Blogging Catches Business Interest

In its debut, the BlogOn 2004 conference explores how Weblogs and other social software tools are reshaping the way corporations interact with the public.

BERKELEY, Calif.—Webloggers and businesses are increasingly shaking each others hands and putting a more human face on corporations in the process, say bloggers and their proponents.

The inaugural BlogOn 2004 conference held here on Friday focused on the growing intersection between blogging and business. A series of panels explored how the collaborative form of online publishing could open more of the inner workings of companies to the public.

Blogs, which post content in a simple, diarylike format, have caught on among individuals wanting to share their opinions, report on events, exchange Web links and write about their daily lives.

While todays crop of non-corporate bloggers is often challenging the way corporations communicate with the public by writing instant feedback on products and breaking corporate news, enterprises themselves also are beginning to embrace the technology.

Among them is Microsoft Corp. In April the company unveiled a new blog site for Microsoft developers, called Channel 9, and is already drawing 700,000 unique visitors a month to it, technology evangelist Lenn Pryor said during a conference demo.

The launch of the site has allowed Microsoft employees—from product managers to executives—to talk with developers. Channel 9 has focused heavily on posting short video clips with interviews and demonstrations of products.

But the project, named for the airline audio channel that feeds cockpit communication, hasnt been without its challenges. Chief among them has been making employees understand the conversational nature of social media tools, project leaders said.

"The challenge is, How do you teach a corporation to turn on dime and to talk to your customers?" Pryor said. "This is a tough thing … Theres this fine line between controlled messaging and brutal honesty."

Microsoft has about 1,000 internal bloggers, who write without censorship but follow a "basic policy of being smart" about the type of information to disclose when working for a public company, Pryor said.

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Microsoft isnt alone. A range of technology companies from Sun Microsystems Inc. to Google Inc. have started corporate and employee blogs.

Though experiments have begun, blogging still is in its infancy within enterprises. The tools vendors themselves have just begun to address the corporate market. For example, Six Apart Ltd., the maker of the Movable Type software, in May began offering more traditional licensing to address the enterprise market.

Reid Hoffman, CEO of social networking service LinkedIn Ltd. and an investor in Six Apart, said enterprises are eyeing blogging and other social software such as wikis for internal collaboration as an alternative to e-mail, which is plagued with problems such as spam.

"Were in the very first steps," Hoffman said. "My guess is were about six to 12 months away from real hockey stick [of increased use]."

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