Friday, March 09, 2007

Blog? I don't need no stinkin' blog!

Help! I’ve fallen and I can’t get up! Actually, I’ve decided to jump—off the fence that is. I am now clearly on the side of the fence that thinks that blogs and wikis are not ready for business prime time. After many months of mental gymnastics about these two applications, I just don’t think they’re worth the effort put into them—or at least the hype that surrounds them. I’ve come to this conclusion based on both our current consortium study on knowledge retention and transfer, as well as some recent personal experience.

Now let me go on record to say that I do believe that both blogs and wikis have some value—just not business value—at least not yet. Since blogs by definition can be freeform, the rest of this post may be weaving all over the place, but I’ll try to focus it by commenting specifically on how blogs are (are not) useful to knowledge sharing and knowledge management programs. Wikis fall into this same trap, but I’ll tackle them in a later post.

From (ironic, isn’t it?), a blog is defined as, “…a user-generated website where entries are made in journal style and displayed in a reverse chronological order.” Wikipedia further goes on to say that some 60-million blogs (give or take a few mil I suppose) are out there these days. So—what does all this mean? Where am I going with this? Simply this: blogs don’t answer the WIIFM for knowledge management!

Pre-internet, a “blog” would have been a journal, or your sibling’s diary. Add the web, video and audio (you could have added pictures already in the old days), stir until blended, and you’ve got a blog! To that I say, “SO WHAT?” Did anyone ever read someone else’s journal in the past and get immediate business value from it? Does your organization host a blog space and tell you that’s where the authoritative knowledge of the firm is, or that it’s at least where good stuff is?

I understand that Einstein kept detailed journals of his work (as I suppose most scientists and inventors do) but did he ever share any of that work with others—while he was in the middle of it? Certainly there must have been a few nuggets of knowledge old Einstein could have imparted to the rest of us. Maybe even I could have described the theory of relativity had I only gotten a boost from some of his notes (editor’s note: I’m not that old—I was born after his death, and therefore, after his work was already published).

Okay, so back to my point. WIIFM for the blogger? WIIFM for the reader? I don’t know. In a business context, I suppose a blogger is to write about some tacit knowledge he/she has that has value to the organization. It’s not just blogging about his/her favorite hobby or foods. So what knowledge has business value? Who determines that? And even if it is determined, how do we make a blogger blog? The first rule of public speaking is to be passionate about what you speak. My personal experience is that it holds true for writing (or blogging) as well. So if I’m not passionate about blogging about my tacit knowledge, how are you going to make me?

Maybe you make me blog (or incent me as we like to say), by offering me some rewards and/or recognition for blogging. Okay, how many organizations do you know that do that? I really do want to learn about specific examples, because I want to talk to those organizations! My organization? I get no reward or recognition for keeping this blog. That’s not a criticism—it’s just a reflection of the reality that I am measured on my client service—not blogging. So in fact, every minute I spend working on this blog reduces my performance as I’m being measured against! WIIFM? And, because I’m not required to share any specific tacit knowledge I have, presumably about knowledge management, I can really blog about anything I darned well please—as long as its knowledge management related. Where the heck is the value in that?

So on the supply side, we’ve got me—no guidelines, no rewards—only passion. What about the demand side? Who the heck wants to read this stuff? What is the universe of users on the demand side, and WIIFM for them? Let’s see, they could be:

· Unaware of my blog
· Aware of my blog but don’t care because it doesn’t interest them
· Aware of my blog but don’t care because they’ve read it before and it really doesn’t interest them
· Aware of my blog, read it (occasionally or otherwise), but just chuckle because it doesn’t give them any knowledge management value
· Aware of my blog, read it, and sometimes comment on it because they have their own agenda—like publicizing their own blogs
· Aware of my blog, read it, and sometimes comment on it because they have something to share in the arena of knowledge management
· Aware of my blog, read it, and get immediate business value from it

If you actually read my list, you’d see that I purposely ordered the items in descending order of likely occurrence. That is, getting any real business value from my blog is not practically nil—it is nil! Inductive reasoning tells me that I’m not meeting the WIIFM for my readers.

By the way, while I’ve addressed the WIIFM problem with blogs, there are also technical problems with them—e.g., chronological format, inability to browse, non-authoritative content, etc. But, those problems pale in comparison to the WIIFM hurdle. In a future post, I hope to discuss podcasts, storytelling, and other mechanisms for knowledge transfer (again, stuff we’re finding out from our current benchmarking study). For now though, I’ve just used 1-1/2 hours of my billable time to blog this, for no more reward than the intrinsic value of taking a stand.


Dr. Lauchlan A. K. Mackinnon said...


It seems to me that you are missing some of the main rationales for blogs.

Your article seems to paint blogs as if they are just an extension of the traditional diary, but they are not . . . diaries are private, blogs are public.

The purpose of a blog is to share thoughts, to build an audience, to communicate, to network, to connect with other people, etc. A blog can be a marketing tool, a social networking software tool, assist with dissemination of knowledge and, in some cases, stewardship of knowledge. Where appropriate in context, it could lead to lead generation and business opportunities.

So, from the supply side there could be quite a bit 'in it for me'. Looking around, I can see some people have put considerable thought into their blogging strategy and carefully monitor their metrics and the value they add to their readership.

See for more discussion of how blogs can add business value (but bear in mind there has been some discussion around this article in the blogosphere you might want to chase up)

At the end of the day, a blog is a content management system that because it is simple to use is used, and doubles to serve many business functions e.g. networking, lead generation, information sharing, idea sourcing / sharing, etc.

On the demand, side, it's like anything else - if you can provide content people are interested in, they'll read it and come back for more, and if they aren't, they probably won't subscribe.

I think you need to rethink your stand! ;) A blog can be a very useful business tool.

However, as a system it is very primitive. No one would design it that way . . . e.g. it is difficult to syndicate comments (you can't get an rss feed to see who's commented in other people's posts you are interested in).

But I think you'll see this area grow in business value and uptake.

Wikis? Again, they are content management systems, and they are useful for quick and dirty solutions and for some purposes (e.g. you noted Wikipedia). But I think for the corporate world they need extra features. But who cares? The corporate world already has sophisticated content management systems, which are wikis by another name - just not open source. So sure, arguably wikis might not take off in the corporate world, but if content management systems already have, isn't the point moot?


Lauchlan Mackinnon

Jesse Ezell said...

"Pre-internet, a “blog” would have been a journal, or your sibling’s diary. Add the web, video and audio (you could have added pictures already in the old days), stir until blended, and you’ve got a blog! To that I say, “SO WHAT?”"

If you start from this assumption, then you will end up determining that blogs have little value. I suppose you could have a diary blog, but generally that isn't how blogs are used. Blogs are conversations that are public and dynamic, diaries are logs that are private and static. So yes, if someone starts a blog just to say "this is what I did today," then it isn't going to provide much value. But, if someone starts a blog about some subject like e-Learning and says, "this is what I am thinking about this area of e-Learning" and a conversation gets started, then you begin to build value.

Jim Lee, PMP said...

Okay, I am fully willing to start a conversation on a topic I find interesting. So here's a call for help. Someone out there find me useful blogs based upon the following criteria:

1. It must be on the topic of how the Gen X’ers and Millenials view the use of technology to share knowledge,

2. The blog must have some active posts from respondents—not only posts from the blogger alone, and

3. I want only up to 3 blogs because I don’t think I can spend the kind of time necessary to read and respond to more on a regular basis.

There are only 60-million blogs to crawl, so it should be easy to find...

Thanks in advance for anyone’s help.

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James P. MacLennan said...

Still looking for WIIFMs for corporate blogs? I've captured some thoughts on two specifc use cases with pretty concrete benefits, at least for my organization.