The last thing the 1,000 attendees at last week's Fast Search and Transfer meeting expected was to find a bunch of unruly bloggers potentially disrupting the proceedings with unsupervised comments and free-for-all blogging.
But that's exactly what they got, and many were surprised to learn that not only had 13 bloggers been invited to attend and participate, but they were given carte blanche to blog away and even criticize if they wanted. The bloggers did what bloggers everywhere do -- they interviewed people, they spouted off, they offered help and bits of wisdom, and occasionally they ranted and raved.
"There were no rules set," said Zia Zaman, Fast's senior VP of strategic marketing. "We allowed them to assemble and blog what they wanted to blog."
The blogging experiment was a sidelight to Fast's Business and Technology Conference, which was focused on attempts to harness emerging online IT-oriented technologies and applications to its search platform. The blogging fit into the overall category of Enterprise 2.0 for search, which largely seeks to utilize search techniques to organize unstructured data for business use.
David Weinberger interviewed speakers and posted the interviews. Jerry Bowles said the experience moved him to believe that Google, the dominant search engine company, may not be so dominant in a few years. He quoted Fast CEO John Marcus Lervik, who speculated that Oracle, not Google, could one day become Fast's most vigorous competitor.
James Robertson questioned the premise that "search is (or will be) the interface." He asked for evidence that search will emerge as a universal interface.
Another blogger, Jevon MacDonald, believes the idea of group blogging can be a useful business tool, although he concedes group blogging for IT enterprises is in its infancy. "Right now big [IT] systems create the environment and the reality," he said. "People don't feel comfortable with that. We believe that blogs -- particularly groups of bloggers -- can inform people in a new way. We're informing Fast and we think we can help them go to the edge of the organization. Ultimately we want to make Fast a completely transparent organization."
Fast sponsored 11 traditional bloggers, one podcaster, and one video blogger. Each blogger brought his or her particular interest to the effort.
The idea of creating a bloggers group to help inform Fast about its core culture was proposed by Francois Gossieaux, whose Corante provides third-party services to high tech companies.
At first, Fast wanted to know how the bloggers would be coordinated.
"You don't coordinate bloggers," was Gossieaux' answer.
Fast decided to sponsor the experiment anyway -- Gossieaux believes it's the first such sponsorship of a group of bloggers by a company in the U.S. -- and the Fastforward bloggers group was up and running in a week and a half. The idea also received important encouragement from Harvard Business School associate professor Andrew McAfee.
Everyone involved with the experiment knows group blogging in enterprises is in its infancy, but they also believe they are onto something that could be big one day. "The tools will look radically different as we move along," said MacDonald. "New people and new evangelists will emerge. New functions can be fitted into group blogging. I think search could become the ultimate interface."
Group blogging fits into the larger phenomeon of gathering unstructured material online -- e-mails, bookmarks, social networking, and other online data produced by individuals is just part of the effort by search engine companies to take unstructured data and structure it.
The company seems to be pleased with the effort. "It's really people building on each others' ideas," said Zamen. "We can learn from it. We'll pay attention to where it leads."
Editor's note: This story was edited on Feb. 15 to correct the spelling of the first name of Jevon MacDonald.