I had to love the contrast in two items that hit my feed reader today: one where a talk by Google’s chief internet evangelist Vint Cerf was declared off-the-record by Google, upsetting some people, then another where Google CEO Eric Schmidt was at an off-the-record event but said he wanted the event video uploaded as a way to prevent false rumors.
Google Wants Privacy In Its House from Nathan Weinberg at InsideGoogle covers the talk by Vint Cerf at Google last week. Cerf’s talk was part of a previously announced speaker series at Google’s New York office. Nathan received an invite with this message:
In order to support the free and open exchange of information at our speaker series events we ask that attendees refrain from recording or reporting on these meetings, their content or Google. Please contact our communications team at …. if you have any questions regarding this policy.
I drank Google’s beer, then left is Jeremy Hunsinger’s account of showing up at the talk. Unlike Nathan, he doesn’t appear to have been sent an invite in advanced with the warning and instead learned of the off-the-record declaration there:
I thought it was an open invite without any specific rules as to what I could do with the knowledge that I found there. I registered and attended until Google asserted the rules.
Sometimes… Google gets it wrong. You see I did not have any prior ruleset to know that they do not allow people to blog or otherwise publish their visit to such talks. They did not send one, it was not in any announcement that I received, and I’ve otherwise not seen one. However, there is a set of rules that prohibit blogging or publishing that they announced before the talk. Google said that if i wanted to blog or publicly discuss the event, I had to get their permission. If I’d have known, I would not have attended or been affiliated with the event in any way.
Allan Stern also blogs about the press lockdown, preventing him from talking.
Now contrast the above to this. Via Valleywag, Leader of the Free World on Flickr from Steve Jurvetson talks about Eric Schmidt speaking to the Western Association Of Venture Capitalists. That was supposed to be off-the-record, but Schmidt declared it not so:
Even though the event was to be off the record, he preferred to have it videotaped and uploaded to YouTube (if someone finds the talk searching for WAVC and Eric Schmidt, please post it here).
In a nod to the transparent society, Eric told me that he has to assume that he is always on the record, and false rumors are less likely to form if all of the original source material is online.
In general, declaring events where you have tens or hundreds of people from the public to be off-the-record is pretty silly. To my knowledge, Google first pulled this type of thing for the first time most seriously with its Google Zeitgeist 2005 event, where it said:
All speeches and discussions at Zeitgeist are off the record. To ensure that our presenters and attendees can speak openly, no press coverage or blogging is permitted.
As I wrote then:
This will be good, to see if you can keep open discussions among 400 people, some of them bloggers, many of them press, somehow off the record.
Heh. Of course, some may recall how last week I declared a session at SMX Advanced to be off-the-record for one month. How do I square that with this? In part, I don’t. The session description had said it would all be off-the-record, but I didn’t seriously think this would happen. That was more for fun. But I did asked the audience to be on their honor not to say anything for a month, and that was also largely in having fun for the show, rather than to really suppress information.
The key issue was that it was voluntary. OK, we joked about evicting Matt Cutts, but as he joked back, it was easy to stand behind our solid "wall" of curtains and listen in. What amazes me is how so far, everyone’s held to that!