With all the political blog hype during the 2004 election cycle, many observers missed the quieter emergence of blogs in the business world. My guess is that we're just getting going here and that business blogs will grow rapidly in numbers and importance. I'd predict that before long blogs will displace many existing KM technologies for information sharing inside businesses as well as communication tools used by organizations to reach external audiences.
Why? Well for one thing, blogging is so darned easy. Companies large and small appreciate the rapid set-up and easy-to-use features of blogs to reach both external and internal constituents. Inside the firewall, many organizational teams are finding that a blog is easier to manage and more fun to write (and read) than a set of intranet pages or endless email threads. Just a few months ago, I would have dismissed business blogging as wishful thinking propagated by early adopters and blogging service providers. But there's enough evidence in the form of both interesting examples and excitement from users to suggest that we're on the cusp of a phenomenon.
According to Biz Stone in his eye-opening book Who Let the Blogs Out?, internal blogs have spread like wildfire at Google, Inc. And Stone should know: besides being an author, he is also Google's senior blogging specialist. "Hundreds of Googlers have their own blogs," according to Stone. "The Google corporate intranet is one of the most amazingly vibrant and smart virtual playgrounds in the world." Unfortunately, we can't visit the internal Google blogs, but for a proxy and an example of another growing use of blogs in business (promoting books), check out Biz Stone, Genius at www.bizstone.com.
While many traditional publishers have maintained a defensive "not real journalism" attitude towards the unedited, free-form nature of blogs, forward-thinking publishers have gotten into the game. Blogs such as Fast Company Now (http://blog.fastcompany.com) and Inc. Magazine's Fresh Inc. (http://blog.inc.com) provide a forum for magazine writers, columnists, editors, and occasional guest contributors to share thoughts. Writers appreciate having an alternative outlet to post ideas and issues that are timelier than a print publication's production schedule can handle or that may not warrant a full-blown article on a magazine Web site.
Research firms covering IT and content have started to use blogs to regularly update clients. JupiterResearch maintains a blog farm (http://weblogs.jupiterresearch.com) where a dozen Jupiter analysts create live coverage in their areas of expertise. The Outsell blog (http://now.outsellinc.com/now) provides analysis of breaking events and trends affecting the information industry. Shore Communications provides commentary on news and events, online and in-person presentations (http://shore.com/commentary/weblogs). Charlene Li, Forrester's principal analyst on the Devices, Media & Marketing team, keeps her clients and other interested people continually updated (http://forrester.typepad.com).
CEOs are getting into the act too, supplying corporate info as well as snippets about their thoughts and actions. Alacra CEO Steve Goldstein has been writing for nearly a year (www.alacrablog.com) and Alan Meckler, CEO of Jupitermedia does his thing at http://weblogs.jupitermedia.com/meckler
. There's a bit of a voyeuristic nature when reading about the details of a CEO's life but in a way it is a return to blogging's roots as a Web journal for individuals. (I first encountered a blog in 2001 when Googling the title of my book. Someone had blogged her thoughts about it). A CEO discussing the conference keynote they just gave is not so unlike a twenty-something chronicling life with her companion animal and the novels she's reading.
Another area to watch is the use of blogs in marketing and customer service applications. Imagine a regularly updating forum for active users of software products to share information. Of course, thousands of discussion forums on the Web already exist, but almost all are independent of the companies and products that are written about. For a fun example of what's possible, check out Stonyfield Farm, a maker of organic yogurt. The company currently operates four blogs, and my personal favorite is The Bovine Bugle (www.stonyfield.com/weblog/bovinebugle/index.html), which tells the story the cows of Stonyfield Farm. It may not be easy to think of things to write about, and we don't all have something as photogenic as cows to post, but I suspect that the herd of blogs will grow, as many new ones are launched to to help support diverse business objectives.