Corporate blogging (lesson 2)

The humbling learning experience continues. Here is episode II of the life of my blog project inside a large Swiss bank. 2000 readers, 3 contributors, and guess what:

The audience is ready. Editors are not

We really expected people not to be immediately receptive to a less formal communication channel like a blog. In such a context we expected to catch a lot of fire from those claiming that the blog does not contain enough information, that it is a waste of time etc… Our strategy was to start publishing posts full of tangible information and to slowly transition towards lighter and more debatable content.

It seems people have been expecting more direct communication for a while, and that the problem is not the audience but rather editors that are reluctant to expose themselves to the public debate. I thought it would be the other way around, with a bunch of enthusiastic people pushing content to uncaring readers. Learning on the job ๐Ÿ˜‰

Blogging en entreprise: leรงon 2

Comme vous ne le savez probablement pas je travaille pour une grande banque Suisse dans laquelle j’implémente un intranet construit autour d’un blog. Le but de cet intranet est de transmettre de l’information aux collaborateurs sous une forme nouvelle, plus informelle, afin qu’ils se sentent impliqués et non plus simples spectateurs d’un grand changement (nouveau système informatique) qui s’annonce. Retour sur les quelques enseignements que je retire de cette expérience extrèmement enrichissante.

2000 lecteurs, 3 rédacteurs, et devinez quoi:

L’audience est prête. Les rédacteurs pas.

Nous nous attendions à ce que les collaborateurs ne soient pas immédiatement réceptifs au blog. Nos arguments étaient prêts au cas où l’on nous attaquait sur le fait qu’il constitue une perte de temps, qu’il n’y a pas assez d’information et trop de palabres, etc… Nous avions également une stratégie : commencer par poster des choses très informatives et standards, puis transitionner doucement vers du contenu plus plus informel et surtout plus ouvert au débat.

On dirait en fait que les gens attendent depuis un moment qu’on communique avec eux de façon plus directe (j’avoue que c’est une demie surprise). Et finalement je suis dans la situation où ce sont les rédacteurs qui posent “problème” car ils ont peur de “se mettre en avant”, de poser leur nom sur un site lu par tous.

Je m’attendais à ce que ça fonctionne dans l’autre sens, avec un groupe de personnes enthousiastes créant du contenu pour une audience désintéressée. On en apprend tous les jours ; -)

Huge opportunity for banks

I hope to have all the swiss audience hooked up on this post with such a title ๐Ÿ˜‰

I definitely see a huge business developing over the management of people’s personal data as Christian Lindholm said at reboot. Mobile phone users, with tools like Nokia’s lifeblog application, are going to create terabytes of pictures, text messages and conversations on a daily basis. This information will have to be stored, redistributed, backuped, etc… Who do you trust for this task? To what company would you hand out a complete access to your most personal information? I think it is your bank.

Personally if I had to rank the potential suppliers for this service

1. my bank, because I already trust them to manage securely the most important tangible thing I have: money
2. google, or any foreign company that does some dehumanized data mining
3. a storage company like EMC2
4. my own (discrete) technical infrastructure
5. my mobile phone carrier
6. my government, or any form of public service

I think banks have a huge opportunity here. Create a service like Yahoo 360 that retrieves content from mobile phones. Have people upload their data, access it securely from anywhere and share what they think is worth sharing. Charge a monthly fee for the service (people will pay) and feel good about helping humans live a better life in the connected world.

Intranet Blogs

Here is an article on blogs in internal communication. I especially liked this quote that summarizes the whole purpose of a blog: creating discussion rather than becoming an authoritative and exhaustive source of information.

“The idea is to communicate ‘awareness’ rather than information, so that team members know what’s happening, and who to go to for in-depth details,”

Some useful tips for all the internal bloggers out there.

To ensure that your blog is read […] here are a couple of pointers:
• Keep it conversational and light
• Know your audience and write to them
• Blogs are highly time-sensitive so currency is critical
• Anecdotes are encouraged and expected
• Use links to refer to relevant information
• Be succinct and break-up the text – which encourages “scanning”

(Thx Steve)

Unlearn best practices

Disclaimer: I did not do extensive research on this matter, I am not an expert in CSS/RSS and I do understand that RSS is a format that was not meant to contain style information. This article reflects the view of an editor facing a simple layout problem and trying to work around it. I’m sure you will still find some reasons for flaming me so don’t worry ๐Ÿ˜‰

I am trying to work around what was, until RSS feeds, the best practice for web sites design: a strict separation of content and presentation.

Problem: on this blog I use this really cool box around quotes to make them stand out.

A very interesting quote

The style is in a separate file at the root of the server. When posts appear in the context of the site everything is fine. But when the post is in the RSS feed the style information is lost and readers get very, very confused.

Solution: re-embed the style directly into the posts? Will it work this way? Go back to how I worked in 1994, unlearn some of what I thought was a definitive truth on web development. As Stefano once told me (I think he was quoting Alvin Toeffler):

In the future, the illiterate will be the people that cannot unlearn what they think they know.

Food for thought.

Bliki (or wlog?)

I had a discussion a while ago about how nice it would be to have a blog that would act as a wiki. A bliki would be a site with posts stacking up in ante chronological order (blog) but that anyone could edit (wiki). A natural evolution that would combine the core value of a blog (the dialogue) with the flexibility of wikis.

The more I think about it, the more I feel like it would be a bad idea.

The value of blogs resides in the ability to capture the integrality of their evolution. Because updates are clearly delimited (a comment, a post), subscribing to the RSS feeds will give you a complete picture of what is happening on the site.

Wiki updates are really hard to capture. What do you send your feed if a reader just added the “s” you forgot after a word? Is it worth knowing that somebody added a particular item without knowing the context (think of someone adding an item to a list)?

For this reason I do not see how the two could merge into something effective. What do you think?

Blogs refine face-to-face time

I just finished reading this article on Euan Semple, the head of KM solutions at the BBC. He talks about his extensive experience in implementing social technologies inside a large organization.
It did not happen overnight but one step at a time. He first started with a bulletin board, then introduced communities of interests. Blogs and wikis followed and now the next step is to tie all the applications together.

Some interesting quotes:

Semple resists ‘corporateness’, studiously avoids ‘real’ meetings and advises his peers to seek forgiveness after the fact, rather than permission beforehand, when getting things done.

There’s always an early-adopter hump to get over until enough people are using it. Different interests must be represented for the environment to work as an ecology.

One of the arguments against blogs is that they kill face-to-face time. “They refine your face-to-face time,” Semple counters. “As a consequence of blogs and networks, I have met some really interesting people. Business is based on relationships, and this way you actually talk to the people you want to talk to.”

On a problem I personally faced when implementing discussion based systems in a conservative work environment: people that say it is a loss of time.

A letter in our internal newspaper said that the people with time to waste writing blogs should be the first to go,” he says. “It kicked off a huge debate, as others said it was up to them what they spent their time doing and that they found it valuable. It raises issues about what is productive. People go for cigarette breaks and chat on the phone. We employ them and should trust them to get their work done to a standard we’re happy with.