This article has been modified from its original version. Certain quoted material has been removed because its veracity could not be confirmed.
Where do you find all the bits and pieces that comprise your business intelligence? Some of the more interesting snippets are probably trapped in thousands of e-mails languishing in cluttered inboxes or in archived instant messages that no one will ever bother to access again. And no doubt there’s a lot of useful information stuck in stagnant documents or databases, moldering away on the intranet.
To qualify as intelligence, information must be both used and renewed. Good synapses fire fast and standard groupware can be too structured and rigid to support real-time, off-the-cuff data collection for workgroups or projects. Easy and informal, e-mail and IM remain the knowledge-sharing tools of choice for many employees. But after a message has been sent and read, it often drops into the network netherworld never to be seen or used again.
To facilitate the exchange of information and to establish customized, user-friendly data archives, companies such as Cisco, Disney, Hewlett-Packard, General Motors, IBM, Intel, Microsoft, Nokia, Novell, and Yahoo are turning to a new breed of collaboration tools: blogs and wikis. Each helps fill the gaps left by traditional groupware in a different way.
“Blogs and wikis play opposite roles,” says Martin Wattenberg, a researcher on the collaborative user experience team at IBM Watson Research Center. “Blogs are based on an individual voice; a blog is sort of a personal broadcasting system. Wikis, because they give people the chance to edit each other’s words, are designed to blend many voices. Reading a blog is like listening to a diva sing, reading a wiki is like listening to a symphony.”
The good and bad of blogs
Robert Scoble started blogging four years ago when he worked for Japanese technology giant NEC. Scoble’s ruthlessly honest blog -- he never shied from criticizing NEC when he thought it was necessary -- soon became an online gathering place for NEC customers, a place where people could get tech support and offer product feedback.
Now a Microsoft technology evangelist, Scoble has continued to blog and often writes about the best and worst of Microsoft’s solutions. Although straight-talking employees can make some enterprises nervous, the credibility Scoble has developed throughout the years serves Microsoft well. If Scoble defends his company, even Microsoft-scorning geeks listen. Scoble is, however, careful to point out in his blog that his writings “are not vetted by Microsoft and are not official. Often they aren’t even correct.”
Similarly, Sun Microsystems CEO Jonathan Schwartz’s blog, launched last June, is becoming a trusted source of inside information. Schwartz occasionally attacks Sun’s decisions and business practices with almost as much vehemence as he slams HP, IBM, and other competitors.
“With enterprise blogs, the prevailing wisdom right now is to avoid marketing speak of the sort you’d find in a press release,” says Frank Gilbane, CEO of content management technology consultancy Bluebill Advisors. “The strength of blogs and wikis is that they provide direct interaction with readers. People don’t want to interact with press releases, and if they don’t feel the content is real, they’ll simply stop reading the blog.”