Blogs remain one of those “things” that engenders debate, especially in the analyst community. Some feel that blogs offer nothing really new – that they duplicate other functionality that already exists in portals, content managers, teamware, discussion forums or personal web publishing tools. Others argue that are an indulgence for people to rant-and-rave about anything-everything-and-nothing and that the effort to find good sources of credible (edited and fact-checked) information is not worth the effort. And still others argue that such a “stream of consciousness” can create problems due to misinterpretation and use out of context.
Everyone is right. Everyone is wrong.
I would agree that blogs are recombinant. They do “package” functions found in other tools. To argue otherwise is to ignore the obvious. There’s nothing new to a publish-and-subscribe model. There is nothing new to posting comments in reply to something read. There is nothing new to linking across a set of pages. There is nothing new regarding template-based publishing. So blogs are evolutionary rather than revolutionary when you look at what goes on behind the firewall. But that doesn’t make it a bad thing. Blogs as a tool for diary/journal type applications are not easily duplicated with other software and more complex infrastructure. As with any new technology, there are application functions that will shift to or integrate with infrastructure over time. I would expect the Archive feature of blogs to connect to a document or records management system for instance. I believe an enterprise needs a strategy around aggregation/syndication (e.g., RSS). And with any technology there needs to be a plan – business, organizational, technological – to ensure that tools are introduced the right way. There needs to be a business case and metrics. Nothing new – good IT shops have best practices for introducing and managing technology. Blogs should not get a free pass. Sponsors need to establish a business case around the value from blogs and IT groups need to provide an impact assessment that compares/contrasts what existing tools can already deliver. In some cases, blogs are the wrong tool. In other cases, they are the right tool. There’s nothing new here – no silver bullet – just solid due diligence around business/IT alignment.
Now, what about “know it alls” or other personality types that might abuse blogs to express an opinion (relevant or not to the enterprise). It’s a valid point. But we have those problems with e-mail and discussion forums – we address that via policies and procedures and other governance practices to ensure appropriate and proper conduct. One could establish a framework so that blogs are cataloged and centralized. Bloggers could be limited to an approved set of subject matter experts. There are a variety of tactics to help condition the organization. Once management is comfortable and there’s a history of good and bad practices, controls could be modified to fit a more known situation. There clearly is a valid concern around credibility and fact-checking. But it’s also naïve to think that this information is not passed along in normal conversations via e-mail or face to face exchanges.
Finally, there’s the issue of how precise communication needs to be in order to communicate effectively. This is a more interesting debate. Organizations communicate across a variety of channels that are formal and informal. Some communication is vertical in nature (top-down, CXO to manager to supervisor to worker, or some variant of that set of roles). Other communication is horizontal, more peer to peer. When we say “precise” what do we mean? Clearly if I am “telling” someone to do something we need to be precise (clarity, set expectations). But often times we are also interacting in order to make sense of something – to determine the meaning of particular work practice or process for instance. That dialog is often NOT precise.
In fact, reaching "clarity" often becomes a repetitive and iterative series of interactions (sometimes involving a team or community) in order to make something more precise. Precision is something that happens from a single explicit event OR something that evolves over time, based on multiple sources of imprecise information (example: wikipedia). People are pretty good at refining and adapting their cognitive model about something by observation or by interacting with the “blogger” and the community that forms around a topic. Blogs are a valuable tool that can help improve precision by the very fact that it might not be totally precise. Sounds like a line that Yogi Berra would utter.