Friday, 4 June 2010
The danger of filters and other social engineering projects on the web
Some time back Flickr introduced a program of "moral management" via filtering system. The idea what that "community standards" were going to be maintained as the technology went global.
The scope and hubris of such a venture would only be possible for a firm like Yahoo. For a while the program seemed to keep a number of people employed at a company facing cut backs, but in time the team seems to have run out of budget and time.
What a heavy handed admin effort like this left a culture of mistrust between users and the service and frankly a lot more raunchy porn than they ever had before. The policy of Flickr seemed to be follow our rules or use the other photo sharing service. This may have worked well enough in 2006 but in 2010 its a suicide pact.
The above picture was accessed via a unlogged Flickr page, I show it here because this is what Flickr will show children logging in from any computer anywhere who go to this web page. So much for a "safe experience" that meets "global standards"
The lesson here is that you can't simply impose rules upon a community because you hire a "community manager" to run your project. Users have minds of their owns and if they see your rules as too much trouble or in their way they will figure out ways to get around them, or even be hostile.
So for example in SharePoint, if you have an existing long established SharePoint project that is using up too much space on your SQL blades I would strongly suggest you not hire a team to impose some new rules on users who have been suing SharePoint for years. This will be seen as just result in a "user revolt" and you are unlikely to find any improvement. Users will find examples of senior staff not following the rules themselves or just distribute tricks for getting around them.
Much better is to find ways to reduce pain to users of reducing retention. For example users generally don't care very much about Word documents for 2 years ago. Rather than suddenly imposing strict limits on how users can use SharePoint today, better to dispose information which has been sitting dead for a long time, or is owned by people who no longer work with the organisation.
Probably the main lesson is think twice before giving a freedom to users, because it will be costly if not impossible to take it away. Once user see they can use SharePoint to solve their problems it stops really being owned by IT.
You need to work with users, establish working groups that discuss recommendations and receive user feedback. Look for ways that meet technology requirements while meeting governance and user desires. Try to make yourselves as end user focused as you can.
Also be honest, maybe users simply should not have SharePoint for their jobs. I personally think the idea that Flickr could off a safe experience for children to be one of the stupidest ideas I have ever heard. Parents should use their own desktop filter systems if they are really worried about what children see and Flickr should be banned. Restrictions on under 18 web access are probably the best way to preserve liberties and work to reduce crime. In the same way maybe giving 80,000 users OTB SharePoint is not such a great idea.