Enterprise-class Weblogs

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Jon Udell on publishing a project weblog:

A couple of years ago I predicted that Weblogs would emerge within the enterprise as a great way to manage project communication. I'm even more bullish on the concept today. If you're managing an IT project, you are by definition a communication hub. Running a project Weblog is a great way to collect, organize, and publish the documents and discussions that are the lifeblood of the project and to shape these raw materials into a coherent narrative. [Full story at InfoWorld.com]

Weblogs have a good chance to enter corporations, but may be not in their current form. Jon points some little security issue (such as pinging external aggregators from an internal weblog if you misconfigure it!) but to me, at least in their present state, weblogs are still best at what they've been designed for: personal diaries. They lack a few things to become the powerful knowledge management and collaboration tools they promise to be:

  • Discussion boards. Commenting on someone's post or using TrackBacks are very useful things, however they both require an author to start a new topic and not everyone is a storyteller. Look at the Movable Type site, Ben and Mena have had to integrate a third-party board to handle their support forum. Likewise with chat rooms.
  • More website-oriented configurations. The chronological nature of weblog posts makes it difficult to handle more perennial content or big, structured articles. It is not impossible to handle a website via a weblog software, Boxes and Arrows is an example. However, doing this requires some serious tweaking to force the primary nature of the standard weblog (chronological posts, archives). Weblog software seem closer to portals, but portals are merely doors to the real beef: websites full of content and tools.
  • Shared space, to upload and share documents. Again, with a weblog, that would require to be registered as an author, and start a new post. Microsoft has captured this need in its SharePoint offering, which is taking ground in the corporate space for that reason alone.
  • Better email distribution and notification lists. Today, a weblog author can distribute an email to his/her entire reader base, but that is all. What is the value of that when they can subscribe to the RSS feed instead? I removed the email subscription form from my weblog because of that. I would like to be able to track a post or its comments to be notified when someone has trackbacked or commented on a specific post, or responded to my own comment. I would like to be able to subscribe to a category and be notified when new content (including a shared file) has been added to it. I would like to be able to subscribe to the community distribution list and reach this weblog audience directly. Really smart use of the omnipresent email is missing from existing weblog software, and companies typically have terrible tools regarding notification and distribution lists.
  • Better category management. Categories are used within a weblog to organize the content in a non-chronological way and provide a simili navigation. Categories also play a role in a company taxonomy. Weblogs are not yet up to the task regarding both aspects.

That said, weblogs have tremendous benefits that are widely unknown in so-called "enterprise-class" software:

  • RSS feeds. Lessen the power of the central corporate portal to give more power to individuals to seek and get the content they want to get as soon as it is published. It somehow cuts the middle-man, but the idea that a central team can ever provide customized content that proves relevant to each individual is a control-freak fantasy.
  • TrackBacks. Unleashing weblogs in a company would just add to the knowledge managers nightmare of link management. No more "could you please link to my page?", just ping the damn URL and cut the middle-man again.
  • No "rocket-surgery" micro-content management that makes the journey to semantic content a breeze. Weblogs CMS with their simple web interface and desktop tools make editing a pleasure and are often doing the task better than awfully expensive "enterprise-class" CMS.
  • Openness. Not all weblogs are open source, but those which are are leading the way. They foster an incredibly rich developer base which makes the most of communication standards, when they don't create them, at a pace that beats any company development cycle.
  • Price. Need I say more?

I haven't said anything about Wikis yet. I have yet to apprehend why but I might be biased by their typical awful look & feel, wildly uncontrolled nature (weblogs look less frightening for corporations) and the feeling that they might not stand out compared to the future company-oriented weblogs. The padawan recognizes his ignorance in this matter and does not take his present opinion for granted.

Needless to say, I'm really looking forward into seeing this Movable Type Pro coming to life!