"a fish, a barrel, and a smoking gun"
for 27 February 1996. Updated every WEEKDAY.

Six Degrees of Recrimination


[Parking Meter]

Mysty-eyed utopians would have us

believe that the boundary

between home and office is a

relic of the second wave. The

sad truth is some people have a

lot invested in making sure that

all the spaces are clearly

marked, and if someone catches

you shortening the distance

between two points to nothing

but a click, watch out.


The growth of the Web adds yet

another fault line to the always

already shifting ground of

technical etiquette in the 20th

century. It took Miss Manners

over a decade to deal with the


instability of call waiting, and

the Supreme Court has yet to

decide who has ultimate

responsibility for libelous

bulletin board posts, but just

because there aren't any rules

yet doesn't mean people aren't

sent to the penalty box. Or

maybe even ejected from the



[Penalty Box]

Ernie Warren was. He got canned

earlier this month because of a

single HTML tag.


Warren (not his real name) was

working as a contractor at a

large company in Pasadena,

CA, writing documentation for

the software produced there. In

his spare time, he set up a Web

server to provide data to his

group: jump-off points, random

bits of text he was working on,

and Web-based oddities. At the

bottom, like all good

webmasters, he provided a link

to his home page and an email




Then, on Friday, 9 February,

Warren was informed that the

index page provided by his

server didn't pass muster with

the person in charge of clearing

all publicly-available

documentation. A few of his

links were deemed inappropriate.

Warren was told to remove them,

and he complied immediately.


The following Monday, Warren

received another call.

Management explained to him that

all his off-site links were to

be removed - bookmark list, fun

stuff, everything.


Warren again complied. "She even

thanked me for being so

cooperative," he said later.

"She said that most people got

angry when she told them to

remove stuff from Web pages."


[Security Guard]

Later that day, with little

explanation, Ernie Warren was

escorted from the building, the

contents of his desk boxed and

at his side. He'd been fired,

and a single HTML tag was

apparently the reason.


At the bottom of his server's

index page was a single link

that he had forgotten to remove:

This site administered by
<a href="http://www.isp.com/~ewarren/">
Ernie Warren</a>.


The link was to his home page, on

his Internet Service Provider's

machines, totally disconnected

from his job. From there, it was

a small matter to jump to the

publisher of his best-selling

book, or to a page describing

his small consulting business.


Though exact details remain

sketchy, Warren was told that

that these links constituted a

"paper trail" that implied his

day-time employers both

supported and recommended his

after-hours activities. The

Senior Investigator, Security &

Plant Protection, Human

Resources, claimed that he was

"not at liberty to discuss the

details of Mr. Warren's case

with anybody except Mr. Warren."


Case closed.


[Security Guard]

These are times of fear and

doubt. Company bureaucrats feel

behind the curve, confused and

bewildered not only by the pace

and scope of change, but by the

substance of it as well. Rules

exist to control, and

bureaucracies exist to enforce

rules, and the Web has changed

the rules.


If a single person can compile

and run a Web server on his

workstation that manages the

same presence (and, perhaps,

better presentation) than the

official company site, a

fundamental shift in power has

taken place. And though the

decentralizing effects of the

Web have been hailed over and

over again, most of those in

positions of central authority

aren't all that interested in



Warren's mistake was assuming

that simply because they had put

his workplace on the Web, his

bosses wanted information

distributed - that they bought

into the notion of a freely

traversable "infoverse." Though

there was no explicit company

policy on Web-page production

and content, this is almost

exactly what they did not want.


Companies do not want to set you

free. They don't even want you

to know that freedom exists. And

it is entirely within the realm

of possibility that they will

seal up the entrance to the cave

rather than let you try to

disrupt the puppet show.


No doubt, in the future, there

will be a normalization of the

rules, accepted standards for

page content just like there are

accepted standards for in-office

phone calls. But, as things

stand today, most middle

managers don't understand the

Web any more than the dinosaurs

understood that big rock that

fell out of the sky.


Still, both dinosaurs and middle

managers can get cranky when the

dust cloud starts to rise, and

there's no doubt who's going to

be subject to their dwindling

(but still-enforceable) power.


Their tiny brains may not be up

to the epistemological

implications, but there's not a

MBA under the sun who wouldn't

be worried by the fewer-than-six

degrees of separation that lay

between his corporation and



[Hello Kitty]

If your boss were to find a link

to pornography on your page,

would he fire you? What about a

link to someone else's page with

a link to pornography? What

about a link to Yahoo, and the

universe it opens up? Is porn

the only taboo? What about

anarchism? Satanism? Simple,

"non-company" business?


Would he understand the nature of

the Web? Or would he simply can

your ass on the spot (using

sanctioned company guidelines,

of course), thereby solving "the



You have no idea, do you?



The decentralization of

information means that it is

becoming harder and harder to

control who sees what, where.

The nature of the Web - it is

called a "web" - promotes this.

While adding a link from your

name to information about you

may seem the most natural thing

in the world, your boss stands a

good chance of not seeing it

that way.


Ernie Warren? He'll be OK. He's

already dusted himself off and

has decided to pursue

book-writing full time. The

after-hours work that got him

canned is turning out to be his




Of course, if the same thing

happened to you, you might not

have that book deal to fall back

on. Never mind - you can always

publish on the Web, right? So

people can link to it, and get

themselves fired, so they...

courtesy of An Entirely Other Greg