A technical fix for a social problem.

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25Oct2010

A technical fix for a social problem.

  • By Andrew Garrett
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“A technical fix for a social problem” is a phrase that gets bandied about in security and usability circles over and over again.. but what does it mean for your business?

Often, technical people are inclined to try and solve problems with technology that really aren’t solvable that way.

Let’s say that you decide that you don’t want your staff using Facebook from the office. The technical ‘fix’ for that is to block facebook.com at your web proxy or internet router. While that will probably block most people from getting access to Facebook from the office, it won’t stop those truly motivated to get access to Facebook. There are ‘proxy’ sites that allow access to blocked website, and a number of them have popped up dedicated to getting people access to Facebook. In fact, searching “Facebook proxy” on google returns 214,000 results. If your staff are even vaguely technical (and, in this day and age, who isn’t?), then they’ll most likely be able to find other ways to work around any technical fix you can put in place.

Staff spending work time on personal tasks or websites is a ‘social problem’ for your organisation. Someone who’s inclined towards spending paid time on things that you’re not prepared to pay for is the problem – Facebook is just one manifestation of that. If you start blocking websites, where do you stop? If you block Facebook, do you also block Twitter? What about site’s of a similar nature that you’ve probably never heard of – Orkut, FriendFeed, Jaiku, etc. What about the new ones cropping up every week that even I’ve never heard of?

If blocking sites you don’t want your staff to access becomes your policy, then you’ve just started playing a whack-a-mole game of trying to block every site you don’t want them to go to – and that’s probably a huge list, and not really sustainable.

The social fix is to give your staff reasonable limits, explain why the limits are in place, then police the limits. Your technical people should, I hope, be able to give you a summary of how often Facebook is accessed, and by whom – often, a quiet word in the right ear is better than trying to block it entirely. Then, you’re putting in a social fix that’s backed up by technology.

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