Blogging has been gaining visibility in business lately with prominent coverage at both ETech 2004 and DEMO 2004. Naturally the blogosphere (especially the bloggers speaking at and attending the conferences) have been talking a lot about blogging as well. This page provides a good starting point for blog coverage of ETech 2004, and this eWeek article has a good summary of the goings-on at the first day of DEMO 2004.
To crudely summarize a lot of the writing that’s been hitting the blogosphere, there are two major points: 1) Blogging is a revolution; and 2) Companies have to start blogging.
We’re pretty good about smelling hype here at The Core Dump, and boy are our olfactory glands going off. Basically we don’t disagree with the basic concepts, i.e., that blogging is somehow important, and that companies need to change the way they’re communicating with their customers, but the word revolution seems way too strong.
The nascent interest in blogging from a corporate perspective is most likely the highly predictable backlash to the way companies have been interfacing over the last few decades with the media, and through the media with their customers. This communication mostly takes the shape of a robotic PR flack saying, with an assuring smile, “We didn’t dump Agent Orange in the drinking water. Trust us.” This after there’s endless evidence to prove that the company did indeed dump Agent Orange in the drinking water.
Needless to say, a lot of people no longer trust the robotic PR flacks, and by extension don’t trust the companies themselves. [Note: It would be easy to go off on a rant about Enron, WorldCom, et al. at this point, but your minds are already there, so please insert your own highly personal rant here and save us the carpal tunnel syndrome.]
The Cluetrain Manifesto was perhaps the first sign of this backlash. The entire book is available for free from the above link, and should be considered required reading for anybody doing corporate PR or marketing. Essentially, the Manifesto says that customers are people, and want to be talked to as such. Seems a touch trivial perhaps, but it’s still news to certain companies.
So what do companies gain from having their employees start blogging? A human face, and a conversation. Perhaps the most obvious example of this is Robert Scoble, who’s taken upon himself the task of giving Microsoft a human face.
So far so good. But the thing we have to take issue with here is that blogging is somehow revolutionary. It’s not. It’s evolutionary. We’ve had blogs since the web began, or even before that if you include .plan files. (Basically a .plan file is a text file a user can put in her home directory, and other people can read it and see what she is up to. Always remember that the whole idea with TCP/IP was to allow people to communicate with other people through computers.) What’s changed lately is that software has evolved to the point where now pretty much anybody can get an account at sites like Typepad or LiveJournal and start blogging without having to worry about any of the technical issues involved with setting up a website or learning HTML.
This democratization is of course a good thing. While it means that there are a lot of blogs about what somebody ate for supper and what a bitch their best friend turned out to be, it also means that new and interesting voices will be out there. This is very much a fair trade–it’s not like we’re running out of room on the Internet.
So calling blogging “revolutionary” may be a bit disingenuous, but it certainly is a good evolution. Blogs are here to stay. The $64 question at this point is if businesses will be able to put blogs to good use and if they will be able to resist the temptation to turn their bloggers into robotic PR flacks, and by doing so reducing the value of that person’s blog to a frequently-updated press release. Only time will tell.
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