January 11, 2004
Blogs & Business

I was reading the Many 2 Many site and saw the Blogging the Market entry by Ross Mayfield.

Now for a lot of the big thinking in the blogosphere, I am a bit disconnected. I'm not really into the 'power laws' or the 'fairness' issues. But when it comes to weblogs in business, I think I know enough to discuss things.

The entry is about the Blogging the Market essay by George N. Dafermos. Mr. Dafermos deals with several issues, marketing blogging, employee external blogging, and internal company blogging.

Several times in the essay he claims things like "massive productivity gains through far more efficient communication, collaboration, and knowledge management." with no real justification. In my day job, I deal with this kinda stuff all the time. The idea that business processes are so horribly inefficient that there are huge amounts of productivity to be gained is anecdotal and unproven.

Mr. Dafermos comes close to the real benefit of weblogs inside a company but misses it. The benefit is not found in Knowledge Management, the search and retrieval of information, the benefit is found in workflow.

In any business, information and ideas FLOW though the organization up and down the hierarchy. The flow happens via email, paper, conversations, specialized software and a multitude of other means.

This flow of ideas, approvals, and comments is key to a business's success. It is not simple search and retrieval, it is directed flow of information to the right places to allow people to do their part.

It is in this area of workflow where weblogs can play a vital role. Weblogs alone are not the 'killer app', they are simply part of the new wave of information flow such as RSS, ATOM, media encapsulation, commenting, and other blogosphere friendly technologies.

The information must flow from weblogs in the right direction. It is not enough that a weblog shows a new post, the groups down the workflow chain must know that new information is available. It is nonsensical that the write people, randomly surfing internal weblogs would stumble on all the right information at the right time. You might be able to pull it off in a 50 person company but in a 500 or 5,000 person company it would be madness.

As companies remake their workflow processes away from the traditional paper and email chains into application based systems, they will be faced with a choice. Customized niche workflow applications built by high priced consultants or weblogs tied to simple routing and approval systems. For those that choose the weblog path, they are likely to find the productivity gains without spending millions.

But the key to success is keeping the weblogs focus on the task at hand and using some method to keep the information flowing through the business. Business weblogs cannot be passive like more personal weblogs, they must actively push their content along the line.

There is definitely some side benefit to employee weblogs about ideas and feelings, but the real driver of weblogs in business will not be an unstructured free-for-all.

Businesses are structured by necessity, unlike the internet where chaos fuels innovation. For weblogs to help businesses, there must be structure and purpose.

Posted by michael at January 11, 2004 09:13 PM