With an estimated 57 million blogs in operation and more coming online daily, businesses are finally succumbing to the desire to blog and software vendors are eager to feed that hunger.
On Monday, enterprise software company KnowNow announced a partnership with Automattic to sell and support a business blogging platform called WordPress Enterprise Edition, based on the open source WordPress blogging software that Automattic offers through its hosted blog service WordPress.com.
Earlier this month, Intel said it planned to package several business-oriented publishing and content management tools, including Six Apart's Movable Type Enterprise blogging platform, for its manufacturing partners.
Other vendors are churning out similar offerings. This month, online collaboration company Telligent announced its BlogMailr service to let people publish blog posts via e-mail. In September, iUpload released a new version of its Customer Conversation System, an enterprise blogging platform aimed at customer relationship management and community. Also that month, Traction Software announced Traction TeamPage Release 3.7, its enterprise blogging product. The list goes on and on.
Forward-looking blogging efforts spearheaded by the likes of Microsoft and Sun haven't been widely replicated because many companies remain uncomfortable engaging their customers in conversation, preferring instead traditional modes of marketing, where the information flows one way. It's hard to imagine, for example, Apple CEO Steve Jobs mixing it up with Apple customers about iPods and iMacs in the same way that Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz carries the torch for Java and grid computing.
There is evidence that blogs represent a viable marketing channel. Some 12% of North American online consumers read blogs at least once a year, and 40% of consumers overall have read a blog at least once, according to Forrester Research. The audience is listening -- or reading. Still, many businesses prefer the safety of the public relations cocoon to freewheeling engagement with the online masses. However, blogging tools also have valid internal uses and companies are starting see that blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, and the like make online collaboration easier.
"The conversation has shifted toward internal blogging and that has started to make a lot more sense to enterprises," says Toni Schneider, CEO of Automattic. "Blogging is a very malleable communication channel. It's not like some of these enterprise content management systems where you have to follow these very strict rules and you're not even allowed to publish content yourself."
Another reason companies are looking more closely at blogging software, Schneider says, is that increasingly, new hires are themselves bloggers and are comfortable with blogging tools. The same can't as easily be said about traditional enterprise content management systems, which often prove so complex they drive users back to familiar applications such as e-mail for collaboration and project management.