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December 17, 2008


Morten Blaabjerg

I never regarded openness and transparency as a goal in itself, but as a terrific tool to achieve something we wouldn't otherwise be able to. I believe it's the best path to achieving what we want to do in my company.

Yes, it's a lot of extra work to begin with, say starting and administrating a wiki or developing a blog or a community, but it can be the most powerful thing on the planet - more powerful than hundreds or thousands of costly in-house employees. The effort put into openness and documentation etc. goes towards the goal of making our project accessible to people and ressources, we wouldn't otherwise be anywhere near obtaining. Just the fact that I can now ask a question on Twitter and get useful advice back rooted in experience from a few of my "followers" is worth all the time and effort I put into twittering half a year back. Not to mention the skills acquired and things learned while I did so.

I know there are a lot of people who wants to make blogging and twittering into a science one has to "master", and of course one can always do things better, but when it starts to become an obligation and cause of stress, it loses all it's appeal. Twittering or blogging should never be an obligation - I try to let it spring from my untameable urge to share something, professionally or socially, or let it be simple tools, which I can leverage to achieve some particular purpose. For instance, asking your followers or "friends" about something may achieve something a lot faster than spending hours and hours using Google Search.

Still, lots of times I find myself taking the shortsighted shortcuts, without bookmarking socially, without using the wiki, without twittering. But I think this is just bad habits, which I need to train myself out of. If I really want to leverage the power that open architectures make possible.

Of course, things may be worse, if you already have an organization in place based on "bad habits" and closed architectures. In that case, it may be a lot harder to escape the bad habits, as things will always represent themselves as "much easier" to do with the tools already at hand. But in the long run, those tools are more costly than open architectures can be, which leverages a lot of power and information, not only cheaply, but which is also not easily accessible otherwise.

Panayotis Vryonis

How about pull-transparency (or on-demand) instead of push-transparency? It might not be "cheaper" (in resources) but the "cost" is related to demand.

Derek Tumolo

John Battelle has a related post (https://battellemedia.com/archives/004738.php) on real time data that offers a way to get transparency without actively providing it.

"All of us are creating fountains of ambient data, from our phones, our web surfing, our offline purchasing, our interactions with tollbooths, you name it. Combine that ambient data (the imprint we leave on the digital world from our actions) with declarative data (what we proactively say we are doing right now) and you've got a major, delicious, wonderful, massive search problem, er, opportunity."

It's certainly hard to push all the stuff you do every day to public facing channels, but Panayotis's point above, you could pull a lot of it. This would not be sanitized like the Wired articles, this would be raw feeds of the emails flying, the research saved, curated by the public, not an editor. Now that's what I call transparency.


What John Battelle said. One of the great things about last.fm and what attracted me to it was that I didn't have to do any more than what I was already doing; listen to music. This was extraordinary compared say with Amazon recommends. What's awkward though is that there are a lot of real life problems that simply can't be dealt with like this. For instance books aren't yet able to tell an internet service that they are being read. Which makes things like Librarything or Goodreads an order of magnitude more effort.

So go looking for data that can be exposed as a side effect of people doing what they were going to do anyway and that doesn't need manual filtering.

David Douglas

You're observing that transparency requires a certain energy in the steady state, and another degree of transparency requires a different amount of energy in the steady state. In my experience the energy of the more transparent state (when you really commit to it) is lower than the energy of the less transparent state, but there is an energy barrier in between that has to be overcome. That usually includes change of policy, putting new tools and process in place, etc.

My bet is that more things are kept from being "transparenter" due to the energy barrier than from situations where the more transparent thing really takes more steady state energy.


good luck :)

Morten Blaabjerg

Interesting perspective, David! I think you're right. At least, it resonates with my own experience - it takes some effort and planning, but from there, one can be more efficient. I always hear from people they are impressed of how much online work I'm doing. Truth is, most of the time I don't feel excessively productive. But I think operating on many online platforms and using clever tools such as Ping.fm, wikis and RSS Readers help create an impression of a lot getting done and that there's a lot of activity in many places. And there is a lot getting done, and it takes place at a faster speed than in any closed system, but often without more effort on my part.

Alberto Cottica

Morten, I am really impressed with your comments. Thanks for this.

Morten Blaabjerg

Alberto, thank you!

You should definitely read Clay Shirky's "Here Comes Everybody. The Power of Organizing Without Organizations", if you like what I'm saying here. He's the source of some really insightful thinking re: the new power of organizing group efforts on the internet.

There's some video here to start with : https://blog.kaplak.com/category/clay-shirky/

xie mo

We know that the Internet has become the enterprises to promote products, increase the visibility of the necessary means to their business information in BtoB's Web site to log into a lot of business after the Internet will do; At the same time, relatively well-known site in order to enrich their own Data resources, has been the find this kind of enterprise customer base continued to increase their visibility.

Free wills

Good post.I always hear from people they are impressed of how much online work I'm doing. Truth is, most of the time I don't feel excessively productive.

hugh macleod

Hey Chris,

Congrats on the book. Loved the last one...

My book's coming out June 9th. same publisher and editor as Seth Godin [Portfolio/Penguin].

Dunno if you'll like this idea or not, but, I would LOVE to do some cartoon work for your magazine, if the opportunity ever comes up. Please feel free to ping me via email if it does :)


P.S. I read only about 3 magazines regularly in print form. Wired is one of them. Rock on.

Max Kalehoff


You make some great points, but I see one problem: You refer to transparency as if it's an absolute. "It is or it isn't." For example, I spotted "truly transparent" and "true transparency". Even the phrase "can't be transparent about everything all the time" suggests that you either ARE or ARE NOT absolutely transparent about certain things and not others.

The fact is unless you're dealing with physical transparency (i.e., the ability for light to travel through an object), the notion is largely subjective, and varies across groups and individuals. Life's messy. Social norms rarely exist that allow something to be completely transparent or not.

Transparency has similar problems as its cousin, "full disclosure," which was born in the halls of the SEC. It was intended as a regulatory guarantee that a company's material news reached all stakeholders equitably. When applied liberally -- beyond a narrow, technical circumstance -- subjectivity takes hold and it becomes nothing more than an aspiration. Aspirations are noble, but NOT absolutes. I suppose you could be absolute in your commitment to an aspiration, though.

Also, you are wise in your acknowledgment of the cost of transparency. A full, absolute commitment to transparency in every aspect of one's life would be inefficient, and probably shut life down. There's also a cost -- if not conflict -- associated with ethics and standards. For example, would it be wise for a returning soldier from Iraq to be completely transparent with his four-year-old son about what it's like to kill another man? Or, should a dinner guest be completely transparent about how disgusting the host's cooking is? I would argue no in both circumstances.

Finally, I'm sad to see your blog redesign omitted my quote about the long-tail of book publishing, which once lived in your sidebar. Oh well.

Happy new year.

Pete W

Google is transparent with several aspects of its business, while it keeps secret its algorithms.

Transor Z

Since transparency is in the eye of the beholder, transparency is costly because it requires us to be aware of our audience as we tailor/narrate our "transparency" for their consumption.

As Max mentions above, one notion of transparency is in GAAP, especially for SEC filings. But this does not mean that companies will retain records for longer than their document retention policies require!

So a business historian trying to reconstruct what went wrong at investment banks will have to find "transparency" in whatever doesn't go to the shredders.


i'll wait that day... july 6th...

موقع يوتيوب

but it can be the most powerful thing on the planet - more powerful than hundreds or thousands of costly



in-house employees. The effort put into openness and documentation

adaptateurs secteur

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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Notes and sources for the book

FREE was available in all digital forms--ebook, web book, and audiobook--for free shortly after the hardcover was published on July 7th. The ebook and web book were free for a limited time and limited to certain geographic regions as determined by each national publisher; the unabridged MP3 audiobook (get zip file here) will remain free forever, available in all regions.

Order the hardcover now!