Telstra’s often-controversial corporate blog nowwearetalking suddenly vanished yesterday afternoon. All content is gone, replaced by a brief farewell message and a link to a basic-looking with a single entry entitled “We’re still listening”.

“Its closure is a welcome sign that the new CEO, David Thodey, is determined to create a less confrontational organisation,” writes IT journalist Stuart Corner.

Fairfax is describing NWAT as “propaganda“. The Australianbellicose“.

Yet NWAT’s attitude was changing. Tim Burrows from Mumbrella says NWAT was hugely positive.

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“To me it was becoming a genuine conversation. I thought it was a good place for Telstra to tell their story when the whole Fake Stephen Conroy [Twitter issue] was going on,” Burrows told, referring to the March outing of the satirical character as then-Telstra employee Leslie Nassar.

Telstra claims NWAT had 4.5 million visitors and 10,000 comments over four years. That participation rate of just 0.2% is far less than the 90-9-1 Rule seen in many online communities. Telstra’s slow and censorious comment moderation was doubtless the cause.

It seems odd to kill NWAT just as it was changing for the better — even more so given there’s no replacement. “Telstra will launch a new corporate blogging website later this year,” says the farewell. So why the rush? It all looks a tad hasty.

Crikey is hearing speculation of an internal shake-up at Telstra. On Friday Jeremy Mitchell, who managed NWAT, announced his departure for Chinese telecommunications solutions provider Huawei. Social Media Senior Advisor Mike Hickinbotham, who reports to Mitchell, has been quiet about NWAT, referring Crikey to Telstra’s official spokesperson Craig Middleton.

Middleton in turn confirms the emerging consensus that Telstra under Thodey is keen to distance itself from former CEO Sol Trujillo and his belligerent PR sidekick Phil Burgess.

“It’s a different world for us now. NWAT was part of a different conversation and different approach,” Middleton told Crikey.

“It goes without saying that we want to ensure that our external communications reflect the vision and aims of our management team. David Thodey has made it clear he has a different approach to engaging customers and stakeholders. And there is no argument we intend to remain a leader in corporate engagement through social media.”

Middleton downplays the gap before the new site will appear, explaining it as time to consult with customers, stakeholders and social media followers. “Think of it like a big focus group,” he says.

Still, why dump four years of content into the memory hole — in the process breaking hundreds of inbound links, and destroying all that user-generated content?

As Fake Stephen Conroy told Crikey today, “Axing NWAT without warning the users shows a shocking lack of respect, and any conversation that was in progress on NWAT between Telstra and its customers, some of them its strongest supporters, has been unceremoniously silenced … It’s hard enough to drive visitors to any company’s propaganda site, let alone convince them to engage in discussion.”

Canberra-based consultant Stephen Collins, agrees. “It shows that while they have taken some steps in engaging with their community they still don’t get what community is. What they’ve effectively done is bulldoze a four year old village before building a new one,” Collins told Crikey.

Middleton will have none of it.

“The conversation moves on. Social media is very much about the now and the future,” Middleton told Crikey.

“My understanding is that the National Library in Canberra has archived the site, so that is good from an historical perspective, but it’s a bit like keeping old newspapers and I say that with due respect to the contributions and effort people put into their NWAT contributions.”

Nevertheless, that gap represents a risk. People will talk about Telstra, whether they host the conversation or not.

“By destroying NWAT and not having something to replace it, and ideally to improve upon it, Telstra leaves a vacuum. Nature abhors a vacuum. So, where will we go to talk about Telstra issues and their community?” asks Collins.

Well, that’d be Whirlpool. 307,640 registered members. 1,136,030 threads. 20,487,416 posts. And counting. Meanwhile, Telstra will have to build a new online community from scratch.