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3/3/2005
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Blogging Tools Start To Catch On In The Business World

Tools must adopt more traditional workflow mechanisms if they're to take root in business settings.

Blogging tools are starting to catch on in business settings, but they have a ways to go before they take root as bona fide business applications.

"The problem today is that blogging is almost too open for companies' tastes," says Gartner analyst Allen Weiner. "Companies really don't have the control, the means to be able to monitor what's said. But that goes against the nature of blogs, which are supposed to be about total freedom of expression." Still, as blog tools get more sophisticated, they'll need to adopt more traditional workflow mechanisms if they're to be used in corporate settings, Weiner says.

With many companies trying blogs on for size, blogging software vendors are addressing business concerns. In so doing, they're adopting features typically found in enterprise-collaboration and content-management suites. Drupal, for example, is an open-source software project that integrates Weblogs, content management, discussion, and collaboration features.

iUpload's Application Suite brings blogging, collaboration, search, marketing, and content-management features together. The vendor recently introduced iUpload Perspectives, a Web-services technology that lets content creators using a variety of blog software packages distribute blog posts to other sites (See story, "IUpload Perspectives Lets Bloggers Spread The Word"). And Tucows Inc.'s Blogware includes privacy controls for limiting access to blog postings, a feature useful to business workgroups.

Stillwater National Bank uses iUpload's Application Suite to sell loan participation to other financial institutions. "What we really did was build an extranet on it," says Laura Briscoe, assistant VP of IT. Stillwater also uses the software to securely and electronically distribute lengthy documents to board members, and it's creating a sales blog for its sales representatives to share information.

One thing that distinguishes blogging software from enterprise content-management applications tends to be simplicity--and that explains a lot about the appeal of blogging. "These are never going to be IT nightmares," says Weiner. "They're pretty simple on the IT scale."

Plaxo Inc., a company offering online contact and address sharing, maintains a blog for the sake of customer relations using Six Apart Ltd.'s Movable Type, perhaps the most popular blog platform at the moment. For Plaxo, simplicity matters, says Stacey Martin, privacy officer. "[Movable Type] was the right price and the right amount of administration," he says. "It requires little or no administration for the way we're using it. We set it up in a matter of minutes."

Simplicity and affordability represent the path of least resistance in IT, and that bodes well for blogging in the business world. "The potential is really pretty strong," says analyst Weiner about the prospects of corporate blogging. "I actually see it working side by side with what companies are doing in their corporate portals, which are traditionally one-way mechanisms for communication--the company out to its employees."

IBM uses homegrown XML-based blogging tools as a means to communicate with the developer community. "We've got over 4-1/2 million developers who are part of our developerWorks community," says Kathy Mandelstein, director of worldwide developer marketing. "Blogging is a communication vehicle out to the community, for them to hear directly from some of the thought leaders from inside IBM, to make IBM real and human to the outside world."

For companies like Sun Microsystems, which uses an open source, Java-based Web application called Roller, blogging is corporate evangelism with a personal face. "We can say that it has been of incalculable value to the company," explains Simon Phipps, Sun's chief technology evangelist. "A company like Sun is led by visionary executives, and [president and chief operating officer] Jonathan Schwartz fits that bill very well. And there's no better thing for an executive like that to been seen."

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