Sunday, October 24, 2010

Info Management in cyberspace: Learning to leave well enough alone

There are many instances in the real world when it pays to leave well enough alone.

This approach to life applies to the virtual world too, especially when one mounts an information management campaign in cyberspace against an unknown opponent.

The ongoing case of a website which has been requested goaded coaxed persuaded seduced ordered asked "asked" to change its name by a big name Singaporean entity is, to the best of my knowledge, without precedent.

From the look of things, both sides are unwilling to budge. Both appear to be digging in for a slug fest. So grab your snacks and soda and get ready for a showdown.

Who will blink first is the million dollar question media watchers are asking.

Regardless of the end result (i.e. whether the name change is acceded to or not), I'm willing to bet that the publicity has generated a spike in web traffic for the website.

Most bloggers and webmasters track, compile and dissect traffic patterns with analytics freeware. It is likely that more than a handful of netizens have surfed to the site out of sheer curiosity to see for themselves what the fuss is all about. This spike in unique page views - not the overall numbers count, which could come about from the same people visiting the site repeatedly - is what most bloggers are after. A rise in unique page views shows you have new customers and it's up to the webmaster(s) to keep these eyeballs coming back time and again.

For a website whose contents yearn for attention, having a big name Singapore entity inadvertently direct netizens to its domain name is more than it can ask for. It's an attention-seeker's dream.

One should not confuse the way officialdom has reacted to dissenting voices from the foreign media with this case. Previous cases involving what one could politely term as media management took place in the real world against known entities, with real office addresses and business interests one could hit (like advertisements and newspaper/magazine sales).

The website's case is peculiar because the puppet masters have yet to be conclusively unmasked.

To be sure, nothing in cyberspace is totally anonymous. If you can call in a favour with friends working with tech-savvy organisations, there are ways of ferreting out the website's origin and contributors (i.e. in military-speak, its C2 network).

The challenge here is that most private sector organisations will not be able to receive, and are not supposed to have access to, such cyber prescience. The cyber sleuths who can put together the big picture reside with government bodies and one must be mindful of calibrating the links (real or perceived) between what is afterall a commercial entity with the Big G's all-seeing eye.

With both sides standing firm, the standoff may lead to the following end game:
1. Status quo ante bellum: Website keeps its name, big name entity turns its back and life goes on. Though it could be viewed as a draw, I wouldn't bet against the likelihood of the website trumpeting its success in holding on to its moniker. The big name entity's reputation may take a knock, depending on whether people view its change of heart as being generous or muddle-headed.

2. Change in status quo: Website changes its name, big name entity gets its way. The website could do so and sell its skin dearly. Parallels with a David vs Goliath struggle can readily be drawn and netizens may sympathise with the underdog.

The case also raises this poser: Had the website's contents displayed a consistently pro-Establishment slant, would there be a need for house-keeping in the first place?

With a GE looming on the horizon, the last thing pro-Establishment entities need is to score an own goal by creating a cause celebre from this particular website.

This begs the very real question of how the big name entity will persuade, coerce or coax the website to do its bidding, when it is dealing with a threat unknown. It is like flying into battle without radar, not knowing who one's opponents are, where they lurk, how big is the threat or how extensive their network is.

And if it results in a lawsuit, whose letterbox would one's silks use to drop the bombshell?

The approach towards a single website which shares the same name as the big name entity lays bare local sensitivities towards external barbs and Internet critics. In my view, there's little to fear for business partners or stakeholders confusing one website for the real deal, if one's stakeholders know you well enough.

Had the call been made to leave well enough alone, the website concerned would quite likely continue yapping away at socio-political issues of the day.

So what if it does?

It would continue to have its fair share of followers, but netizens ultimately decide for themselves where their time is best spent while plonked in front of a laptop, computer monitor or how the battery life of their iPhone should best be expended.

Yes, it will do so under the guise of one's esteemed state-of-the-corporation report.

Yes, there are few things more irritating that netizens basking in reflected glory and sharing your spotlight. This is why there are tough laws against trademark infringements and intellectual property theft.

The key thing to remember, looking at the website's response to the name change request, is that the website appears to be challenging the big name entity to fire the next shot. In doing so, the website has nothing to lose as net traffic will only increase the longer this case pans out.

As the impasse continues, media watchers will glean valuable learning points from this landmark case where same name entities face off with one another.

Alea iacta est.


HaveAHacks said...

More to the point, Singapore's official histories state clearly that "Temasek" is a historical name for Singapore. As of today, there are 11 temasek listings in the yellowpages, only two of which are actually affiliated with Temsaek Holdings. TH has registered trademarks for "Temasek REPORT" in both Singapore and the USA, but no registrations for Temasek Review in any country. The brutal fact, therefore, is that Temasek Holdings has no legal right to "Temasek Review" anywhere in the world.

In an ordinary commercial dispute, the two possible outcomes would be: (1) Temask Holdings would pay off the previous registrants or (2) TH would just commence legal action regardless of the merits of their case on the assumption that since they have deeper pockets, the other party would have to give up first.

(1) appears to be unlikely since the current registrants do not seem to be motivated by commercial concerns, and may suffer reputational damage if they are seen to be paid off by a government-linked company. (2) remains a possibility but since the domain in question is registered in the US, there is a risk that activists of various sorts may donate legal services to the current registrants. In addition, the outcome may turn out to be unfavorable for Temasek Holdings given the facts of the case and possible anti-SWF sentiment in the US.

So, at the end of the day, maybe outcome (3) - status quo - will prevail. Still, I would advise the current registrants of to make sure that their registration fees are fully paid up, and to make sure that they have secure passwords on their accounts.

Callsign 24S said...

Good read man...eye opener forthcoming!