Before you dash of a nasty reply, hear me out. There’s an excellent lesson that all companies can learn from this.
By now I suspect that many of you have already heard of Perl On Rails, an internal BBC project. Naturally, this made Slashdot, Reddit and Digg, amongst many other sites and one chap put up a very scathing post entitled Why the BBC Fails at the Internet. Most of the comments you’ll read about the “Perl on Rails” project are pretty far off the mark, but the “Fails at the Internet” post was, despite the vitriol, probably the most spot-on analysis of the problem facing the BBC.
Admittedly, I’ve only worked for the BBC for a month, but I’ve already had several friends ask me for the “inside dope” about this project and I wouldn’t say much for two reasons. One, I had only heard about it second hand and was concerned about getting technical details wrong. Two, I live in the perpetual fear that anything I say in my blog will be held against me. I’m probably right on the first count, but I’m definitely wrong on the second.
I’ve been off sick for a few days, just as this storm was exploding. When I came back, I was expecting to hear stories about heads rolling for this news being made public. Case in point: at a previous job, I’ve was invited to be an official corporate blogger. In my introductory post, I stated who I was, what I was doing, and commented that part of my job was to fix disparate systems which don’t communicate together as well as they could. The latter statement was a massive understatement. I struggled as carefully as I could to word that in the most positive light possible, but the blog entry was nixed for that one statement. After reading the press release quality of the rest of the blog entries, I declined to participate. I had too much to do to worry about carefully rewriting every blog post to avoid even a hint of admission that the company I work for is not perfect.
The BBC, on the other hand, has a great blogging policy. Basically, so long as I don’t talk about finances, insult colleagues or things which obviously need to be kept secret (such as an impending deal with a company), I can say what I will. That includes admitting we’re not perfect.
We’ve recently gotten in some new IT management and today when I got into work, I found a scathing email from one of the higher ups. He read the “BBC Fails at the Internet” post and rather than blow a gasket that internal details had been made public, he forwarded it to the responsible parties, said he agreed, and made it very clear that the problem will be fixed immediately or else he will personally (do something which should obviously be kept secret). Whether or not this presages a significant change remains to be seen, but it was far and away one of the most enlightened responses I’ve seen from management to a situation like this. Rather than try to fix the blame, he is trying to fix the problem. What a novel idea!
And despite various things the BBC has done wrong, this is what the BBC does right. Blogs are for communicating, not for press releases. They’re not official discussions, but they can say a lot more about a company than an official communication which is carefully vetted by lawyers. And while the BBC has plenty of blogs, you don’t even have to blog there about your job if you don’t want to. I sometimes blog about the BBC on my personal journal rather than their official ones. They’re OK with that. I finally get to work for a company which “gets” blogs.