Tag Archives: wikipedia

SOPA is dead, PIPA still alive and Wikipedia goes dark Wednesday

If you rely on Wikipedia (not sure I could live without it), it will be dark Wednesday. This unusual action is a protest against two bills that were under consideration in Congress: SOPA and PIPA. However, I just found out that SOPA is dead as of earlier today. PIPA (Protect IP Act) is the Senate’s version of the Stop Online Piracy Act as SOPA was called. (don’t you just love the names of legislation–so carefully crafted to be beyond argument or disagreement).

The storm of protest these proposed measures caused demonstrated the power inherent in this communication network we call the internet to influence our laws and future. There is a value system and an ethical platform that underlies this network and while far from homogeneous it is something that can be described and even felt. Any legislator, like any company leader, not fully understanding this value system runs the risk of serious damage. GoDaddy, one of the internet’s largest domain registry sites, lost 100,000 domain names in about 10 days because the CEO rather thoughtlessly backed SOPA, then changed his mind after he saw the damage. He should have learned more from his elephant hunting escapade.

Note to legislators–I understand that you are concerned, rightly so, about protecting IP. But, before cooking up more legislation along the lines of SOPA and PIPA I suggest two things: be aware of unintended consequences and how much damage you could do without even realizing it and 2) consult with the internet technorati and engage them in a solution that will help solve the problem and gain their support. If you don’t you may find “The Internet” will not want to see you re-elected.


Is there a future for crisis communication?

That may seem a very strange question, but hold on. The answer may not be as obvious as you think.

Let me ask the question this way: is there a future for encyclopedia writers in the age of wikipedia? It used to be that encyclopedia publishers would engage the skills and knowledge of verified experts to provide the content for everything from how quarks work to the history of the bowling ball.  They needed those experts because there was a demand for the kind of arcane or specialized knowledge that only a few people held and there was economic value in providing a summation of all that kind of knowledge. But, I don’t think there are very many people employed today in writing The World Book (I grew up on that great encyclopedia!) or the Britannica. In part because the knowledge that people seek is so readily available through the internet, and in part because the new form of encyclopedia, wikipedia, has engaged the assistance of millions and millions of experts rather than just a few. Of course, they don’t pay those experts.

If you are quick to say, yes, but the Britannica is to be trusted but wikipedia is not, I’m afraid you are wrong. What this new form of knowledge sharing has demonstrated is something now called “collective intelligence” where individual people may make mistakes, but if enough people participate those mistakes are most often quickly rooted out and corrected. So wikipedia has been demonstrated to be as credible as “professional” encyclopedias.

What does this have to do with the future of public information management or crisis communication? A crisis communicator was needed because crisis events typically involve vital information only available to a few. For example, an industrial accident happens and a whole lot of people want to know who was injured or killed, what the current status of the event is, who is to blame, what is being done to protect people now, etc. There are certainly some events, maybe a lot of them, where much of the vital information is behind closed doors. But the more I think about it, the more I realize that in one way or another, those witnessing the event have access to much if not most of the vital information. And now, for the first time in history, they have the capability and clear willingness to share in what they know. They do it instantly and it is spread and shared instantly.

So, a flood hits the county. Where is hitting, how bad, how high is the water, is it rising, etc. All that info used to come from the emergency response folks. Now it comes from social media–from all those tweeters sharing info about the event from their own little perspective. A broad survey of hundreds or thousands of eye witnesses will pretty soon give you a pretty accurate picture of what is going on. In the meantime, what are the officials doing to get the information? They are busy on their cell phones and radios talking to the people in the field who had to be called from their homes, get in their pickups, try to get to the scene, call in, report, gather the info, prepare it for public release, get approval to release, send it to the media, who broadcasts it to the homes–about four hours after everyone has already gotten everything from the tweeters.

The poor Public Information Officer or crisis communicator thinks he/she is the encyclopedia writer with everyone breathlessly waiting for the latest release. What they don’t seem to realize is that by the time they get their release out, everyone who doesn’t have a smart phone has been talking to those who do and four different information cycles have already been completed in the time it took to get that one release out. Information is like a flashflood. It will take the route of least resistance. The first water to get there is what matters if you are caught in one. The millions of gallons that my wash over you an hour later is pretty darn irrelevant.

I do believe we are already in an era when the vast majority of vital information of interest to the public is going to come through non-official channels. That includes reputation crises as well as emergency communications. Those of us in crisis communication who think that we are encyclopedia writers and that the world desperately needs our well-crafted and fully approved releases, will soon find that the mountain simply will not come to Mohammed. The wikipedia process of collective intelligence and willing sharing of first hand information will diminish our significance. Will we be unemployed? Not ready to go there yet. But I know what I would say to an encyclopedia writer about his or her future prospects.

Social Media–airline bungles while the LA Fire Department soars

The use of twitter by Brian Humphries of the LA Fire Department in reporting on the recent wildfires has the social media and crisis communication world, well, a twitter. For good reason, it is one of the most stunning examples of adoption of social media and instant news world methods to report on what is going on. Speed, directness and transparency–a great example. Here’s the twitter website with his postings which shows he is using it not just for major events like the fires, but everything that is going on.

Humphries and the LA Fire Department were one of three organizations cited at the recent Risk and Crisis Communications conference in DC. Michael Dumlao from Booz Allen Hamilton pointed to them as well as the US Coast Guard and Red Cross as government “champions” of social media. I was pleased to see that two of our clients made the list. Well, we’ll have to work on LA Fire Department.

On the other hand, some airlines are having a bit of time in the social media world. This article from the Economist talks about the problems British Airways and Virgin Atlantic have had with employees saying bad things about their employers, or worse, their employer’s customers. Ah, speed, directness and transparency–a two edged sword.

It is clear that government agencies and leading companies and organizations have to come to grips with the rapid emergence of social media. As Dumlao asked during the conference: What is your wikipedia policy?