When Is It Inappropriate To Blog?

I came across an interesting blog post today about Google's Intranet infrastructure. You can read the post for yourself, but let's just say it gives what appears to be inside information about how the Google intranet is structured, some of the interesting internal applications, etc.

Now, I said I found the post "interesting". The content is interesting on some level, I guess. But what is more interesting to me is whether the post should have been written at all.

Let me set some context.

After reading the article, I starting reading some of the comments. Here are three that stood out to me and made me think about writing this post.

  • From Alex: I am a googler and its disgusting to see this. This is privileged company information and its sick that a website is willing to post confidential information like this and more sick is the person who leaked this. This is what Google gets for all the trust it places in its employees. Truly pathetic!
  • From Stephen: Alex, We are investigating this leak. You can be assured the employees responsible for this will be dealt with appropriately.
  • From Tim: What a lame example of "paparazzi journalism" but I suppose it was to be expected. You may think that by finding someone willing to violate the trust and openness that Googlers enjoy that you've captured some of the magic of what goes on at Google, but you've only titillated yourself and are no where close. If you think the write-up was "interesting" and "informative," then you would really enjoy images of my drawers, complete with skidmarks and IP verification.

Of course, I am not sure whether any of these three are "googlers" (i.e. work at Google) or not. And I will probably never know. But, I got to wondering if these guys had a point.

Is it inappropriate to blog about a company's internal structure based upon "leaked" information (i.e. information not provided for public consumption)?

The bloggers were given information from what I assume is an anonymous Google source(s) and posted that information. If you grant me that blogging is a form of journalism, then this has been done by many a journalist. Now, I am not equating the severity of this situation to Deep Throat, nor am I saying they are necessarily apples to apples comparisons. What I am saying is that journalists are given anonymous tips and information all the time, and it is up to the journalist whether to go public with it.

I am a strong advocate of free speech/first amendment rights and all the good, and bad, that comes with those. So I am not so quick to judge that the bloggers in this case were wrong to publish this post. After reading the post, I did notice that some care was taken intentionally not to reveal certain pieces of information -- notice some of the grayed-out and blacked-out text in some of the images.

Do I believe the source of this information was in the wrong? I am going to assume that the source of the information was one or more Google employees  (current or former). If my assumption is correct, I have to imagine that a contract was signed by the employees in which it was stated not to reveal company information. So on the surface, maybe it was wrong. However, if all of the information posted on the blog can be found publicly somewhere, and, when you piece all of that public information together, you really don't have any inside information after all, then maybe the source was not so wrong. I did notice links in the post that took you to "official" posts about some of the internal working of Google. And what if, at a public conference, some Google executive mentioned other Google Intranet information? That is what I mean about piecing together.

The one sticking point that tends for me to believe that you can't piece together the information in the post from other public information are some of the images. Some may have been offered to the public, sure, but I can't imagine the Trax image or even the blacked-out employee information image is supposed to be in the wild. Maybe I a wrong? However, the blog post even has the following sentence: "The photo is used with permission from Zach at HannaCabana.com, though Zach tells me it had been anonymously submitted to him..." When I see the words "anonymously submitted", then that is one tip-off, in my opinion, that something probably isn't meant for the public.

So when is it inappropriate to blog about a topic? Never? Sometimes? That's a tough question that I am not sure I have the answer to. In this specific case, my gut tells me that an argument can be made that the post is borderline inappropriate; but not wrong. There is a difference. To me, inappropriate implies discretion while wrong implies falsities. I don't see anything here that is necessarily false.

Would I have made the blog post? Probably not. But, I don't fault the bloggers for the post. And, then again, I am indirectly blogging about it now with this post, aren't I?

Thoughts? Am I missing something from the post that would make my post here unwarranted?

P.S. Now, it is very possible that one of the following nicknames for a Google employee might be inappropriate :-) I let you figure out which one it is. Here is the quote from the post:

  • A “Googler,” as you may know, is what Google employees call themselves (they have other nicknames for specific roles; a noogler is a new Google employee, a gaygler is a gay one, a xoogler is an ex-one, and so on).