Conflict is what I feel about the current plight of Julian Assange, the WikiLeaks founder. I'm an advocate for small business and believe that he is a fellow small business owner. On the other hand I'm not sure that his pursuits are business driven.
Looking at the various reactions to the systematic leaking of diplomatic cables, I'm reminded of Jack Nicholson's immortal "You can't handle the truth" line from the movie A Few Good Men. We ask for greater transparency in business transactions and government actions but when the real facts are poured over us like confetti, there is lots of shouting to stop throwing that stuff around.
Whatever the political noise around it right now, I do believe that WikiLeaks is a small business and that is my level of interest. How often does a single small business have presidents and potentates plus at least one attorney general talking about its product and its founder? I'd say hardly ever. In looking for their mission statement, the following is taken from their website. "WikiLeaks is a not-for-profit media organisation. Our goal is to bring important news and information to the public. We provide an innovative, secure and anonymous way for sources to leak information to our journalists (our electronic drop box)."
Is there a whole new business category emerging here? Maybe it could be called info-war. In this digital era, good people and not so nice folks all have access to the same information and the means to share it widely and instantly. Just about everything we do these days leaves a trail. The old days of exerting power-by-secrecy are gone. As this big world has been made smaller by electronic communications, small events have been made larger because millions of people can read about them worldwide.
Almost anything can be monetized and made into a business. The private lives of public personalities have been the raw material for new businesses such as the web sites TMZ, Perez Hilton and others. Corporate America spends millions of dollars per year subscribing to intelligence reports that purport to deliver private information about their competitors and marketplace influences. Is it useful that we have greater access to knowledge about the judging panel of American Idol that we have to information regarding the principal players in the war in Afghanistan? Which one really affects our lives now and in the future?
Back to the business of WikiLeaks. Someplace in all this current controversy is probably a person or persons who broke a law by dumping private information onto the servers of WikiLeaks. That is a matter for prosecutors and attorneys to unravel. The revenue model for Wiki seems to be modest cash contributions from people who believe strongly in what Julian Assange and his associates do. A clear and purpose driven mission is the strongest heartbeat and customer magnet that a business can have. Don't we all want a customer base who anxiously await each product release and who continue to support us through thick and thin. In this case they seem to have even been willing to wage a cyber war in defense of the business. Corporate marketers would do a lot to develop that level of brand loyalty.
Being in business means that you face many hard choices. I certainly don't support anyone breaking laws, but sometimes trailblazers face loud opposition and criticism while operating within the law. Slave owners didn't exactly celebrate Eli Whitney's invention of the Cotton Gin. If there was a Blacksmiths of America trade group in 1910, they probably didn't erect statues of the auto manufacturers. There can be enough static to shake your belief in self or in whatever you are doing. Those people who launch and lead mission driven causes have my admiration. It probably started as a child when I read about Joan of Arc and reached a comic high when Jake and Elwood, in the Blues Brothers movie declared "We're on a mission from God."
Will WikiLeaks continue in business? Will Julian Assange find himself convicted in either of the world's most popular crime categories, sex or money? Will his associates or followers create their own leaky organizations? Repackaging information is a growing business and if it comes from a folder labeled secret, it has extra cachet and value in the marketplace. The genie is out of the bottle and information wars in cyberspace have been engaged.