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By Jack Ganssle

Blocked Sites

Published 5/28/2007

Do you surf porn during the workday?

Of course you don't. I imagine that only a tiny percentage of professionals while away the business day clicking through X-rated sites.

But an increasing number of correspondents are apologetic when they can't get to a site I recommend, due to filters on the corporate firewall. Trust me, I'm not sending them steamy URLs. These are for papers, discussion groups, and other embedded resources. Sometimes they're on sites like Yahoo, which it seems a lot of companies prohibit.

Some readers tell me they don't even have access to Usenet! Admittedly, there are an awful lot of useful and offensive Usenet groups, and in some groups a small percentage of posters just seem to be determined to pollute rather than contribute. But the globe's servers have a vast store of knowledge that can speed development.

The Internet changed the way we access information. Once it was all stored in central repositories: libraries, magazine collections, etc. Now it's distributed. A useful nugget is on one site, another somewhere else. Sometimes a tantalizing reference to a paper leads one on a chase through the electronic labyrinth which may result in an approach, algorithm, or canned snippet of code that saves hours or weeks. Sometimes there's a dead end, but that's the very nature of research.

And, yes, sometimes there's a link that takes one to an unexpected place. I tried to log onto a well-known sporting goods store's site, once, clicking faster than thinking. It turns out that the correct URL is http://www.dickssportinggoods.com/. The shorter name for which they are usually known goes to a very different sort of site.

That misadventure cost me a second or two, plus a chuckle and an amusing story. If a work-related search had gone similarly awry, the cost, too, would have been immeasurable. We're grownups; we're professionals, and the vast majority of engineers that I know are so focused on doing a good job that this minor distraction has no impact on their performance.

Do the suits feel we might be hidden in our cubes (how hidden is one in a cube, anyway?) wasting the company's day digging through the net's filth? If that's the case there's a much larger dynamic at work: there's no trust. Without trust no engineering team will be successful. Without trust managers are forced to micromanage every aspect of each person's work day.

"Empowerment" spurned a management revolution over the last few decades. Every successful business person extols the idea of giving the employees general direction and resources, then get out of the way. Trust them and watch the magic happen.

Restricting net access is an electronic version of the nun hovering over a sea of fearful 10 year olds, switch in hand, ready to thwack a transgressor's knuckles. 5th graders may need that enforced discipline. Professionals don't.

What do you think? Are you're in a sort of net Faraday cage?