Office Leaks, a new online forum for discussing, condemning and otherwise straight-up insulting your co-workers, bosses and work environment, may seem like it is inviting a whole lot of hate and reckless gossip. After all, it offers a space for users to write whatever they want about their companies with little fear of reprisal.
But that is not what it is meant to be, founder and CEO Ryan Masanz maintains.
"It's a place where people can speak their piece and not be afraid to do it," he says with some conviction, threat of slander be damned.
Office Leaks hopes to be a "Water Cooler 2.0," where employees can digitally gather around their laptops and QWERTily whisper about their company's policy -- or current management, air conditioning temperature or whatever -- a place where they can vent without fear that their boss or an office snitch is listening in, according to Masanz. That protective shield of anonymity is key to Office Leaks' success, Masanz says: Registration requires nothing but an email address, which then goes through one-way encryption so that not even Office Leaks employees know who is posting what. Subpoenaing this information would be impossible, the CEO says, since Office Leaks does not log any information at all from its users.
As a website, Office Leaks is fairly straightforward. Users sign up with an email address and choose the company they work for. After selecting a cartoon avatar to represent themselves, Office-Leakers have two options: They can post a new thread about whatever is on their mind:
Or they can scroll down to see "What's New" in their company, what their co-workers are discussing, debating and commiserating about:
For Office Leaks to work as an advocacy site -- its best-case outcome -- anonymity is paramount, of course. But what about the worst-case outcome, when anonymity becomes not protection for the brave, but a hiding place for the mean and weak -- the kind of anonymity that former Facebook marketing director Randi Zuckerberg says "has to go away"?
When I first saw Office Leaks, I was instantly reminded of JuicyCampus. Shuttered in 2009, JuicyCampus was an anonymous online forum for college students that was overrun and undone by personal attacks, rampant name-calling and horrific rumor-mongering. But where JuicyCampus was never anything more than a trashy gossip site, Masanz says that OfficeLeaks aims to be something more civilized: a place for "activism, whistle-blowing, blowing off some steam, general chatter" and yes, "some gossip."
He invited me to browse through the threads on the site, pointing me towards several exemplary posts: a member of the Support Center team at Oracle complaining that many had not received raises in 4-8 years while their Indian counterparts received raises regularly; a worker at the Minnesota judicial branch decrying the "Good Old Boys" network that still ruled management; a staffer at Las Vegas' Spring Valley Hospital advising his "bully bosses" to swallow their pride and ask for help if they were confused.
"Out of 500 threads submitted so far," Masanz said with a trace of pride, "only two have had to be deleted."
Masanz said that the website's next release will have "flags" that users can select for inappropriate content and the option for a companies to become moderators of their own sites (which gives them the ability to make all of the related posts private and to send in threads for review to Office Leaks' internal moderators -- but doesn't allow them to delete the threads themselves) for a fee of $100 per month. Though posts on Office Leaks are set to private by default, users can choose to make their posts public for all to see (if their company's network has not been set to total privacy by its sponsor).
Where Masanz got the idea for OfficeLeaks says a lot about what he hopes the website will grow into, and why he argues that it will never become a JuicyCampus. Brainstormed in late 2010 and launched to the public on April 1, 2011, the site was inspired by two events, one personal and one national: First, the Wisconsin Right-to-Work Saga of early 2011, which Masanz says would have benefited from a portal for union supporters and sympathetic government officials to anonymously supply each other with vital information. Second, by a more personal incident. Masanz's mother found out that one of her best friends going to be fired, but she was not allowed to inform her friend, even though the friend was planning on taking out a mortgage under the assumption that she had job security, Masanz said.
Masanz said he started work on OfficeLeaks immediately after that happened.
If Office Leaks takes off, could Masanz become the target of criticism by his own employees on his own site?:
"I don't know what to expect, but it certainly has been in the back of my mind," he laughed, before again becoming serious:
"I really do believe in free speech, and I'm not trying to hurt any company. I'm just trying to put a light on the issues they wouldn't otherwise see."
Employees of all companies can join Office Leaks and start putting the light on issues their bosses don't see now at OfficeLeaks.com