WikiLeaks: Is there a future for the website without Julian Assange?
With founder Julian Assange grappling with his personal legal problems, some analysts say WikiLeaks has to chart an independent course, much as Apple needs to look beyond Steve Jobs.
The government-secret busting website WikiLeaks got a mix of bad news and some kinda good news Thursday.Skip to next paragraph
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On the down side, the British courts ruled that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange could be sent back to Sweden for questioning over allegations of sexual assault. But in the look-on-the-bright-side half of the equation, supporters of the site launched a nifty online gift shop, complete with snazzy “Free Assange” T-shirts and iPad sleeves. [Editor's note: The original version misstated the reason why Sweden wants Assange returned to the country.]
But it will take a lot of $19.99 T-shirt sales to cover the ongoing legal bills of its founder. (Mr. Assange says he has paid out £200,000 so far).
Meanwhile, the fact that the major credit card companies as well as PayPal have withdrawn their financial services from the WikiLeaks site means the organization is at a critical tipping point in its evolution, many observers say. Can it transcend its founder and solidify itself as an ongoing entity, independent of its high-profile creator? Or, will it be another flash in the media pan that crumbles under the weight of a single person’s travails?
Just as with any organization so tied to its founder, the team assembled around WikiLeaks needs to make some important decisions about its future, says Villanova University Business School marketing professor Ronald Hill.
Although the companies are vastly different in scale, Professor Hill suggests that the likes of Microsoft and Apple have faced the same issue with very different approaches. Whereas the large software company has moved founder Bill Gates out of the boardroom, “Apple is still wrestling with how to define itself beyond Steve Jobs,” he points out.
WikiLeaks may be miniscule in comparison, Hill notes, but it has garnered a certain magic in a bottle that is rare in today’s media world. “Whether or not you agree with what they have done,” he says, “WikiLeaks has managed to convince a very substantial number of people around the world that they are providing genuine information about important institutions that govern all of our lives.”
The site therefore has the potential to evolve, he says, into that holy grail of Internet websites, a trusted brand. But to do that, the grassroots supporters that have come forward around the site need to take the next step.