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section heading icon     k-logs

This page looks at 'knowledge blogs' and at blogging as 'organisational memory'.

It covers -

section marker     introduction

Mainstreaming of blogging - and reduced opportunities for digital gurus after the excesses of the 1990s boom - have been reflected in emergence of the corporate blog or enterprise blog.

It is a phenomenon that has arguably attracted more theorists and observers than actual practitioners, with a proliferation of academic seminars, self-promotion by corporate blogging enthusiasts and often uncritical reception by members of the blogosphere. Estimates of uptake by business and non-government organisations are problematical, as much is presumably taking place behind firewalls on corporate intranets.

Corporate blogging has essentially taken two forms.

The first is blogging within organisations, sometimes characterised as 'organisation memory', 'knowledge blogs' (aka k-logs or klogs) or 'competitor intelligence' blogs. It aims to capture an organisation's tacit knowledge, provide a readily accessible repository of expertise, facilitate project development, provide an annotated clipping service about developments outside the organisation or merely serve as a new communication mechanism across offices and divisions.

The second form is blogging directed outside the organisation, aimed at building a bridge between the organisation and its customers or other stakeholders. Such blogs have variously reported on a particular enterprise's activities or sought to engage the interest of consumers in a specific brand or product.

There are few accepted benchmarks for assessing the success of uptake by organisations. It is unclear whether corporate blogging delivers better results than traditional mechanisms for sharing information or, more broadly, for building a positive corporate culture.

section marker     blogging within organisations

Inevitably, media hubbub about blogging has been exploited by the business consulting industry.

A range of pundits have accordingly explained how large organisations can -

  • replace their tired internal newsletters (in print or electronic formats) and blizzard of memoranda with a corporate blog
  • facilitate knowledge management (KM), organisation memory (OM) and collective activity across units/locations through group blogs published on the corporate intranet, supplementing or replacing information sharing through mechanisms such as Lotus Notes
  • build teams ("the blog on your intranet is a club-house ... a tree-house for your people, where everyone can join in")
  • enhance competitor intelligence, equipping executives and staff with a flow of news items or other information from outside the information and enabling those readers to 'value add' by commenting on such news feeds
  • underpin marketing through a blog aimed at readers outside the organisation

The effectiveness of such prescriptions is uncertain. As we noted above, figures about intranet blogs and wikis are contentious, if only because most are protected by corporate firewalls. Few organisations disclose their existence; fewer still provide an indication of costs and outcomes.

In considering blogs aimed at employees it is unclear whether an intranet blog crafted in the internal public relations unit or by the CEO's executive assistant will be seen as more appetising, authentic or trustworthy than current offerings. Blogging as a mechanism for sharing expertise among staff may be attractive simply because most technical manuals are indigestible (although identifying the content and status of information in a manual may be easier).

There are few serious studies about work-group implementation and many of the statements about perceived benefits appear to have been adapted from problematical assertions about the value of blogging per se.

It has been claimed that

Knowledge blogs help encourage brain dumps, exploration, and think-aloud behaviour. They create connected content, break down silos, allow comments, and can also be treasured as useful searchable archives

Another advocate comments that

Blogs help write thought pieces to guide the organisation on a strategic path. Bloggers can collect and connect information and provide useful overlays of context.

Arguably such a knowledge (and people) centric organisation will avail itself of alternative mechanisms, including f2f meetings and reports.

section marker     a question of corporate culture?

Michael Herman perceptively notes that "for those that have been around long enough, blogging is another instance of the 'technology wheel of reincarnation'", commenting on scope for overplaying the analogy of corporate blogging and water cooler conversation.

The interaction is nothing like water cooler conversation. Blogging is inherently neither two-way nor conversational. Rather blogging is a high-tech version of bathroom graffiti that enables a person to:

a) scan (and optionally read) thousands of cubicle walls with little or no effort, and

b) during a moment of contemplation, add a few new scribbles to their stall wall

Nothing more.

One blogger reflected comments earlier in this profile, suggesting that

most companies don't see the value of having people document anything, much less their daily thoughts. Mostly this is an ROI problem (or a perceived one). Writing good documentation is hard; writing a weblog that is worth the company time it takes to write it (remember, most people won't write on their own time to benefit the company) is also hard ...

If somebody is a good writer, they're probably not going to be using that energy for the benefit of the company; they probably have their own weblog out there that talks about stuff they really care about, or some other creative project outside the company's control

Much of the hype about corporate blogging is an echo of misplaced enthusiasm for groupware (from which few organisations have secured the expected returns) and more broadly for knowledge management, highlighted in works such as The Knowledge Web (London: Kogon Page 2000), Working Knowledge (Boston: Harvard Business School Press 2000) by Thomas Davenport & Laurence Prusak, Knowledge & Communities (London: Butterworth 2000) by Eric Lesser, Michael Fontaine & Jason Slusher, Davenport's Information Ecology: Mastering the Information and Knowledge Environment (Oxford: Oxford Uni Press 1997) and the 2007 Different Knowledge, Different Benefits: Toward A Productivity Perspective On Knowledge Sharing In Organizations (PDF) by Martine Haas & Morten Hansen.

It also assumes that all organisations are the same or - with a dash of klogging - could be.

Many organisations are poorly equipped to launch and maintain work unit blogs or wikis because there are

  • few precedents
  • few champions within the organisation or its peers
  • perceptions that blogging is not 'real work'
  • an inability, in practice, to measure the return on investment in blogging
  • uncertainties about the autonomy of authors
  • concerns about responses if particular text is disputed or inappropriate
  • often substantial existing investments in groupware (ie in licensing, hardware, training of users and management mechanisms) and content management systems
  • a culture that doesn't support autonomous information collection and expression, particularly to readers outside the organisation.

Some intranet blogs, for example, have only come to public attention when particular posts have expunged or the organisation has belatedly developed a policy on internal and external blogging.

Such concerns have not deterred specialist businesses that offer to manage the corporate blogging process or even author a blog on behalf of a work group or the wider organisation. One of our more irreverent clients compares that process to 1970s experiments with poets in residence - creativity was apparently supposed to diffuse from "an unwashed zany longhair" and be absorbed by osmosis - and the adventure training found in organisations that fell victim to the paintball-&-chainsaw zeitgeist.

A blogging advocate asks

Imagine the internal individual blog of a charismatic CEO. Instead of (or in addition to) those Friday afternoon pep talks and the monthly e-mailing of the vision statement, what if the CEO was constantly communicating with the organization through her weblog? The informal tone and personal nature would move beyond the image of CEO as corporate figurehead, and reveal the CEO as a human being.

It is an attractive image. We wonder, however, whether reality might be more difficult.

Would the staff retrospectively savour the musings of the CEO about loneliness at the top - or the chairman's exhilaration about racing his 72 metre yacht - on hearing that a division is to be eliminated or offshored to Bangalore? What if they are all able to scribble on a cubicle wall ... and interact with members of the public or competitors who can read the digital graffiti?

And would bloggers within a government agency bother to put paws to keyboard if they knew that comment about the latest budget cuts or bold ministerial initiative would be identified and expunged by a corporate PR or IT unit that has never embraced the 'tree-house' model?

Those concerns - and anxieties about inappropriate disclosure of sensitive information, personal defamation, exposure to liability or misplaced criticism of competitors - are not restricted to blogs.

They are the same issues that have inhibited a range of corporate media such as newsletters and have proved resistant to prescriptions by Freire, Bakhtin or Michel de Certeau evident in works such as Christine Boese's 2004 paper The Spirit of Paulo Freire in Blogland: Struggling for a Knowledge-Log Revolution, with claims that klogs

bring a hidden and newly awakened army of interactive participants who may be experiencing the kinds of unsettling (to the powers that be) critical consciousness that is within the goals of an increasingly democratized culture

A blog comment on that paper hails de Certeau's

concept of the "wig" -- a diversionary tactic, in which workers pursue their own agendas on company time (without actually pilfering, or being unavailable for "real" work should they need to reprioritize)

a concept that will gladden the hearts of Negri & Hardt but presumably not delight managers and colleagues in most SMEs or large organisations.

In practice much 'human face' writing appears to be like the following gem from Demos ("a greenhouse for new ideas") -

One of the coolest pieces of kit in our new office is by far the saddle stitcher on our Canon. Alright, so I may be alone in my evangelism, but it does do one thing very, very well. It prints pdfs as A4 and A5 booklets. For that matter, drop in a stack of single-sided pages, tap a few keys, and after a bit of rumbling it spits out a nicely folded, properly paginated, double-stapled book -- while using only a quarter of the paper you scanned

section marker     competitor intelligence

Recurrent use of military metaphors within major enterprises has fostered interest in enterprise blogs as a tool for competitor intelligence (CI).

Proponents of CI blogging have suggested that it would replace traditional clipping services and media alerts provided by an entity within the organisation (typically the corporate library or public relations unit) or from an external information provider.

Items would be abstracted by a specialist for presentation on a blog accessed through the corporate intranet. Readers of that blog would be able to comment on those items, providing assessments, pointing to other sources of data, identifying competitive opportunities and suggesting strategies.

One advocate comments that

Klogs are also a useful, low-cost and flexible tool for competitive intelligence (CI) ... Well-designed CI blogs can help collect, analyse, package, and deliver current awareness and early warning of competitive and regulatory developments for sales staff and top managers ...

John Patrick, acclaimed as "one of ten masters of the Information Economy" and author of Net Attitude: What It Is, How to Get It, and Why Your Company Can't Survive Without It (New York: Perseus 2001), suggests that

Blogs can potentially deliver the grassroots discussions and knowledge-sharing that top-down, corporate-sponsored efforts never could ...

You could call it knowledge management, but that's sort of a hackneyed term, and a lot of people, as soon as they hear KM, they immediately tune out. Actually, I think KM is going to come back again. It never left, it really is important. It's just never been able to work very effectively. Some people have said it was overhyped, but I say it was underdelivered. Nobody argued with the potential of it, it's just that it didn't really happen. Why? For the most part, it was based on the idea of imposed collaboration: Making it work required centralized control over the knowledge and the sharing of it. It's a good theory, but it simply hasn't worked. A lot of companies made people fill out skills profiles, on the theory that when someone, say, needs help with a Linux server installation, they can go into the KM database and find out who the experts are in the company. The problem was that the best experts wouldn't cooperate and considered it beneath them, and at the other extreme, people who worried about getting laid off would be happy to expose their skills, which may or may not be that great.

We are unconvinced that blogging will change those attitudes.


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version of September 2007
© Bruce Arnold | caslon analytics