Initial impression of blogs

My knowledge management class has been rolling for a few weeks, and we are doing a quarter-long project to introduce them to blogging as a possible KM or business tool.  The first task was introduce them to some relevant blogs and the use of an aggregator.  And now they've set up their own blogs, which are listed on the blogroll of the class home page

Below the fold are the topics the students have touched upon in their first posts, where I asked them to reflect on what they think of blogs and blogging at this point.  Topics range from their previous experience to privacy & security to information overload.

The assignment (I'm also incorporating some class discussion below):

Discuss what you know of blogs at this point, based on the your reading them and on other experience.  Where do you see blogs fitting on the personal-collective-corporate continuum?

In a change from previous years, several of the students have had direct experience with blogging.  And, as is consistent with the blogging phenomenon, most of those experiences were a few posts and then nothing.  One student has been blogging for about two years as a means to keep in touch with his friends and family overseas.  Several more students read blogs on a regular basis.

Many people are familiar with blogs from the popular media depiction of them as personal / vanity ventures.  This perspective appears to color much of the initial discussion about how blogs might provide value.  Even those who have found / written business blogs have not seen them demonstrate much value.  A number of people have said that even this first few weeks of exposure to more professional blogs has altered their perspective. 

A number of students expressed a sentiment along the lines of "it felt like jumping into an ongoing conversation" with reading or understanding the context of what people are discussing on blogs.  I found these comments particularly interesting, since I really like the blogs-as-front-porch metaphor

This "jumping in" observation also related to a number of people who said they were overwhelmed with the amount and variety of additional materials to read.  While this is nothing new online, having new resources put in their laps with the aggregator has created some cognitive tension.  We've talked about the importance of skimming and being reflective about the kinds of materials that one decides to allow into their lives.  With the aggregator potentially creating even more, this issue arises again.

Another aspect to the "jumping in" idea is that people don't necessarily know how to start participating.  Do you have to read all the background material?  Do you have to get permission?  Do you have anything to say?  I think this has a lot to do with community participation in general, which is another discussion arc in the class.  Long term, I am not expecting all the students to continue blogging for these and many other reasons.  They will have more understanding around how blogs work.

A surprise was the strong concern about privacy and personal identity with respect to setting up their own blogs.  I had expected a couple people to raise the issue, but it seemed a good portion of the students have this concern as one of their barriers.  As a result, most of the students have chosen to operate under a pseudonym with varying levels of connection to their real identity.  One student has asked that their blog remain behind a login wall due to concerns about how their company regards unapproved public writing.  There is awareness about the longevity of content on the web, but not the power an individual has to control what shows up on a search for their name.

In relation to this personal identity issue, there have been discussions about corporate identity and blogging.  On one side, there is the "control" perspective of people speaking outside the official channels.  On the other side, there are people speaking about companies in their own blogs and in other settings that influence how the company is perceived.  One student expressed frustration with the Yahoo Finance discussion boards being more up-to-date (right and wrong) on the happenings at her company than the PR machine could ever be.  How careful do companies need to be?  How careful do individuals need to be?

4 Comment(s)

Blogs are much like wikis in that anyone can contribute, including false and destructive information. Blogging and the Internet is like the 'Wild West' where there were few laws and fewer law enforcement officials. Everyone carried a 'six-gun' for their own protection. Most blogs have moderation to prevent destructive information from getting out to the public domain, but sometimes it becomes a full-time job just to read the blogs, let alone evaluate potential threats from certain entries. I also suggest that a company with a lot of employees who are blogging need to have them sign nondisclosure statements if they are privy to sensitive information. Another way to control the flow of PR information to the Public is to first have all proposed employee commentary entered into a common repository where it can be evaluated, edited, and then posted by the Director of PR. General Knowledge Base provides such a shared database with security features to process and approve proposed blog documents.

jackvinson Author Profile Page said:

I think the other side of the discussion is that blogs are a place that I control. Rather than having to go out into the "wild west," I just set up my homestead and anyone who is interested can stop by.

Your Blog may be your homestead, but your employees who are blogging about the company are like claim jumpers and free-for-allers having a brawl at the local saloon. I have more similies and metaphors if you are interested.

David Montgomery said:

On this side of the pond we tell the story of King Canute who tried to hold back the tide. I see this as analogous to the urge to prevent, or better still delete, the daily flood of e-mails that many of us have to deal with. By contrast, it is a choice to view another person's blog. It does not cram up your inbox -- you choose to seek it out.

How valuable the information it contains is another matter. But that is both the joy and the dilemma of the Internet. Asking us to consider how do we validate what other people have posted is a good thing because it forces us to think rather than accepting the received wisdom of so-called experts (x = the unknown quantity; spurt = a drip under pressure). This questioning and reflection about what others post fits nicely with Reg Revans's thinking about Action Learning which he describes as: L = P + Q.
L = Learning
P = programmed knowledge (what we have learnt through books, manuals etc)
Q = questions

Questioning received wisdom is an excellent way of learning and validating what we have read or heard. As Charles Handy puts it "learning is not finding out what other people already know but is the process of solving our own problems." So it is with the Internet and blogs -- you have to figure out what is wheat and what is chaff but the amazing thing is you may be getting opinions far beyond your own organisation if not national boundaries.

Perhaps the concerns about security and blogging derive from the point highlighted on Wikipedia in relation to cases where litigation occurred. Again, highlighting these issues is not a bad thing since it reminds bloggers to be circumspect before damning, deriding another's opinion or revealing issues deemed not for public release. Flirting with publicity even via cyberspace neither guarantees immunity from prosecution nor ensures that your arrow hits the mark. What exactly the law is in relation to blogging is debatable and best answered by those who are legally qualified. But if you breach the law then you should be aware of the risks – ignorance of the law is unlikely to be a valid plea.

Blogs are a natural progression from discussion boards which had their so-called posters and lurkers -- all too often the former criticised the latter for being on the one hand too reticent while on the other snapping up good ideas when they were posted. Such a view overlooks the point that applying good ideas tends to be context specific and explicit knowledge provides no guarantee that the necessary tacit knowledge will develop -- a good recipe by itself does not make a good chef.

Upbringing and schooling can make Protocol for behaviour on the Internet seem instinctively appropriate. However, the Internet is rewriting the rules - that is if they are written at all anymore some may want them to be explicit but they are largely tacit. That said, not seeing a person when we communicate with them is not a reason to be discourteous. Arguably it is an even better reason to state one's opinion vigorously, passionately but always politely. All our instincts encourage us to watch and observe the people with whom we communicate -- such instincts serve us poorly in cyberspace so we need to adopt and then adapt new models to gauge appropriate behaviour.

David

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