It Ain’t the Medium Its the Message or – Its the Content that Counts

In 1964, Marshall McLuhan coined the phrase ” The medium is the message.”  I have often quoted McLuhan in my writings and presentations, in agreement.  But, I fear far too many take his message the wrong way, which can and has lead to serious repercussions.

Yesterday I was watching to a video podcast interview between two colleagues.  Both will remain anonymous.  Who they are is not important.  Their posture and what they said are important. Both are noted industry advocates in the ECM and Enterprise 2.0 space. Both provide advice to the market, which is what concerns me. One of them made a statement that was simply naive and misleading, and the other one did not correct or modify it.

My angst is grounded in the further worry that history will repeat itself, and not in a positive way. The interview was focused on the use of collaborative social technologies in an Enterprise 2.0 setting. The comment made that caused my concern – and I paraphrase – was that many enterprise users are using tools such as Twitter (Twitter was specifically mentioned in the discussion),  without any real thought as to the management of the content created.

There were two distinct points made that were misleading – possibly downright wrong.

1. My colleagues casually pondered who will “own’ the content and if indeed it will be considered subject to discovery. I believe that the courts, at least in the United States, have already ruled on this. As I stated in an earlier blog post, in a class action suit regarding patient/individual privacy rights, the courts ruled that content in “FaceBook, MySpace, instant-messaging threads, blog posts and whatever else the plaintiffs might have done online” was discoverable. The plaintiffs’ objection that this violated the plaintiffs’ privacy was shot down. These tools and their content were viewed as public, not on a private network, but the public world wide web. Who “owns” the content.  Apparently Twitter, in the example given by my colleagues, and, Twitter content is “public” content and therefore discoverable.  There should be no speculation about this.

I believe part of the reason these individuals got it wrong was that they confused Web 2.0 tools with Enterprise 2.0 tools.  This is an issue that also caused frustration for me and Ron Miller during the recent Enterprise 2.0 conference, an issue we both blogged about.

2. The second statement that caused angst was the more serious one.  In further discussing how and why organizations should take a proactive approach to managing Twitter content (again – I am being liberal here in accepting their example of Twitter as an Enterprise 2.0 tool, my commentary is more focused on Enterprise 2.0 content – not public-based Web 2.0 content),  a statement was made that organizations need to take a specific look at the Enterprise 2.0 content and develop a management strategy specific to it.  A comment was made along the lines of “You should not want to apply the same rules and policies to the Twitter threads that you do your contracts.”  WRONG.  As stated in the title of this blog post, it ain’t the medium it’s the message.

This perspective and advice was the same naive opinion that got too many organizations in trouble with e-mail.  You should not have a different management policy for e-mail, or blogs, or microblogs. The medium or format should not dictate policy (other than acceptable use of the tool of course). It is the content that matters no matter what format or tool it was created in.  My two colleagues made somewhat light reference to “Twitter streams” as if they could not really contain any mission critical content.  This was the same way many felt decades ago when e-mail was emerging as an “unofficial and casual” means of communication.  If commentary regarding contract terms (sticking with their example) are made in a Twitter stream then they should most definitely be subjected to the same policy and scrutiny as the contract – just as any relevant and related e-mail is now subjected to e-discovery.

Do not trivialize Twitter or any other form of Enterprise 2.0 and Web 2.0 created content.  The tools used do not determine the value of or discoverability of the content – the content does.

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