Why we owe Troutgirl our thanks

In my contribution to InfoWorld's Six Myths of IT, I mentioned the controversy around Friendster's switch from Java to PHP. The blog posting at the eye of that hurricane was this one from Joyce Park, aka Troutgirl. Now, this:

So I was terminated from Friendster today. The reason given was blogging.

The levels of irony on this are pretty deep. For one thing, I wrote a fairly well-known paper last year about the need for semi-permeable blogging. For another thing, by all accounts the particular posts that led to my termination were this one and this one (although feel free to check my archives for any other incriminating information). I try really hard not to blog about anything that is not a matter of public record... but I guess that's not protection any more. You get Slashdotted, make Udell's column, lose your job. And finally, it's especially ironic because Friendster, of course, is a company that is all about getting people to reveal information about themselves... [Troutgirl]

Did Park's postings reveal a trade secret? In this comment attached to Jeremy Zawodny's reaction, she lays that notion convincingly to rest:

You may have noticed that Friendster's file extensions switched from .jsp to .php. There's also this:


Generally by law, once a company makes something publically available information, they cannot claim an employee violated any kind of confidentiality agreement or trade secret.

There's no question that Park's talents and accomplishments will shine elsewhere. But when you're kicked off a team that you love, knowing that things will work out is small consolation for the hurt.

As Park notes, there are deep ironies at work here. Her paper, Towards Semi-Permeable Blogging, wrestles with issues that have perplexed me for many years: identity, privacy, anonymity, transparency, accountability. She concludes:

...in the past the promise of privacy in communication media has led to an increase in expression. For this reason, we think it rather unlikely that increased privacy would lead to a disastrous closing off of the great conversation that is the Internet. Instead, it will create more rooms in the mansion: those who wish can still shout their ideas from the street, while others will choose to unburden themselves only to trusted friends in their own living rooms. Obviously everyone hopes that bloggers will choose to keep much of their expression public and free -- but it should be each individual's choice to make, aided by software that recognizes the eternal tension between the human needs for freedom and privacy. [Joyce Park: Towards Semi-Permeable Blogging]

The best current example of software that meets that requirement is clearly Groove. You don't hear much about it precisely because its raison d'ĂȘtre is the formation of small groups hidden away in private rooms of the mansion. In a private room full of Friendster developers, of course, Park's posting about the Friendster rewrite would have been uninteresting. All of the energy was bound up in the connection between that private room and the public conversation. It was that interaction that produced, for example, Rasmus Lerdorf's enlightening comment, along with a whole series of related analyses to which my article was merely the coda.

Ecologists know that life is most interesting, and also most dangerous, at habitat boundaries -- where the ocean meets the shore, where the forest meets the meadow. And in the virtual world, where the private meets the public. A healthy ecosystem requires that we colonize that marginal zone. When people get hurt trying to do that -- in the right ways, for the right reasons -- we should offer them not only our condolences, but also our thanks.

Former URL: http://weblog.infoworld.com/udell/2004/08/31.html#a1065