Too much has been written about WikiLeaks.
Most of the debate is about the legalities and moralities of what WikiLeaks is (and what it means). If you take a step back, and look at it (without prejudice and without passing legal judgment), there are many lessons about how new media acts (and reacts) that are excellent business lessons as well. Consider this a cautionary tale.
Here are 7 lessons that WikiLeaks teaches us:
- Transparency first. If your default position is to hide information and keep it secret, the new world is going to cause you many sleepless nights. WikiLeaks shows us that businesses will be best suited to lead with transparency first and (when no longer possible) shift to secrets as a form of integrity-based decision making to protect their "secret sauce" (whatever that may be). Leading with being secretive has no place in our new, more transparent, world. As people divulge more and more information about themselves online and connect to more and more people, that is becoming the cultural norm, so any actions (be it by business or government) that do not have that level of transparency will be seen and felt as "hiding" or being "secretive."
- You are media. Any individual can have a thought and then be able to publish that thought in text, images, audio and/or video to the world for free (or close to it). This doesn’t just mean that everyone is a publisher, it means that every individual is (or can be) a media channel. WikiLeaks is a media entity (Mathew Ingram nailed it in his Gigaom Blog post, Like It or Not, WikiLeaks is a Media Entity). If we agree with this sentiment (and we should), all media properties need to be protected (to some degree) by our first amendment rights.
- Publishing has changed. This ties directly into the last point. We may not like it, but WikiLeaks is both a publisher of content and a media channel. So is this Blog. That means that we – as a society – need to re-evaluate our definition of publishing. A while back, Christopher S. Penn asked on an episode of Media Hacks if something written and published in the MMORPG game, World of Warcraft, should be considered a book? That’s a question/debate for another Blog post, but we can all agree that it is – without question – a form of publishing. Would the mass media and academic intelligentsia consider that publishing? These newer forms of publishing threaten their business model and question their legacy (people don’t like when you do that). But, let’s face it, publishing has changed.
- Information travels fast. Legal or not. It’s no longer about crisis management of better public relations, we have shifted to the real-time Web. And, the news has shifted along with it. We do not find out about a plane crash on CNN. We find out about it because the survivors are tweeting, shooting videos and streaming it live. Information doesn’t travel faster now… information is happening in real time.
- Decentralization is real. While WikiLeaks has passed the massive amount of content over to some major newspaper media outlets to turn the information into snackable content for the mass public, the structure and organization of WikiLeaks points to a new regime. The new company is (and can be) a decentralized organization – one that runs on a handful of laptops and smartphones. They are a credible competitor. The idea of a few people working from their local Starbucks when compared to another business with a fixed address and infrastructure used to be seen as both laughable and unprofessional. No more.
- Credible Anonymity. This will – without question – become one of the biggest trends we will start to see in the digital channels. Think about it this way: when reading a customer review on Amazon about a book, who would you trust more, Sarah P. from Sioux Falls or an anonymous reviewer who says that they work for one of the biggest book publishers in the world and that they read 3-4 books a month (total book worm) but can’t identify themselves because the book that they are reviewing is from a competitor? I would chose the anonymous book worm. For all we know, Sarah from Sioux Falls is a lunatic who walks the streets with Kleenex boxes for shoes. Who do we know at WikiLeaks? What do we really know about Julian Assange? Even with these pending criminal charges, does that make the content they are publishing any less credible? As Social Media allows individuals to open up, publish their lives and share everything, there will be many other places where anonymity will prevail, and the content will be as (if not more) credible than the content where full disclosure is happening.
- We are not ready. The shocking part of WikiLeaks is how everybody else (those who do not understand Internet culture) is reacting to it. They are not used to this type of organization. They are not used to the way it looks. They are not used to the way it feels. It’s awkward and because of that, it feels both strange and threatening. It simply validates that we are not ready for the massive changes that are happening and that will continue to happen (for more on that, please listen to what Don Tapscott – the co-author of Wikinomics and Macrowikinomics – had to say about technology and the digitization of everything right here: SPOS #225 – The World Of Macrowikinomics With Don Tapscott).
With all of this in mind, can’t we look to the ongoing WikiLeaks incident as an amazing opportunity to listen, understand, grow and adapt?