Weblogging and Knowledge Management

After the boom days of the dotcoms and the explosive growth of the Internet, the World Web Wide has not been the caldron of many successful commercial ventures. Burnt investors and journalists sneer at the mention of an online venture. But underneath the radar screen, a new grassroots phenomenon has taken off.-the weblog. Although there is no official count, there are hundreds of thousands of them that have sprung up in less than three years.

What is a weblog? Kevin Werbach (2001) gives the following definition of a weblog:

"A Weblog (also known as a blog) is a personal Website that offers frequently updated observations, news headlines, commentary, recommended links and/or diary entries, generally organized chronologically. Weblogs vary greatly in style and content."

XMIT: Near the end of the program, Eric Spreight found himself part of a corporate downsizing.

Weblogging is a return to the roots of the World Wide Web. In fact, what could be considered the first weblog is the "What's New" page of Timothy Berners-Lee at CERN in 1992. In fact, you can still see the page. The precursors of today's weblogs really started to appear in 1996-7. The phenomenon really took off in 1999 when inexpensive blog-writing tools began to appear and when the Web began to explode into a huge mass of information. About that time, news features about blogging began to appear. When blogging made it into The New Yorker, it had come of age (Mead. 1999). But blogging really came of age with the events of September 11. Bloggers were able to channel the pain and disillusion about the attacks, but were also able to locate and disseminate obscure sources that threw light on Al Qaeda, Afghanistan, and Islam, even before the mainstream media.

Weblogs are a step removed from web content management and collaborative web environments. Jon Udell's (2000) essay is very insightful about how tools like groupware, newsgroups and news feed can enhance cooperation over the Internet and networks.

Weblogs, in part, arose out of the need to locate and organize information on the web. A human-enhanced method of locating and commenting information can be more useful than a search-engine or web directory. It also emphasizes freshness of the news or pages. There was also a realization that the vast majority of users could not easily manage HTML, but they did want to link to content that they found on the web.

Another characteristic is that advertising is mostly absent on Weblogs, unless the author wants it. Blogs expanded precisely when "free" website hosts, like Globe.com and others, began to use pop-up ads to the distraction of users and the annoyance of site owners.

What Makes a Weblog

The weblog phenomenon is a repackaging of the technology that made the Web possible. There are certain characteristics that almost always appear in a weblog:

"In many ways, the popularity of 'blogs' or Web logs is a return to the old days - although it's a lot more organized than it used to be, of course, with different directories that list the top blogs," says Canadian columnist Mark Ingram (2002). The emphasis is on text, with few distracting graphic images or other bells and whistles.

Optionally, weblogs can also be matched with other communication tools:

All of these elements can be utilized to increase two-way channels of communication and reciprocity. As mentioned above, a new generation of software applications, scripts and servers appeared in 1999 and took the drudgery out of updating a site. The browser interface was a crucial breakthrough because it allowed the writer to work in the same application as he was using to view content. The writer did not have to go back to an HTML editor and past in the content. These services and applications were developed with almost immediate feedback from users about features that they wanted. Among the main services are:

The Nature of the Beast

There is a definite anti-Microsoft bent to the blogger universe, especially the vanguard. It is also anti-commercial in the tradition of the web being a medium at the disposition of the community. There is no big commercial operation trying to take advantage of the weblogging service market. Even the companies that charge for services or programs are very inexpensive. It is definitely a grassroots, self-organizing autonomous movement.

Weblog categories:

Coin of the Realm

The cornerstone of weblogging is the hyperlink because it allows the author to refer to other sites and build up a body of relationships, and eventually, to build up a knowledge community. Links are the coin of the realm that gives authority to a site. This is the principle that Google uses to rank sites - the more often a web page is linked to, the higher its ranking. A convention is that you reference the page and the link provider. The other factor in blogging is that the more content you have, the more likely you are to show up in web searches.

Google contributed strongly to the blog bonanza. It's extremely useful for searching the web for related items. Google has noticed its popularity among bloggers and has now implemented technology that identifies sites that change every day and gives them a higher priority in search results. Google is also releasing its API so that additional applications or services are starting to appear to take advantage of them.

Taking Blogging Serious

With the higher profile of blogging both as a medium and a webtool, the mainstream media and business are starting to pay more attention. The New York Times has signed an agreement with Userland to provide news feeds through the users of the Manila system (Wolf. 2002). The same article points out that many professionals, like lawyers, are using weblogs to display their understanding of issues. Business 2.0's May issue points out that several blogs are heavy hitters on the political scene.

Weblogging may also find a role inside the workplace. John Robb (2002), CEO of Userland, a company that has backed weblogging for more than six years, postulates that the knowledge log could be a powerful addition to corporations, instead of using Lotus Notes or Microsoft Sharepoint. He proposes implementing knowledge logs (K-logs, for short) in the workplace: "I shudder to think of the billions of dollars that corporations have spent on barely used knowledge management systems like Lotus. Further, after they have been put in place its very hard for senior execs to chart their impact. With a K-Log network, you can see the impact by using your browser and surfing what has been written."

Virtual Communities of Niche Interests

The insurgence of blogging as a social phenomenon is thrown into another light when we apply some of the thinking of John Seely Brown (1999) in his essay, "Learning, Working and Playing in the Digital Age: Creating Ecologies of Learning." The diagram above synthesizes the crossover between knowledge and learning within a social context. The weblog occupies a place within the circle of "Communities of Practice." Brown states:

"On the Web, genres appear to be evolving about every six months. If you see a Web site that's more than six months old, it screams out at you-something is wrong. This Web site is tired. The Web as media will be developing or enacting new genres in Web time-an interesting fact since genres are social enactments, not just technological enactments."

Brown goes on to underscore that the Web has both reach and reciprocity, adding, "With the Web we have for the first time a medium that could truly honor multiple forms of intelligence-abstract, textual, visual, musical, social and kinesthetic. The kinesthetic is the last to be served." If Brown were to comment about weblogs, he would probably see them as a narrative in a personal exploration of learning and sharing knowledge with others. These are virtual communities of niche interests, which Berners-Lee envisioned when he first created the web. They underline a "shift between using technology to support the individual and using technology to support relationships," as Brown described it.