Tech Guide: A blog by any name

Blogging is an increasingly important element of business communication and collaboration. But different types of blog suit different kinds of business. Here's a classification.

Blogging is an increasingly important element of business communication and collaboration. But different types of blog suit different kinds of business. Here's a classification.

I guess it's official. BusinessWeek has recognised blogging as a trend that will 'change your business'. Early blog pioneers (those in the 'blogosphere') aren't surprised. But many people still dismiss blogs as the output solely of geeks, wackos or political extremists.

Many blogs are. But just as there are bad blogs, there are good blogs. There are off-the-wall rants, and there are well-considered blogs. There are teenybopper bloggers (teeny-bloggers?), and there are mature and professional bloggers.

There are also many different species of blog. I'll assume for the moment that you agree that good communication makes any business better. Given that, and given a curiosity about this new form of communication, which kind of blog should you be looking at employing in your business?

Here's my brief blog taxonomy: Diary | Project | Grok | Group-grope | Wiki | Blog advice

The diary blog
This is the original blog type, in which one or a very small number of authors frequently post comments or thoughts on a site, with the newest posts at the top of the page and the older ones getting pushed down.

These blogs can have a lot of impact, personality, and vision. If your customers or partners regularly read a diary blog that's written by somebody at your business, congratulate yourself -- such customers are practically part of your family. One of the most famous diary bloggers is Microsoft's Robert Scoble, who writes the Scobleizer. Robert's interests and honest opinions emerge in this blog, and he almost makes Microsoft seem warm and fuzzy -- even when he's ranting about some internal corporate conflict that's driving him nuts.

On the other hand, I would think that recruiting bloggers to pitch your product, which Microsoft is also doing, undermines the positive power of blogging.

Businesses should also take note of the emerging character blog, sometimes called the fake blog. These are attributed to fictional people. For example, see the the Lincoln Fry blog that was part of McDonalds Super Bowl ad program, and the Captain Morgan Spiced Rum blog, by the captain himself. Think of these as commercials in blog form.

The project blog
Many small software companies are starting blogs based on their products. This is where product managers post updates and public plans, and engage in a dialogue with their loyal customers. For examples, see Intuit's blog and FeedBurner's blog.

I'm really hoping that this type of blog takes off. I'd like to see one run by the product managers of the next camera, computer or car I buy. If you're running a growing business, a project blog is a great way to keep your most loyal customers up to speed with your progress. The grok blog
This is a blog that points to, and comments on, media stories. I call it a grok because this was the format of Media Grok, the ongoing critique of the media launched by the Industry Standard in the Internet bubble.

I don't believe there's much a small business can gain from running its own grok, but the model is emerging as a business unto itself. See the popular gadget blogs Engadget and Gizmodo, for example. Both were built on the grok model, although they are doing more original reporting as they mature. The group-grope blog
All industries are small. In any industry, there is a cadre of thought leaders who are inquisitive and outspoken and who become smarter the more they interact with others. Blogs that multiple people post can serve as an ongoing trade conference. One example is AlwaysOn, a group-grope blog of the venture capital industry (I used to write a column for it).

This is an emerging format, and I won't be surprised if group gropes pop up in other industries, as ad-hoc associations, and with the same networking benefits. The wiki
A wiki is collaborative Web site. It is not, strictly speaking, a blog at all, but wikis have blog-like elements: they are easy to update, and most are written in an informal style. Wikis are also extremely powerful new tools for business collaboration. You can get a bunch of people up and running on wiki in a fraction of the time it would take to set up almost any other groupware application, and wiki users can organise their online work spaces in the ways that make sense to them -- not to some harried IT staff.

Wikis can tend to become rather disorganised after a while, but for keeping teams up-to-date on active projects, they really can't be beat. (I'm using one my own editorial and product management team, and I think it's great so far.)

The most famous wiki is the collaborative encyclopedia, the Wikipedia. For collaborative work spaces, there are several companies you can turn to, including the pioneer Socialtext. Blog advice
Don't get hung up in terminology. The Internet is an amazing tool for business communication, and blogs, their variations, and other tools with bloggish characteristics are just new ways to communicate.

Just as different people have unique styles of communication, different companies will take to some of these new forms and not others. But these different blog media types are worth experimenting with. They'll help you to open up your mind to ideas from your customers, partners and employees -- and you'll probably also find some new ideas of your own. And that has to be good for business.