A Talk With Mark Jen About Google Firing

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John Battelle asked some good questions about the Mark Jen controversy. Believe it or not, I met Mark tonight (err, “last night” to most of you at this point) and had a chance to chat with him about his brief time at Google and various other things.

Discussion With Mark Jen
Did Google Act Hastily With Mark Jen?

Mark Jen was recently fired by Google for comments he made in his personal blog (which he still maintains). Was this an over-reaction by the search king? Discuss at WebProWorld.

I’m not going to reveal everything we discussed, but I would like to clarify a few things and respond to John’s request for commments.

First off, nothing Mark said surprised me. Yes, he was fired from Google. It was directly related to his blog. He was employed there for just a couple of weeks.

Mark’s a good guy. He doesn’t believe he was doing anything wrong (neither do I based on what he told me). In fact, he wasn’t even aware of the blogosphere’s Google obsession–or at least the search bloggers who watch every little thing Google does–until this happened. Let’s just say that he was surprised by his sudden fame.

John (linking directly to my RSS feed for some odd reason) asked what Scoble and I have to say about this. So here’s my take.
At Yahoo

Yahoo has been very good at dealing with blogging. A lot of people at Yahoo read some of what I write here. Some of them are even on our executive team. If I write something about Dan (our COO), there’s a really good chance he’ll hear about it. He may even read it himself. The same probably goes for Jerry. In fact, he and I met late last year to discuss employee blogging. I didn’t have to sit in a room very long with him to realize that he gets it.

Jeff is a big supporter of the Yahoo Search blog, our first “corporate” blog (I dislike that term). He reads blogs every day and wishes we posted every day. He’s also proven to be a very good barometer for what’s blogworthy and isn’t. How many SVPs at other companies can you say that about?

I could go on with more exmaples, but that makes my point quite well.

Has it all been fun and games? No.

I’ve been at this for a few years now, so there were bound to be problems. To date, I’ve removed one posting and modified one or two others. Each time, someone paid me a visit to discuss the problem. We went into a conference room and talked it out. All along it very clear to me that we were trying to figure out what’s reasonable. The person was quite up-front about the fact that Yahoo doesn’t want to be getting in the way of my rights to write what I want to write. Each of us walked away having learned something. We were getting closer to shared understanding of where “the line” is.

Oh, and I have managed to piss off, anger, and otherwise frighten more than my fair share of PR folks at Yahoo, including Chris. But that’s hardly a surprise. Many PR professionals initially have strong reactions. Some continue to do so. But on the flip side, ask the recuiting folks if writing my blog has helped or hurt our ability to hire. I think you’ll like the anwer you’d hear.

Aside for the normal agreements that one signs as a Yahoo employee, we have no additional policies or rules about blogging. But we’re working on something: a set of guidelines that are very much in line with those used by Sun Microstems. The idea is to let all employess know that it’s okay to blog about life at Yahoo, as long as you’re smart about it.

At Google

Last Thursday I lad lunch at Google for my second time (the first was back in October). Yes, the food is good. And free.

Both times I’ve joked that I didn’t expect them to let me in the door after I typed my name into the badge printing computer in the lobby of building 41. In reality, it’s just that: a joke. We’re all allowed to talk to hang out and talk to each other. I have several friends who are happily employed there and even tried to track one or two other people I’d been hoping to meet.

When I got back to Yahoo, a couple friends asked me what we talked about at lunch. I think I said something like “just about everything that wasn’t realated to work.”

Google has their reasons for being paranoid about public communication and remaining as secretive as they can about nearly everything they do. That’s just the way it is, and I won’t speculate on their reasons. But I do think they’re missing a real opportunity to get involved in a lot of interesting discussions. For now, though, they’re apparently content to watch and listen.

The only advice I have for Google is this: please make sure it’s abundantly clear what the rules are. You’re getting to be a big company. Don’t rely on unwritten rules or company tradition/culture to do the job.

My advice to Google employess who really want to be more open than they can be: send me your resume.

Just kidding!

Well, I’m only half kidding. And it’s late, so I should sleep.

Jeremy Zawodny is the author of the popular Jeremy Zawodny’s blog. Jeremy is part of the Yahoo search team and frequently posts in the Yahoo! Search blog as well.

Visit Jeremy’s blog: Jeremy Zawodny’s blog.

A Talk With Mark Jen About Google Firing
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