I gave a talk on enterprise weblogging for the New Jersey Chapter of the American Society of Information Science & Technology yesterday. The presentation is a distilled version of all of my past talks on the topic. I'm finding that I need to prune the actual power point file down more and more to use fewer slides, with more graphics and less text. What this is doing for me is allowing me more space to engage in conversation with the audience rather than to talk at them. This is the point of weblogs, and as I get more comfortable with public speaking this is becoming easier. This entire talk with punctuated with questions and sidebar discussions, which really helped add context to the presentation.
Here are a few of the interesting broader questions that were raised.
What makes weblogs a better choice over email discussion groups or team workspaces? Can weblogs be integrated with existing environments, like Lotus Notes, etc. (various forms of this question were asked)
I've thought about how to answer this question in the past presentations because it comes up. The answer I give is usually starts with the obvious one: ease of use, price, and syndication. They're easier to use for publishing than the tools we currently have (portal systems, content and document management systems), they're easy to install, and they're cheaper (inexpensive or free). I think that's the answer that drove the individual push to blog in the business world initially. But it's not the whole answer. The answer can also be found in how weblogs relate individuals to the company and relate the company to productivity, profitability by using these tools for knowledge sharing. Lee LeFever's "Weblog Pitch" provides the best summary of how weblogs do this. He says "It's about seeing yourself in the context of the company." It's about creating this context and understanding to make better decisions. As you may know from reading or attending my presentation, my long view for all of this is to extract and derive meaning in the relationships that are carved out of weblog use. Weblogs make this sort of extraction very simple because of what has evolved as a pattern for weblog format (blog entry, comment attached to email address or home page, trackbacks, XML feeds with subject fields) can be used for observation of relationships. These relationships can turn into other connections, expert finding, and that sort of thing.
The point people seem to be concerned about is a practical one. We do all of this sharing already in email discussion groups. We use Sharepoint. Why is this any better? My answer is yes, you can archive email discussion. Yes you can do some categorization in team areas. What weblogs offer (besides the cheap, fast and easy experience) is a different experience.
The weblog experience is often about me. I the publishing process. And by control I mean that usually an individual controls what she publishes, whereas an email discussion group is loose. It's based on we rather than me unless you're working with a multi-user weblog. But the experience also adds simple categorization, simple commenting mechanisms (including trackback) and a simple method for sharing and syndicating your output. This is the experience that's unique. The Wiki experience is similar, but with a we/community focus.
Both weblogs and wikis are enablers for grassroots efforts. And there is where the experience takes on meaning to the ecology. As we've seen in the past with Dan Rather at CBS, Jordan Eason at CNN, and George P. Nanos at LANL, weblogs have truly given a great deal of messaging power to individuals for better or for worse. This disruption to the power structures that makes them very interesting with regard to the media or to corporations. Viewed properly, it should be taken as an opportunity to harness the messaging power of the individual.
What should you do to motivate people to weblog?
I reiterated my belief that a healthy ecology depends on the freedom for individuals to express their needs. That is to say, I think that the urge to blog should be self-motivated and that when someone publishes because they feel the need to, they are more likely to sustain that publishing as long as the need exists. Self-motivation is ownership of the process. Requiring people to blog doesn't make sense. I can't believe that the process will be honest, conversational and open if the need doesn't arise organically.
At KM sessions I've been to, I've heard vendors suggest that motivation is the factor that will drive KM software success. To that point, the vendor suggested incentivising contribution by matching with monetary rewards. I think this is entirely wrong. One of the reasons we see weblogs having some success at being used for information and knowledge management today is because it represents the opposite view -- one that suggests that motivation to publish and share knowledge should be an individual matter and should be owned and controlled by the individual rather than mandated from above. Weblogs and wikis are a grassroots revolution, not a idea cooked up by management.