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Last Updated: Monday, 3 January, 2005, 03:44 GMT
Looming pitfalls of work blogs
By Jo Twist
BBC News science and technology reporter

As ever with the net, every year seems to bring with it a new word born out of how humans have turned technology into something useful for them.

Screengrab from Queen of the Sky's blog
Queen of the Sky was fired over her blog
This year, "blog" was included for the first time in the US Merriam-Webster dictionary. It entered the Oxford English dictionary last year, reflecting its entry into mainstream language.

There are more than five million blogs, or online diaries, and the number is growing.

But increasingly, people are landing in hot water with employers over blogs about their work.

A new term has emerged as a result. According to UrbanDictionary.com, to be "dooced" means "losing your job for something you wrote in your online blog, journal, website, etc."

In November, a US airline attendant calling herself Queen of the Sky was fired over "inappropriate images" on her anonymous blog.

She is currently filing a discrimination complaint with the US Equal Employment Opportunity Commission.

Data Protection: Company information used or employees mentioned in identifiable terms
Trademarks: Incidental use only permitted
Terms in employment: Conditions may preclude blogs (although not usually expressly)
Terms in employment: Conditions may preclude speaking about company matters which a blog will capture
Libel and defamation: Derogatory or unfavourable disclosures may expose liability
Confidentiality: Leakage of sensitive information
Copyright: If content is done at work, all that the blogger produces or contributes to belongs to the company
Source: Nick Lockett, DL Legal
And more bloggers could be "dooce dodging" in 2005 as employers wake up to the technology, warns legal expert Nick Lockett from hi-tech law firm DL Legal.

There are several very serious legal issues which employers will be increasingly turning their attention to, he says.

With some, as in the Delta case, there are issues over terms of employment and codes of conduct which can become incredibly difficult to interpret, he explains.

"We have already seen a number of rulings in industrial tribunals where the mere 'misuse' of the net in the absence of a clear policy is not grounds for dismissal," he says.

"Even where you have employee codes of conduct, they are not particularly clear about blogs."

There are broader human rights issues for governments, as well as copyright pitfalls where bloggers use company equipment and time meaning the company effectively owns blog content.

What is clear is that employee blogs, like instant messaging, have largely remained under the corporate radar so far.

Blog as 'therapy'

People blog for all sorts of reasons. To some it is a chance to have a good moan about life in general, and to many that includes life at work.

"Tom", a London ambulance worker, has been blogging for 18 months and gets about 4,000 hits a day on his weblog, Random Acts of Reality.

He thought people might be interested in what happens in an ambulance, a place people prefer not to experience.

"It's a glimpse into the rather secret world of ambulance work, a chance to realise that we aren't like Josh in Casualty [a medical TV show in the UK].

John Cleese as Basil Fawlty and Andrew Sachs as Manuel in Fawlty Towers
When you get home you have all these feelings because you really can't say what you want to say. You write it down and you feel much better - and you get comments from others so you feel you are not the only one out there

"I get invited into the homes of people when they are often at their most vulnerable.

"We get to see murders, assaults and people who have destroyed their lives through drink and drugs, and we also get to see some people doing the best that they can with whatever troubles they have to face."

To him, like many other job-bloggers it is almost a form of therapy; he enjoys giving people a somewhat voyeuristic window into his life.

Most of his work colleagues were unaware of his blog until recently. But, Tom insists, keeping his blog anonymous is still essential.

"I'm always careful as to how my views might reflect on the ambulance service.

"I don't blog about anything, or share opinions, that I wouldn't feel happy talking about up on a stage in front of friends and strangers," he says.

Similarly, "David Copperfield", a British policeman, started his blog after realising there was a huge gap between what people thought police did.

He thought it would be a way to see the "funny side" of his work. Nobody at work knows anything about The Policeman's Blog.

"I try not to talk about specific incidents because I am sure it would identify me. What I try to do it take the 'moral' of the story, if there is one, and change the exact circumstances.

"The blog is not really about me but about the insane amounts of paperwork and the customers that all officers struggle with."

Letting it out

"Waiter" works in a New York bistro and has been blogging, or ranting, about what he sees in his workplace since April.

Usually adept at cooling down demanding customers and humouring a situation, it is on his blog, Waiter Rant, that he lets it all out.

"When you get home you have all these feelings because you really can't say what you want to say.

Police officers
'David Copperfield' says his blog offers an insight into police work
"You write it down and you feel much better. And you get comments from others so you feel you are not the only one out there," he says.

Waiter's anonymous blog acts as a lens through which others can see peak into people's lives.

"It is a slice of life that not everyone sees and they get to view the world a little differently. The purpose of all writing it is to see the world in someone else's eyes."

But he sees a deeper reason emerging for the growth of blogging, particularly in a politically correct US.

"People who work in the corporate world are circumscribed to what they should say, so they get a chance to say what they think."

Blogs can be good for companies, says Mr Lockett, but what is clear is that the rules on blogs are hazy and inconsistent, and bloggers should to be alert about what they are doing.

"Companies need to accept that the world is moving on and must adopt the new technology and make guidelines.

"Blogs can put a human face on your company. They can also put a demon at the centre of the company PR."


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