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Thoughts on Blogging at Intel (finally started Naked Conversations)

First of all, you all know I work for Intel. This represents my personal opinion, not an official company statement, blah blah blah. So much paranoia and risk aversion around Intel that I want to make that disclaimer clear.

I’m finally starting to read Naked Conversations (see, Shel! I told you I’d get to it! :-)). I just finished the chapter called “Direct Access”, in which there was a short blurb on Intel’s CEO, Paul Otellini. The chapter is all about how blogs allow a company to have direct access to its customers, without being mediated through the, um, media.

It’s the first time Intel has been mentioned in the book, and after I read it, I was frustrated and inspired to vent here. Not at Robert or Shel for their writing – it’s dead on – but for the fact that Intel is still so ultra-conservative and paranoid about blogging. Here’s a snip from the section (p. 60) that bugged me:

Doing it in Private

Direct access is larger than bypassing the press or even your own communications organizations. One of the most interesting is one where the blogger would prefer we didn’t know about what he’s doing. Intel CEO Paul Otellini writes “Paul’s Blog” to talk with and listen to 86,000 employees worldwide, privately, from behind a firewall. This is a different form of direct access, and employees are unquestionably a key constituency for a global CEO. There are also some risks, he discovered, in sharing your innermost thoughts with 86,000 professional colleagues.

“Why am I doing this?” he wrote in his first post in December 2004. “Well, it seemed like a good idea to be able to create an ongoing vehicle to share my thoughts and observations on Intel and our industry with our employees and to allow you and opportunity to have a platform for your thoughts or responses.” And respond they do. In reviewing two months of posting, we got to see numerous responses to Otellini’s comments. All were polite, but several were challenging, and served up some dissent.

Otellini first agreed to discuss Paul’s Blog with us, but then declined. A company spokesperson told us, “All things considered, it is a private blog, and he prefers to keep it private.” How does one do that? Perhaps that’s impossible. The postings we read came from an unauthorized article in the San Jose Mercury News.

It almost feels like Otellini (speaking for Intel) is saying “we don’t want to talk to you” by changing his mind about talking to Scoble and Israel, and then having an unnamed spokesperson say “he prefers to keep it private.” I understand that Paul has his reasons, because it’s been the topic of much discussion among me and other Intel bloggers, but this short blurb comes across very closed, and cold.

I hope I can articulate why this frustrates me without ruffling any feathers. First, I’m really glad that Paul and other execs at Intel blog at all. But what did he have to lose by discussing the existence and impact (if not the contents) of his blog? I, for one, would love to hear what he thinks the impact of his blog has been. Paul is a very charismatic person, and writes interesting stuff on his blog. I don’t understand why he doesn’t make his blog available to the general public – it’s not like he’s posting the recipe for the secret sauce on there. :-)

I guess what bothers me is that this was a missed opportunity for Intel to open up, and show that we’re human. That’s one of the overriding themes of “Naked Conversations”, and one of the themes I repeat over and over in my blog evangelism. Instead of giving the world a peek behind the curtain, Paul pulls it tightly around himself. It sends the message the “the message” is very definitely being controlled by marketing, legal, PR, or whoever. *Yawn* Guess there’s nothing interesting to say. Or hear.

The question on whether to allow (let alone encourage!) public blogs by Intel employees is a long standing one, and there are people with strong feelings and arguments on both sides of the fence. (Guess which side I’m on? ;-)) There are hundreds of people at Intel with internal blogs, and a handful, like me, venturing out into the wide world while occasionally wearing our (figurative) Intel badges. None of us are “offical” spokespeople for the company, but then, that’s not the point. The point is that Intel is made up of human beings, just like any other company. We (Intel) want to make awesome products that make our customers happy. We (the bloggers who happen to work at Intel) want to talk to our customers, and listen to what they have to say.

Still, even with the deep culture of fear, paranoia, and risk aversion at Intel, I’m very optimistic about the future of open communication at Intel. There are lots of people there that “get it”. We are waking up, and connecting with each other, and doing some really cool things. Small pieces loosely joined. It’s very exciting – almost an air of revolution, of change.

I intend to start blogging more about Intel on this blog, along with all the geeky gadget stuff that’s standard fare for me. I’m not one to stir up controversy, but I intend to poke some holes in the membrane that separates the conversations going on within and the conversations without. Why am I doing it? Because I want the stock to go up! :-) I want to help put a human face on a huge company, like Scoble and many others have done for Microsoft. I want Intel to start to kick ass like it used to. Should be a fun ride!

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4 thoughts on “Thoughts on Blogging at Intel (finally started Naked Conversations)

  1. Josh,

    Paul is a very private person. Part of it is just his personality. Another part is that he wants to make it seem “personal” and only shared with his 105,000 closest friends and coworkers.

    But beyond all this, you are right about the effect. It comes across as cold and controlling. And once such a perception is created, what is publically released always seems cynical and calculated for effect. Conversations are messy and Paul Otellini is immaculate.

  2. 501WorldWay says:

    I deal with Intel all the time in my ‘day job’ as a tech editor. I have a very high regard for the company, as I once worked for AMD (Intel’s rival) back in the ’80s.

    At the risk of sounding “corporate”, Intel has a finely tuned machine for creating and protecting its brand – so it’s naturally cautious about leaking info. But heck, even Microsoft has been using blogs (and access to its Product Managers) as a way to put a human touch to its news.

    Recently, I received some embargoed PR from Intel (no, you’re not going to get me to disclose it) – and we went round and round on why putting the word “Intel” and the copyright symbol next to the processor’s name wasn’t required by a member of the press.

    At the end of the day, Intel needs to balance the upside of more informal communication, with the downside of losing control of its “messages”.

    ‘501

  3. Don’t worry – I won’t try to get embargoed info out of you. :-)

    That’s the point I’ve been trying to make, and help people change – there is a HUGE culture of FEAR, PARANOIA, and RISK AVERSION at Intel. When it takes a formal risk assessment of 700-800 man hours and a 29 page risk assessment report just to decide if you’re going to allow internal blogging (let alone external!), there’s something seriously wrong.

    700-800 man hours of effort just to evaluate the risks of LETTING EMPLOYEES TALK TO EACH OTHER on internal blogs. I wish I was exaggerating…

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