Interesting situation recently. As long-time readers know, I’ve been a big fan of the Stop Blocking campaign for a number of years, and I tend to find it frustrating when I come across blocked networks. Trust and empowerment make me feel great in my job.
I’ve spent most of October and November travelling to speak with customers and present at a couple of conferences around Europe. In that time, I generally had very few problems with network access.
On one occasion though, I realised just how tricky things are becoming, as “social” elements become increasingly baked in to the fabric of the Web. I was in Switzerland, and the plan was for me to present locally during the morning, and then to host and facilitate a conversation with a number of my colleagues in the Hursley lab during the afternoon. The hosts arranged guest wifi network access for me, so that we could make this work. I’d be able to use Sametime to receive files to present locally (we couldn’t access LotusLive), to clarify questions with the remote team, and to coordinate other team members to join the conversation as we went along.
This plan was initially all looking good, until I found that the VPN connection I was using to tunnel in to the corporate network would suddenly and apparently randomly, drop in the middle of a conversation.
After a while these VPN disconnections became more frequent, I became more frustrated, and the meeting became less productive.
… and that’s when I looked at the piece of paper I’d been given with my guest network credentials. To summarise, it said that guests would be subject to all of the same restrictions as employees regarding network access and specific sites were disallowed including “Personal email: Hotmail, Gmail etc; IM: Skype, Google Talk, etc; Social networking: Twitter, Facebook, etc”.
The penny dropped that my browser was sitting there with tabs open on sites like Gmail and Twitter. I shut them, reconnected, reconnected to the VPN, and things…. were better…. well, better, for a while.
I still wanted to use the Internet, of course, so I continued to do so – searching Google for relevant issues when questions were asked in the workshop. That’s when the VPN started flaking out again…. and that’s when I realised that with the Google redesign, the +1 features in the header bar were accessing Google+ when I loaded the Google page, treating that as a “social network”, and silently dropping my wifi connection.
This was a case where a heavy-handed filter, no doubt designed to “protect” the users from themselves and the organisation from inappropriate behaviour, actually impaired real work getting done. Either this technology needs to get a lot, lot smarter; companies need to reconsider these blocking rules, and trust an increasingly savvy workforce to behave responsibly; or the Web just needs to stop getting so darned social and… troublesome. Which option do you prefer?