social networking.

Despite polling in the low single digits, GOP candidate Ron Paul swept a number of on-line polls after the recent presidential debate.  Paul took 43% of MSNBC’s post-debate on-line poll, and took 18,000 out of 21,000 votes in ABC’s on-line poll as well.  On May 9th “Ron Paul” was the most searched upon term on the Technorati blog search site.

Paul’s showing in these polls has helped him stay on the stage for future debates, and it underscores how lesser-known candidates can exploit the user-driven web to gain a national stage.

Previous to the Ron Paul phenomenon we saw how opponents of Hillary Clinton used YouTube to propagate a video suggesting a Clinton presidency would usher in the world George Orwell envisioned in his book “1984.”  This incident too underscores the ability of individuals or groups to leverage the social web, in effect the social web becomes an information channel in and of itself, supplanting traditional media as a way of reaching the eyes and ears of the public. 

Already we’re starting to see a backlash.  Today the U.S. Department of Defense started blocking access to YouTube and MySpace from computers connected to official DoD networks .  The DoD stated reasoning for this action is to reduce the strain on data networks from video and audio, but it’s not hard to fathom that the DoD was afraid of  unauthorized material being leaked or viewed by DoD personnel, perhaps a backlash against the wide-open social networking sites propagating across the Internet.

Last week as well the Democratic National Committee issued cease and desist letters to, a conservative message board, demanding its owners remove discussions around an alleged phone call between DNC chair Howard Dean and Kansas Governor Kathleen Sebelius about the impact of the Iraq war and Kansas’s ability to respond to recent devastating tornadoes.  The most interesting aspect of this example is that the DNC went after a site that enabled discussion of the allegations, in addition to those that initially made the allegation.

Enterprises and vendors are well served to learn the lessons from those that are successfully leveraging social networks, as well as any further backlashes that occur.  It wasn’t difficult to predict that at some point there would be legal and public challenges to the free and open nature of social networking.  The question now is whether or not these incidents serve to curtail the social network phenomena, or simply represent a blip along the highway of social network development.

Editor's Choice
Sara Peters, Editor-in-Chief, InformationWeek / Network Computing
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
John Edwards, Technology Journalist & Author
James M. Connolly, Contributing Editor and Writer