Blogging for Dollars

Businesses are starting to use weblogs — those impromptu lists-cum-journals — as powerful tools for knowledge management and communications.


Businesspeople might be forgiven for rolling their eyeballs when the word “weblog” is mentioned. After all, most media coverage to date has focused on weblogs (a.k.a. “blogs”) as public diaries — idiosyncratic, personal, and not especially relevant to anyone outside the blogger’s circle of friends. But what the coverage has missed so far is that blogs are also powerful knowledge management tools. Two new business blogging products from Trellix and Traction Software show how that might work.

Blogging is attractive as a vehicle for personal expression because it’s an easy way to capture, comment on, and keep abreast of interesting tidbits of information. The same characteristic makes blogging well-suited to businesses that want to track information about products and markets, or distribute information to employees and customers. You see something interesting on the Web, and within seconds you can put a link to it on your weblog, add some comments, and be on to something else. Naturally, other bloggers are doing the same thing. Over time, your own blog and the other blogs you spend time reading develop into a big, interconnected web of information. It’s like a quick-and-dirty, easy-to-use knowledge management system.

Business blogs are more likely to be focused on projects or teams than on their individual creators. For instance, a marketing team at Verizon uses Traction software to track market conditions and competitive intelligence. Members of a product development team might use a private weblog to which they contribute notes and ideas regarding the development process. Customer service reps could contribute problem fixes and customer notes to a collaborative weblog and refer to it later — kind of like a continuously evolving user manual. For personal blogs, as Traction CEO Tim Simonson puts it, “it’s all about me — it’s a personal publishing orientation. In business, on the other hand, the orientation is about the subject, or the product, or the business issue.”

That doesn’t mean business blogs should be bland and corporate in tone. In fact, especially for customer-oriented weblogs, it’s better if they aren’t. Trellix co-founder Dan Bricklin suggests that personality might be particularly relevant to small businesses. “For a lot of small businesses, the way they survive is because of personal service,” says Bricklin. “There’s an actual person behind the counter who you can get to know.” A public weblog could let businesses provide that kind of service online. For instance, a fish and tackle shop owner might run a weblog where he passes along fishing topics, tips, and news — the same way he would when schmoozing with customers over the counter. Trellix added a blogging feature to its Web publishing platform this month, and Bricklin’s own weblog details many other ways small businesses can use blogs.

Weblogs’ ease of publishing has a disadvantage: Because it’s so easy to post information, blogs grow quickly and become unwieldy, making it harder and harder to track down relevant information. That’s because most blogs are organized solely in chronological order, with the most recent posts at the top and older content stacked in an archive, like a pile of old newspapers.

One way to manage the problem is through a search engine. As Network World recently reported, Phillip Windley, CIO of the state of Utah, has offered a weblog tool called Radio to any state employee who wants it. The addition of a Google Search Appliance makes the content of these blogs easily accessible to anyone. Employees haven’t exactly been jumping on the offer, but over time, Windley says, he hopes these blogs will develop into a “state knowledge base.”

For true knowledge management, however, a search engine probably won’t be enough. Traction’s weblog product for businesses, called TeamPage, tries to address that problem by adding sophisticated categorization and information-retrieval tools. These let users pull out all the information related to a particular project and view it on a single page — even if that information spans several years’ worth of posts from different users. Traction also adds access control, so that only authorized users can view information designated as sensitive — an essential element for corporate users. On the downside, TeamPage is more complicated to use than plain-vanilla weblogs.

For now, few businesses — apart from self-promoting independent consultants and weblog software vendors — operate weblogs as a matter of course; Utah and Verizon are the exception rather than the rule. But as blogging becomes more mainstream, that will change. Like PCs, instant messaging, and handheld computers, your company’s first blogs may well sneak in under the radar of IT, set up by enterprising employees who just want to get something done. This revolution may not be televised, but it will be blogged.

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Blogging for Dollars