How Not to do Enterprise 2.0: A Case Study

by Andrew McAfee on July 23, 2006

Yesterday’s New York Times has a fuller version of a story that I first read on Boing Boing.  It’s about Christine Axsmith, a CIA contractor who was also a blogger within at least one classified Intranet.  Earlier this month she posted on her  blog "Covert Communications" (which was hosted on the Intelink network) an opinion that waterboarding was torture, and that torture was wrong.  Shortly afterward she was fired by her employer, BAE Systems, and also lost her top-secret security clearance.  

According to the Times, "Ms. Axsmith said C.I.A. officials had confronted her and told her that the agency’s senior leadership was angry about the blog."

Axsmith’s public blog Econo-Girl contains many messages of support (and some of condemnation), and I’d encourage you to check them out.  

My purpose in writing about this incident here is not to comment on how the war on terror is being conducted or opine on how well our intelligence agencies are doing their work and protecting us and our interests.  I just want to point this out as a neat example of how not to promote Enterprise 2.0, and how to inhibit all of the positive things that can come from the use of freeform social software within organizations.

I was happy to learn that over 1,000 blogs are up and running on classified Intranets, and I hope our intelligence agencies are making use of other Enterprise 2.0 tools such as wikis and tags.  I’ve always thought that intelligence work is the perfect application for these technologies, especially if they cross organizational boundaries, like those between the FBI and CIA, that have evidently been hindering some important work.

But if employees quickly and visibly get fired for voicing opinions, especially those that aren’t obviously crazy or seditious, Enterprise 2.0 environments are going to become the opposite of what they can and should be.  They’ll become forums for banality, cheerleading, and caution.  Or they’ll become online vacant lots.  This would be a shame anywhere.  It’s something worse than a shame in areas as important to us all as intelligence and national security.

Smart organizations will accept and embrace the fact that Enterprise 2.0 tools will be used to voice dissent within the community.  And they’ll realize that this is more than just OK; it’s important.

Let’s close this post with a quote from Theodore Roosevelt, who wrote about dissent and the American President in a 1918 Kansas City Star editorial:

"… it is absolutely necessary that there should be full liberty to tell the truth about his acts, and this means that it is exactly necessary to blame him when he does wrong as to praise him when he does right. Any other attitude in an American citizen is both base and servile. To announce that there must be no criticism of the President, or that we are to stand by the President, right or wrong, is not only unpatriotic and servile, but is morally treasonable to the American public." 

As elected officials, citizens, bosses, and/or employees, are we smart enough to hear those words, and courageous enough to act on their implications?

CORRECTION (7.24.06)The original version of this post had Axsmith working for BEA.  That was wrong —  she worked at, and was fired from, BAE Systems.  The current version of the post (above) is corrected.  My apologies to BEA.

Steven Walker July 23, 2006 at 4:30 pm

I agree completely with your view, but you must keep in mind that you are talking about an Administration that doesn’t care to hear opposing points of view so this situation should come as absolutely no surprise. I hardly think we can characterize the U.S. government during the Bush presidency as an example of a “smart organization.” They barely understand the Internet, much less the concept of Enterprise 2.0!

Gomer July 24, 2006 at 3:17 pm

Could not agree more, I think you summed it up with:

Smart organizations will accept and embrace the fact that Enterprise 2.0 tools will be used to voice dissent within the community.

Unfortuately, it seems going against the governement stance is to easily dismissed and vilified as unpatriotic these days.

I recently attended Enterprise 2.0 in Toronto, more here:

I wanted to post this to let others know about opportunities to create and attend local meetings about Enterprise 2.0 and social media.

Indus Khaitan July 25, 2006 at 2:47 pm

Corporate culture and bureacracy are the two major opposing forces. For external blogging most corporations worry about negative publicity, legal,IP or PR nightmares. On the contrary, the connected world already knows where the corporations are falling short.

A few items of corporate drudgery have already been called out in the Cluetrain Manifesto. However, if we happen to write a “7 Habits of a Successful Intranet”, what those would be?

Suchmaschinenoptimierer December 2, 2006 at 10:42 pm

Mostly I agree with your argumentation. Good work!

toydestroyer April 17, 2007 at 6:13 pm

Nice post, I’ve never really understood the whole web 2.0 thing though, I mean I get what the idea is but why is it called web 2.0 when many of the things that make a site 2.0 have been around for years!

Suchmaschinenoptimierung August 28, 2007 at 5:32 am

good arguments. mostly i agree with you!

Suchmaschinen Optimierung November 14, 2007 at 10:05 am

Very nice article. I totally agree with one of the commenters above. The only thing that is really new with web 2.0 is the name…

Suchmaschinenoptimierung November 19, 2008 at 4:13 am

Thanks a lot for referring the site econo girl!

Alois-Laack August 7, 2009 at 1:01 am

Enterprise 2.0 environments sound more as interesting, please send me all informations

Alois-Laack August 7, 2009 at 7:01 am

Enterprise 2.0 environments sound more as interesting, please send me all informations

seo-beratung June 9, 2010 at 12:04 am

wow, this was a view to the future…

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