01/27/2011 08:51 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

The Disruptors Arrive at Davos

Last year at Davos, I said I was among the disrupted when I preferred
to be among the disruptors.

The disruptor arrived last night. Daniel Domscheit-Berg, former
spokesman for WikiLeaks and founder of the competitive href="">OpenSecrets, came to a dinner about
transparency at which I was a panelist, alongside the Guardian's
Timothy Garton-Ash, Human Rights Watch's Ken Roth, and Harvard's David
Kennedy, led by the New York Times' Arthur Sulzberger.

Sad irony: the session on transparency was off-the-record. I asked for
it to be open; Sulzberger asked in turn; no go. Fill in your punchline

But Dan Perry of the AP was there and href="">interviewed
the hyphenates, Domscheit-Berg and Garton-Ash, on the record. Under
Chatham House Rule, we can summarize the talk without attributing it.

In truth, there was little disagreement -- until we switched from
transparent government to transparent business.

About government, the speakers put forward the expected enthusiasm
about forcing more transparency upon government with the expected
hesitation about potential harm resulting from incomplete redaction
and about making government more secret rather than less. No
surprises. One person in the room -- a journalist I've heard here
before who inevitably supports power structures -- actually opposed
transparent government (preferring mere accountability... though how
one gets to the latter without the former, I have no idea).

About business, we did disagree. The question was posed: is secrecy a
competitive advantage? Most of the panelists and the room said it was.
I disagreed as did one other person you might expect to disagree. I
argued that transparency is not about just malfeasance but also about
a new and necessary way to operate in collaboration with one's
customers and public. Old, institutional companies will miss another
boat as new, transparent companies take advantage of the age of
openness to do business in a new way.

What I see is that when corporations are subjected to leaks, the
reaction will be different. They'll have more defenders from the power
structure. They'll too rarely see the opportunity in operating as open
companies. But it won't stop the leaks and the march of transparency.

Tomorrow, I'm going to an awards ceremony held by PublicEye.CH, href="">naming the worst
corporation in the world (you can still vote) and there,
Domscheit-Berg will present OpenSecrets. This is the counterweight to
the congregation of the Davos Man.

* Note also that one of my entrepreneurial journalism students at
CUNY, Matt Terenzio, just launched href="">Localeaks, which will enable any
newspaper in the U.S. to receive leaks from whistleblowers. Very cool.
More about it href="">here.