Business logs on to blogging
By Paul Taylor
FT.com site; Mar 03, 2004
Along with other potentially disruptive technologies, weblogs or "blogs" have come a long way in a very short time. Now some believe this new form of web-based publishing is poised to enter the corporate mainstream.
Just a few years ago, weblogs were almost the exclusive domain of a small group of self-indulgent geeks and young technophiles - personal "bloggers" eager to sound off about whatever took their fancy.
A blog is a web page typically made up of short, frequently updated "posts" or items that are arranged chronologically like a what's new page or diary. They often include news feeds supplied using a related standard-based technology called RSS (RDF Site Summary or Rich Site Summary.)
Now, like instant messaging (IM), which has also begun its migration from the consumer market into the enterprise, the simple and inexpensive software used to create weblogs is finding its way into the workplace.
While some workplace weblogs are being set up by "rogue" employees, with or without official sanction, a growing number of organisations in both the public and private sector are recognising the potential of weblog technology to streamline communications, reduce e-mail overload and improve co-operation.
"We see this as an enormous potential market," says Greg Lloyd, president and co-founder of Providence, Rhode Island-based Traction Software, one of the emerging market leaders in the enterprise weblog tools market.
"Blogs provide the ability for individuals to be able to write directly to the web using simple Office tools techniques, no more complicated than e-mail, to basically have an archive of their thoughts and conversations automatically maintained in time order," he says.
"This has just enormous implications for how people handle working communications and business processes and we are really at the beginning of that."
Michael Gartenberg, research director at Jupiter Research, the US-based IT consultancy, agrees that weblogging has caught the attention of business, but he cautions that it is still early days. "Enterprise weblogging is attracting a lot of corporate interest as a way of streamlining communications," he says.
Early adopters and potential corporate users agree. "I see it disintermediating the misuse of e-mail and IM," explains JP Rangaswami, CIO at Dresdner Kleinwort Wasserstein in London, who is planning to introduce corporate weblogs to improve internal communications.
In these early days, most enterprise weblogs are operating inside the corporate firewall, often at departmental level. But some organisations have already begun to explore using weblogs to link together employees, customers, partners and suppliers.
As weblogs move into the enterprise, some weblog software originally designed for personal blogging is being repurposed for the corporate market.
For example, Userland Software, which was founded by Dave Winer, a weblog pioneer, now offers its Radio Userland $40 desktop package for personal bloggers and Manila, a corporate weblog publishing package with a one-year licence for $900.
Other packages, such as Pyra Labs' Blogger, the leading personal blog software, have been acquired - in Pyra's case by Google, the internet search giant.
Leading weblog packages designed for the corporate market include the latest versions of Six Apart's Movable Type, pMachine's ExpressionEngine and Traction Software's TeamPage.
TeamPage is a true enterprise ready package, "designed to be deployed by business and government teams to create an information sharing system that works like the web." The software costs from $4,995 - still much less than the $100,000 to $150,000 price tags on many content management packages.
What distinguishes enterprise weblog packages like TeamPage from earlier personal blogging packages is that they incorporate advanced features such as permission-based security, archiving, dynamic views and sophisticated search capabilities to the core features found in all weblog packages.
As a result, some of these enterprise weblog suites are beginning to look a lot like a low-cost alternative to traditional content management, knowledge management and groupware software packages.
What is more, unlike most complex enterprise application software - which typically costs hundreds of thousands or even millions of dollars and may take six months just to deploy the infrastructure - corporate weblog software uses the standard web infrastructure and can be deployed almost immediately.
This process of commercialisation has already caused some friction between hard core personal bloggers - or "uberbloggers" as John Lawlor, a business consultant and corporate weblog expert, calls them - and more business orientated weblog enthusiasts.
Mr Lawlor was one of the speakers at a conference on weblog business strategies in Boston last June, organised by Jupiter. Interestingly, so many people turned up for the conference that the organisers had to pull down room dividers and bring in more tables and chairs.
"The uberbloggers got a little worked up about what they see as the commercialisation of weblogging," says Lawlor. But as with the internet itself, commercialisation seems inevitable, though Mr Lawlor himself believes the word "blog" will be one of the casualties.
"It is a funny time right now," he says, "I am inclined to use the word 'blogging' less and less." Over time he believes the weblog technology will be built into standard desktop software like e-mail clients.
Jupiter is itself one of the early adopters of corporate weblogging in the US. Senior researchers maintain their own weblogs, which can also be viewed by the firm's clients. "They have proved very popular with our customers," notes Mr Gartenberg.
Other early converts to enterprise weblogs in the US include Verizon, the US local telephone operator, and Macromedia, the software developer as well as public sector organisations such as the State of Connecticut.
Elsewhere, chief information officers at financial services companies and the competitive research and marketing departments inside multinationals are exploring the options and preparing to deploy internal weblogs.
Mr Gartenberg believes corporate weblogs are going mainstream because of the clear advantages they offer over the "scattergun" approach of e-mail "spam."
He characterises e-mail as being ideal for one-to-one targeted communication, but much less effective as a broadcast medium. In contrast, because users "subscribe" to weblogs and chose when and whether to read or contribute to them, they are a much more effective tool for co-operative group working.
"The brilliance of blogging is that it creates a system of URLs and archiving that is persistent - it doesn't go away," says Mr Lawlor. "What is more, weblog software does it all for you."
Mr Lloyd at Traction Software agrees. Rather than sending a monthly or weekly e-mail, "cc'd" to 1,000 people with a Word file attached, he says weblog users get a continuously updated stream with a link back to interactive detail and the ability to ask a question by clicking and adding a comment online.
Mr Lloyd describes his company's weblog software as a layer over the web, collecting information from web-based sources and organising it by time and linking by topic. Users can add text and customise it for limited access with permission or password-based log-on.
With financial backing from the CIA-funded In-Q-Tel venture fund and a recent $450,000 contract with the Pentagon, the Providence-based company is already making waves. TeamPage software was recently selected for use in managing US Navy test and evaluation communications at Rhode Island's Naval Undersea Warfare Center.
Founded in 1996 as Twisted Systems, Traction also has a number of commercial customers, including the Western States Information Network, a Department of Justice-funded program for which Traction built a private intranet. This maintains a "notebook" for the 1,200 law enforcement members to share intelligence about criminals, including outlaw motorcycle gangs and drug traffickers.
Verizon's competitive intelligence and market research group use Traction's corporate blogging software to brainstorm new projects for market research and planning in addition to sharing competitive information.
Using weblog technology, provides the Verizon team with an easier way to gather, organise and distribute information from a wide range of sources and present it in the form of a 'web newspaper' organised by time and topic. Not only is it easier to produce the material in this way, it is easier for those receiving the information to view and use it.
Nevertheless, even the most ardent proponents of corporate weblogging agree that weblogs have some limitations and most agree that the technology is complementary to e-mail, IM and voice messaging, rather than a substitute.
Others, including Mr Rangaswami of DrKW, point out that in some industries including the securities industry, corporate users will have to treat carefully because of disclosure requirements and regulators' concerns.
He believes this could delay the use of weblogs for external communications - for example the dissemination of research. But in the meantime he sees plenty of potential for internal use.
Companies considering introducing enterprise weblogs also have to establish guidelines for use and need to decide how to "manage" the weblogs, to ensure bloggers do not get the company into trouble.
Others, including Mr Gartenberg, point out that weblog content needs to be timely and relevant and that if a corporate weblog degenerates into a pure marketing tool, most people will lose interest in it very quickly.
If corporate weblogs are to thrive, enterprises will need to find a balance between controlling blogs - as they do e-mail and instant messages - while allowing the free flow of information that keeps weblogs interesting.
It may be too soon to say exactly how, weblogs will fit into corporate communications infrastructures. But few question that they have the potential to change the way businesses communicate internally and interact with external partners.
всякие разные мнения о том, как скоро блоги станут основным инструментом корпоративного общения; говорят, вот-вот. многие изготовители блог-софта уже поставляют якобы решения для бизнеса (Livejournal'a среди них нет - и "конечно", и "к сожалению").
пока все лавры жнёт некто Traction Software (дружные с DoD и Безопасностью Домашней Земли, и получающие гранты от In-Q-Tel, забавного венчурного фонда "в поддержку родного ЦРУ").