Creating a Learning Climate for Nonprofit Staff
Two Other Strategies for Creating a Climate of Learning

Why Nonprofits Should Reconsider Site-blocking Policies

A few weeks ago I wrote about organizational barriers to using Web 2.0 tools, citing Bev Trayner's and my experiences with clients as examples. We noted that many sites were blocked, that Skype couldn't be downloaded, etc.

This morning I read this post from Lance Knobel who is working in Dubai:

One of the issues raised with the company I’m working with here in Dubai is the need to improve their “digital literacy”.

Some elements of digital literacy may be hard to achieve because of the number of things that seem to be blocked by national firewalls. On my last visit here in November I learned that you couldn’t use Skype. That has a lamentable commercial logic to it: the national telecoms monopoly, Etisalat, doesn’t want its monopoly rents threatened. But there are plenty of blockages that have nothing to do with commercial advantage.

I can’t reach any Typepad blog. Fortunately (I couldn’t live without my fixes of Brad DeLong and many others) nothing is blocking the many Typepad full-text feeds that are flowing into my Google Reader (something I’ll have to recommend to my clients). Flickr is blocked: “We apologize the site you are attempting to visit has been blocked due to its content being inconsistent with the religious, cultural, political and moral values of the United Arab Emirates.”

Two thoughts come to mind for me on this:

  • When your organization's web policies begin to resemble those of the United Arab Emirates, it's time to rethink what you're doing.
  • Your most talented staff will figure out how to work around your policies. They will also be the ones most likely to resent what you're doing and to start looking for an organization that isn't as restrictive.

UPDATE--Bev Trayner mentions in comments that one of the reasons organizations often ban Skype is because it can be a bandwidth hog. Good point, so I did a little digging on that. It's true, but it appears that there's a relatively simple fix for it. You can read more in Comments. 


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Michele, one of the reasons people tell me that Skype - and other sites - are blocked is because it would take up extra bandwidth. I'd like to find out if that's a myth or if there is a genuine technical reason for keeping them blocked.

That's an interesting point, Bev. I did a little digging and found this article on Skype using computers as "supernodes" that can sap bandwidth:

When computers are in supernode mode, then others who are not part of the network can basically benefit from the extra bandwidth without having to bear the cost.

Here's a blog post on three California colleges that made a decision to ban Skype for that reason:

I still think that organizations need to do some research and a cost benefit analysis before immediately deciding to either ban or not use programs like Skype. From the little bit of digging I did, it looks like there's a simple fix for the bandwidth issue:

What worries me is that nonprofits "hear" somewhere that Skype is a bandwidth hog and leave it at that, without trying to get more information or to see if there's a potential fix. And I don't think bandwidth is the reason that sites like Flickr and gmail would be blocked.

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