Blogs began as outlets for personal journalism and this certainly remains the dominant form of blogs. This initial and pervasive use sets the blog “style.” For example, Dave Winer mentioned at the last Berkman meeting that he heard from those who have seen blogs both inside and outside organizational firewalls that the more interesting blogs are outside the firewall. This certainly provides more objectivity since the posts are exposed to anyone for review, comment, and correction. If the goal is objective and entertaining journalism, then I would agree completely with Dave and, in fairness, this was likely his context for the comment.
At this point, I am reminded of a farmer I knew in Nova Scotia who used to always say, “The weather is bad, but if you like bad weather, the weather is good.”
Blogs hold great promise for a number of possibilities beyond journalism, e.g., project team workspaces, learning platforms, marketing communications (both inside and outside an organization), etc. In these cases, there may be times when blogs will operate better inside the firewall (e.g. competitive business intelligence workspace) and there will be other uses where they might operate within an even more confined audience (e.g. project team workspace). Cesar Brea said recently, blogs can be considered as both a style and technology. For each objective, there will likely some unique aspects of both the technology, the functional design, and the style.
Here are some initial thoughts on different levels of audience.
Unrestricted: Personal journalism clearly benefits for total exposure. This is also true for external facing marketing communication, public relations, and other special uses such as third party software developer support (e.g. SAP NetWeaver Developer Network).
There are also other specialized uses which operate better with unrestricted access. For example, I started a family history blog as an experiment on how blogs might be used as a better alternative to the pervasive family history bulletin boards on the web that exchange much misinformation. The closer monitoring that is possible with a blog might facilitate a more accurate exchange of information with supporting documentation of claims.
Enterprise: There are several uses that will operate better inside the firewall. Obvious examples come from applying blogs to typical internal communications such as corporate communications and company newsletters. If the objective is to present the official enterprise view of topics for internal audiences, then operation inside the firewall is a requirement by definition. We can certainly debate whether these communications are boring or interesting but then they are the official view and that is useful to know. Sometimes, given enough rope, these outlets can even “hang themselves.”
There are some uses beyond the officially sanctioned news where operation inside the firewall might actually open up communication. I have seen some irreverent internal newsletters which make fun of and/or call into question enterprise policies because the writers feel free to open up the “warts” of the organization to an internal audience, knowing competitors and clients do not have direct access. Again, we can debate how really open this dialog is, but it does serve a purpose.
Another enterprise use might be internal marketing communication. Frequently, one group needs to market to other functions to gain greater use of its services within an organization. Blogs can be much better than the e-mail driven newsletters that are often used for this purpose. I have heard that IBM has set up the capability to support internal blogs and this would be a good use for the service.
More restricted audiences: Project team communication is one use for blogs that may benefit from further restrictions of the audience. This may allow the team members to be totally open on all issues. However, there may be benefits to letting the larger enterprise benefit from access to this dialog, at some point in the process, to learn from the success and failures of the team. At Ryder, we implemented team workspaces with Lotus Quickplace along with a Notes-based document repository. When someone searched the taxonomy of the document repository, they could also find links to the workspace for the team that created the document so they could learn from the context.
In general, there will likely be a balance between the “comfort level” for openness obtained through restricted access and the ability for others to learned form the content, along with the opportunity to keep the content “honest” through feedback form the larger audience.
Learning forums are a great example of the need to walk this balance of the right openness. The Otter Group has done some creative work using blogs as learning forums for small groups within an organization. Here, as with the Ryder example, the larger enterprise may benefit from the dialog generated by the learning participants, as long as this large audience participation does not compromise the goals for the target learning group.
I am still climbing the learning curve on blogs and would be very interested in any comments of these points.