Monday could mark a dark day in the on-line experience for mainstreamers. For that is the day that Zscaler, mega-preneur Jay Chaudhry’s latest foray, launches. The service provides in-the-cloud web filtering of web traffic. That would be the cloud that New York Times’ Brad Stone calls, “that all-knowing, pervasive, sometimes unreliable cluster of computers in the digital ether.”
To dumb it down, instead of your company’s Milton Waddams manually making the call as to what websites you can and cannot access from work, he’ll now have a virtual blowtorch, and the red stapler is sitting on your computer monitor: Zscaler, which will cleanse in- and out-bound HTTP traffic for malware and filter out any request for sites or services that violate company policy. But it will do so based on never-before-seen granular control give to … yep. Milton.
Zscaler lets him now control who can access what and when. It will also give detailed reports to employers showing which employees are spending time on Facebook as opposed to the sales reports and who is watching goofy YouTube videos in lieu of responding to company emails.
For the mainstream public just figuring out the wonder of the social web, this could be as horrific as prohibition to frat boys in the 1920s. For those of us working in the social web, it will have an effect on mainstream adoption of social media tools akin to playing a 78 rpm record on 33 rpm speed. (Oops! Lost anyone under the age of 30.) In other words, it will slow down progress. A lot.
Ironic, isn’t it, that just as corporate America seems to be coming around to the openness of the social web that they’ll now have the opportunity to further isolate their own employees from it? The very people who should be empowered to communicate with consumers on behalf of the company will likely be locked out of many social networks. (One IT person – not at my company – told me last week that NING is just a series of Porn sites strung together. Guess that could mean a nice traffic bump for Twit2Fit.com, huh?)
Certainly, giving everyone in the company full access to the entire web all the time isn’t wise. Or is it? Call me crazy, but I’m of the opinion if you feel like you have to legislate what your employees can or cannot see online, you don’t need filtering for the web. You need filtering for employees.
Zscaler is probably going to save a lot of companies some money, or at least some time spent handcuffing their employees to the desk. But closing the doors to the web closes minds to the great things the web has to offer. And in an era of openness, that doesn’t compute.
Jason Falls is and blogger and director of social media at Doe-Anderson, a brand-building agency in Louisville, Kentucky. He writes the Social Media Explorer blog.