Until recently, weblogs (a.k.a. blogs) were primarily the domain of a tightly knit community of personal bloggers offering their insight and opinions on a variety of topics. Much like instant messaging—which recently made the transition to the enterprise—blogs are finding their way into the workplace as organizations begin to recognize their promise as an inexpensive way to communicate information about dynamic events.
While it's too early to know exactly how blog use will take shape in the enterprise, the blog has the potential to be a key business communication tool, especially as popular communication methods such as email become saturated. While blogs are still in their infancy and are only beginning to show up in the enterprise, they just may affect business communication in a couple of ways. First, the blog could be used by companies as an innovative way to communicate outside the company with customers (or distributors and suppliers) about a variety of topics related to what a company does. And second, blogs could be used internally behind the firewall as a way to distribute information that changes on a regular basis, perhaps providing a more sensible venue for news than the company portal or, by virtue of their inclusion, provide a compelling reason for employees to regularly visit and contribute to the portal.
This article takes a look at the emerging role of blogs and how they could be used in business to improve communication internally and externally.
According to Webopedia.com, "a blog is a Web page that serves as a publicly accessible personal journal for an individual. Typically updated daily, blogs often reflect the personality of the author." This definition may already be showing its age as blogs move from beyond their self-reflective origins to a more discursive function. It makes sense they've been popular among individuals: Blog tools are relatively cheap, some free for private use, while others charge a fee, usually under $50. Among the tools available are Blogger, Radio UserLand, and Moveable Type to name but a few. But companies like Traction Software are starting to develop business blogging products. What differentiates these tools from other Web development software, according to Greg Lloyd, president and co-founder of Traction, is ease of use. According to Lloyd, "Blogs provide the ability for individuals to be able to write directly to the Web using simple Office tools techniques, no more complicated than email to basically have an archive of their thoughts and conversations automatically maintained in time order." Lloyd says, "This has just enormous implications for how people handle working communications and business processes and we're really at the beginning of that." Michael Gartenberg, vice president and research director at Jupiter Research, agrees that blogging is just beginning to catch the attention of business, but he cautions that we have a ways to go before it becomes a mainstream communication tool. He says, "Blogging is just getting off the ground right now and there is a lot of corporate interest as a way of streamlining communications, but until the mainstream vendors get on board and there is a core set of standards, you're not going to see mass adoption just yet."
As other forms of communication, particularly email, generate more pain than productivity, a continuous form of communication such as the blog becomes more attractive to business. Jupiter's Gartenberg says, "It becomes an effective form of communication, particularly when your email box is filled with hundreds of offers to enlarge various body parts and deposed Nigerian dictators who want to share millions of dollars with you," but Gartenberg believes it will take a move by the big three—AOL (word about the beta testing of a blogging tool leaked out at the beginning of July), Yahoo!, and Microsoft—before blogging enters business in a big way. He says, "The notion of using a weblog for enhanced communications is very, very appealing [to businesses]. It will be interesting to see as companies like AOL, Yahoo!, and Microsoft begin to start offering some of these tools and make those things available." He adds, "I think it's safe to say if there is a way to make money in this space, these folks are going to want to go after it." Gartenberg believes that fights over standards, such as core APIs, by the smaller blogging tool companies is holding back the industry and making it more likely that one of the usual group of big players can come in and take control of the market. Gartenberg says, "That's kind of unfortunate because if these companies had banded together and created a common set of APIs and then competed on feature sets and execution, that would make it a lot more difficult for a player like IBM or Microsoft or AOL to step into the game and say we're going to put order on chaos."