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Scott Yates year-end wrapup

Wikileaks Shows Generational Divide (And a Startup Lesson)

The whole Wikileaks event is fascinating on so many levels. There's been ton's of great coverage. I've read lots of it, but there's one thing that hasn't really been said: This seems like essentially a generational issue, yet another sign that the world is changing fast and the Hey-man-let's-change-the-world Boomers are the ones standing in the way of history.

Let me explain.

For all the hand-wringing, the actual upshot of the leaks has been... zilch. No covert operatives have been frogmarched down the streets of Moscow or Beijing. No foreign secretaries have been sacked.

(In the funniest tweet I've seen in a long time, my old Spy Magazine colleague Nell Scovell said: "WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange thinks Hillary Clinton should resign. Does he know NOTHING about the Clintons???")

Clinton, of course, will not resign and neither will anyone else. If anyone was harmed even a little, all the governments and journalists so outraged about the leaks would point to that harm as an example of why the leaks are so dangerous. They've got nothing.

The only reason they are so upset is that they like keeping their little secrets. It makes them feel important. So far, however, the leaks show that the government of Russia is corrupt (Say it aint so!) and in most cases that diplomats have done a pretty good job. If all this stuff hadn't been leaked information, this "news" would be classified as "not news."

How is all this related to startups? I recently saw a presentation from one of the best startup guys working these days: Eric Ries. Ries is an advocate of taking the absolute minimum product that you can create and putting it on the web so you can see if and how people will use it. Then you learn your lessons, iterate quickly and keep moving. Someone asked him how it was possible to do this without alerting your competition to what it is you are doing.

Reis' answer was spot-on. In essence, he said that your competition is just busy trying to do whatever it is they are doing, and really won't be paying much attention to what a startup is trying to do in the same space. He said that you could actually take all the code you've written and send it to your closest competitor, and the chances are that they really wouldn't know what to do with it. So don't worry about them, Ries said, worry about your biggest challenge, which is to just do a good job of figuring out what your customers want and providing it to them.

So it is with all these "secrets" that are now out. They are only secret because of the legacy of the positions the people hold who are doing the communicating.

That's why I say this is a generational issue. People over 45 or so have this assumption that all communication is private. Gen Xers and younger -- the people who regularly post on the 'net where they are eating lunch -- understand that all communication is essentially public.

The reason there's been so much handwringing among the older parts of the media is that they liked the world back in the day when they, and they alone, would get to see all the private stuff and publicize it when they felt that it was interesting. The gatekeepers are just not that useful any more. What's useful is a search engine that allows anyone interested to find what they are looking for.

For those of you keeping score at home, gatekeepers are the Boomers, and search engines are from Gen X.

The person who allegedly provided all those cables to Wikileaks? A kid. The one calling for that kid to be executed? A presidential candidate, a boomer, who cloaks himself in Christianity. (Hypocrisy infects all generations, but its most friendly host is the Baby Boomer.)

So just remember these two things: First, if you really want something to be private, don't put it on the 'net. Second, ask yourself why you want it to be private. Chances are that if you try to keep it private, it will just make really boring stuff that much more sensational.