On the web, even the most secretive companies eventually embrace openness

Back in the 1990s, many people considered Microsoft a kind of “death star” of the northern wilderness, stealthily issuing new products that would destroy an entire category of software overnight.  But in the 2000s, the mantle for Most Secretive Company In High Tech passed to an unlikely successor, Apple Computer.

Under the second reign of Steve Jobs, the legal team at Apple would pursue leakers with a vengeance, hounding them with legal action.  But now, as one of the original Apple rumor site founders notes on Tina Brown’s new site The Daily Beast, a kinder, gentler Apple seems more inclined to let rumors and leaks slide by unchallenged.

What happened?   Did Apple suddenly lose their mighty mojo?

It’s just another illustration of creative collaboration.   The web is an echo chamber.  Rumors and photos constantly leak out of Apple.  Some are accurate, some are not.   Today they appear on various blogs, and then they get picked up by CNET and AOL’s Engadget…. and then suddenly the rumor metastasizes across the  blogosphere.

What can Apple’s legal team possibly do to muzzle the entire blogosphere?   Absolutely nothing.

We’re seeing something similar occur during the 2008 presidential campaign.   On the surface, both candidates have agreed to take the high road and steer clear of nasty smears and innuendo.   But on the outer fringes of the blogosphere, you can find all sorts of kooky speculation about Obama’s purported ties to Muslims and Palin’s ties to Alaskan secessionists (and McCain’s ties to Keating, etc etc ad nauseum).   This garbage is leaked by campaign operatives and sympathizers.   And once the rumors appears on the fringe blogs, they migrate rapidly to the mainstream blogs who report on the rumors, and from there to the web sites for the mainstream media.    Once the rumor is published on a blog, no matter how dubious, it can be swiftly legitimized by mass media hungry for any scoop in a fiercely competitive 24 hour news cycle.

Any attempt to repress the rumors only drives more search and more page views for the original rumor.  Supression is tantamount to promotion.  Heavy-handed attempts with cease and desist orders only stoke the furnace hotter… thereby spreading the meme further.

The obvious solution is to embrace openness.  Reveal all, for on the web, privacy and secrecy are artifacts of a bygone era.   Far better to reveal all the gory detail right up front, as Sarah Palin did with her family’s awkward teen pregnancy.   Get the facts out, endure the painful news cycle, and then relax because once the info is revealed you are immunized.    Until the next leak.