Tim’s Bomb

Last night I got back from Pop!Tech and found that I had 110 new emails. While I always get a lot of email, this was a surprise since I’d just checked it 4 hours earlier. The trigger for this email was a posting by Tim Bray on his Ongoing blog where he dropped the F-Bomb, and which had been picked up and written about by the Inquirer citing Tim as a Sun employee.

Since Sun one of the most open companies from a blogging point of view, these discussions are critical. We’re in new territory, and the best way to sort through these issues is through open dialogue, which was taking place on the bloggers email list inside the company.

Instead of being the 198th email, I thought I’d just post my thoughts here. First a disclosure: I’m a Sun VP and a private blogger, so I’m writing this from both of those perspectives. It’s also important to understand that Tim has on blog which he uses for everything. Given the overlap in his personal and professional interests, there’s some sensibility to this. Others of us at Sun keep personal and Sun blogging separate in two blogs (me, Hal, Simon, etc). For me its more about targeting different audiences (not that anyone reads nearwalden.com) than it is about the ability to spew expletives, but it does keep things more separate.

So what did I think of this?

Is this a free speech issue? I guess it is, but I’m not the arbiter. In the world of blogs free speech is governed by the laws of your country, and by your service provider(s) and whatever view of free speech they want to impose on their users. In this country he’s clearly within the laws. On the service provider side, I’ve talked with Tim about his setup so I know there’s no issue there. However, if he’d posted it on blogs.sun.com instead of ongoing.com, there would have been an issue (at least in my mind). If you believe that your national free speech laws carry over to your corporate blog, then we disagree.

Is this an issue of morality? Again, I guess you could view it that way, but in this case its between you and Tim. We all have to consciously or unconsciously avoid crap on the Internet that we don’t agree with. If you don’t like Tim’s language here, just add him to your avoid list. If he wants to write that way and risk losing some of his readers, he’s a big boy and can make that choice. (Personally I read this the day he wrote it and didn’t even notice it. It was in reference to Project Blackbox, and what he wrote is pretty much what he would have said if we’d talked on the phone.)

This is an issue of brand. Yep, brand. “Tim Bray” is a brand, as is “Sun Microsystems”. By being a high profile Sun employee, these brands intermingle. By having a single blog which is both personal and professional, these brands intermingle even further, especially in Tim’s case where his blog and brand are so connected. Having this much brand entanglement allows reporters/bloggers to choose whichever brand best serves their interest. In this case, an article in the Inquirer titled “Tim Bray Drops an F-bomb” wouldn’t have gotten any attention. It’s much more interesting to be able to write “Sun’s Head Blogger Drops an F-bomb”.

Would having separate blogs have helped? Some, but at some point personal and company brands are so mixed up that you can’t. If Jonathan had a personal blog, it’d get just as much scrutiny as his Sun one does. That’s just life.

Finally, I’ll answer the lingering question directly. Was I upset by what Tim wrote? No. But I do hope that Tim keeps Sun’s brand in mind whenever he writes.