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Free Expression Can Be Costly When Bloggers Bad-Mouth Jobs

An Atlanta blogger who goes by Karsh says he was fired from a sales position in January after he blogged on company time. He was not so contrite. The writer of BGB, or Black Gay Blogger, said his boss wanted him to apologize for the things he had said about his fellow employees.

Since the other workers were not named, he did not think it was necessary, he said. "I feel like it's been said and done."


Rachel Mosteller blames her firing from a newspaper on her Sarcastic Journalist blog. (Michael Stravato For The Washington Post)

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The blogger renamed his supervisor "Skeletor" and "Wednesday Addams" in an entry about the confrontation. When the was told he would be demoted and had to dismantle his site, he quit, he said.

It is possible to write a private blog, where only those with passwords can sign in to read the entries. But part of being a blogger is wanting to be heard.

The author of Waiter Rant, an anonymous blog about life as a waiter in a New York restaurant, writes mostly about bad experiences with customers. "The rage had to go somewhere," he explained.

At first, he said, he did not tell anyone about the blog. He especially didn't want his mother to read it. But he became frustrated the blog was getting no attention so one day he sent a link to a popular blogger in England. Today, the anonymous waiter has more than 1,000 readers a day.

"At some point, I started to care who read it," the waiter said. "Anyone who produces anything, you like feedback."

That is one reason so many people who expect their entries to be read and pondered forget that those posts could cause some major problems. "They persist, they are uncontextualized, and they come back to haunt you," said Rebecca Blood, a San Francisco blogger and author of "The Weblog Handbook: Practical Advice on Creating and Maintaining Your Blog."

Blood believes in rules. The companies that have them are typically on the cutting edge of technology, and in a growing number of cases they are not only permitting blogs, but encouraging them as a sort of homegrown marketing tool.

Sun Microsystems Inc. encourages employees to blog on company time and within company space, then posts the blogs on a dedicated site.

"It seems quite plausible that blogging is a good way to increase the communication channel between the company and the world, and help in community building," said Tim Bray, a blogger and director of Web technologies at Sun. When Sun opened a space on its site in April for employee blogs, it also suggested that writers write just what they know and refrain from revealing revenue, financial figures or other company secrets.

Google Inc., the search engine company, has a blog for employees that shares such things as stories about the company dog and the person who creates the holiday art at Google.com. "It sort of turned into a very informal access to the public," said Biz Stone, a senior specialist at Google and author of "Who Let the Blogs Out?: A Hyperconnected Peek at the World of Weblogs."

But Google had its own controversy recently when a blog by employee Mark Jen suddenly went dark, sparking a flurry of speculation on what had happened to him.

When he returned, Jen explained his absence by saying, "I goofed and put up some stuff on my blog that's not supposed to be there" but that Google had been "pretty cool about all this" and adding, "thanks for and sorry for the frenzy of speculation."

Then the site went dead again. Yesterday, Google confirmed that Jen is no longer an employee, but the company would not discuss why. Jen could not be reached, but in a posting Wednesday, he said he would be back with more details.

By the next morning, about 50 people had written in, wondering if he had been dooced.


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