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Blogs: the new information revolution? RIM professionals have an opportunity to provide leadership and guidance in the development of policies to ensure that blogs are managed as records.

Weblogs, or blogs, constitute a significant new development in the information world. They're taking the business world by storm. From the perspective of records and information management (RIM) professionals, they present unprecedented challenges and opportunities. Leadership and policies are needed to shape and make optimal use of this new application. Most blogs are records, so sound records and information management principles must be applied. Other information management issues also must be addressed.

As a relatively new information phenomenon, definitions are unsettled.

* Microsoft defines blogs as frequently updated personal web journals that can dramatically help both small and large companies communicate their product messages They increase people's ability to share ideas and information exponentially, and on a worldwide scale.

* Accenture says blogs are an interactive website that allows the owner to publish ideas and information. Users can read and evaluate material and add new content, creating a conversation that spans time zones and continents.

* Technorati, a blog search engine and measurement firm, calls blogs a personal journal on the web and says the power of weblogs is that they allow millions of people to easily publish their ideas and millions more to comment on them. The firm further describes blogs as a fluid, dynamic medium, more akin to a "conversation" than to a library.

* Harvard Law School weighs in with a definition of blogs as a hierarchy of text, images, media objects, and data, arranged chronologically, that can be viewed in an HTML browser. The center of the hierarchy is a sequence of weblog posts each with a title, link, and description. The school's Internet policy states that a weblog gives one a publication where ideas can stand without interference.

Blogs vary from recitation of individual opinions and analysis to "aggregators" that mainly point readers to other blogs, websites, and other sources. Some are straightforward narrative; others allow visitors to add comments to the original content. Some are internal, i.e., accessible only within a company; others are posted on public web sites for anyone to see and, in fact, aim to reach and influence a broad readership. Some are sponsored and include ads to defray costs or help turn a profit. Blogs are related to but not the same as wikis, collaborative websites comprising the continually updated work of many people. Wikis allow collaborators to edit, modify, or even delete work of previous authors.

The earliest blogs date from the late 1990s, and many were casually established by individuals to share personal information. A 2003 survey by Perseus Development Corp. revealed that more than 60 percent of blogs on the Internet were inactive or abandoned. But interest has skyrocketed in the past few years. A January 2005 survey by Pew Internet and American Life Project reported that 7 percent of the 120 million U.S. adults who use the Internet say they have created a blog or web-based diary, and 27 percent of Internet users say they read blogs, which represents a 58 percent jump over survey results of less than a year earlier. The interactive features of many blogs are also catching on with 12 percent of Internet users reporting they have posted comments or other materials on blogs. Technorati estimated that there were more than 9.7 million blogs by early 2005, up 100,000 from two years earlier, with about 38,000 more being created every day!

A number of chief executive officers (CEOs) are taking up blogging themselves. A Fortune cover story entitled "Why There's No Escaping the Blog" described how blogs build customer relationships, take the pulse of consumer trends, expose shoddy products (e.g., Kryptonite was forced to announce a program to exchange defective locks after a swarm of bloggers revealed a Bic pen could open them), and support creativity. "Blogs will change your business," said a Business Week cover story "Blogs will Change Your Business," which also announced the debut of the magazine's own blog. The article called blogs ".... the most explosive outbreak in the information world since the Internet itself," capable of serving as internal information sharing and collaboration devices, conveying information about business practices and trends, and worth monitoring because they "evolve with every posting.... [through tracking, a company] gets a heat map about what a growing part of the world is thinking about, minute by minute."

The Power of Blogs

Blogs derive their power from several sources. They require relatively inexpensive and easy-to-use software and are relatively easy to set up and maintain, particularly for organizations that already have websites and computer expertise. They provide a means of collecting and organizing fresh insights and opinions and thereby reinforce organizational objectives of fostering knowledge and information sharing as a way of enhancing productivity They are unedited and unfiltered, which appeals to readers who may not fully trust official corporate pronouncements or traditional mainstream media. Blogs can be used to share information instantaneously and serve to spark creativity and cooperation. They may include links to other blogs and websites, providing readers with quick, easy means of pursuing additional information, and have the capacity to "swarm" by sharing and spreading information quickly. Their numbers are huge, but that issue can be addressed in part by selecting a small number of particular interest or by using "rich site summaries aggregators" that gather material from designated websites and blogs and bring new information from those sites to the individual.

The impact of blogs was demonstrated last year as bloggers undermined some of U.S. presidential candidate John Kerry's claims as a Vietnam War hero and exposed as frauds documents about President Bush's National Guard service as reported by CBS News. Microsoft, IBM, Verizon, Boeing, Hewlett-Packard, and other businesses provided further visibility and credibility by beginning their own blogs. Adding to the bandwagon effect, business journals and other press reported that influential leaders were getting more and more of their ideas from reading blogs.

Blogs are difficult to classify but in general fall into five categories. All should be of interest to RIM professionals. The last three are of most direct consequence; they constitute organizational information and therefore need information and records management policies.

* Individuals' personal news and views. These are personal journals set up by individuals to share news about their lives, families, and personal developments and for personal expression. They are particularly popular with teenagers.

* News/commentary/journalism. These blogs report the news, provide interpretation and commentary, and in some cases confront and upstage mainstream media.

* Advertising/promotion/marketing/customer service. Some blogs promote products and services or communicate with potential customers.

* Business/professional issue commentary and insight. The most influential blogs in the business world fall into this category. They may include commentary by CEOs, views of professionals and other employees, trial balloon ideas, results of research projects, and interpretations of the events and trends in the field. Some are devoted to particular topic areas such as law or education.

* Internal information sharing/knowledge management applications. These applications are new, and descriptions are just beginning to make their way into the literature. CEOs are using blogs to share perspectives and policies with employees. Project managers use them to direct and coordinate complex projects, e.g., giving direction but at the same time inviting updates and commentary. Technical experts use them as convenient records of engineering or design projects. They are being used as inexpensive content management and knowledge management systems. The advantages include versatility, ability to make information instantly available, and ease of retrieval. They can also be used to continually update clients, boards of directors, and other stakeholders.

Convenience and ease of use are major factors in increasing blog development. "... many organizational teams are finding that a blog is easier to manage and more fun to write and read than a set of intranet pages or endless email threads," says David M. Scott in his E-Content article "Big Business Blogging."

Trolling in the Blogosphere

Blogs may include a mixture of personal observations and official views, vague speculations and solid insights, commonsense musings and innovative perspectives, flip comments and profound opinions. Here are a few examples, selected to show variety and versatility, from the blogosphere--a new term coined by bloggers to convey a sense of the vastness and interconnectedness of blogs.

* Accenture blogs. www.accenture.com

Several Accenture staff writers--Gary Boone, Kelly Dempski, Ed Gottsman, and others--have blogs, defined as "an online, semi-personal journal offering the opinion and commentary of the author on conversations and stories that appear elsewhere on the web, along with links to relevant websites and articles." As is the case with many business bloggers, there is a disclaimer that the bloggers' views do not necessarily reflect official Accenture positions.

* Boing Boing. www.boingboing.net

Self-styled as "a directory of wonderful things," this blog is rated as the most influential in the "blogosphere" by Technorati, which ranks blogs according to the number of other blogs that link to them. A sampling in early May 2005 included discussions of start times of movies, art, a new comic book, and items for sale on E-Bay, but also postings on the new Google Accelerator, federal government plans to gather names and birthdates of air travelers, and a discussion of how Pentagon publicists are adapting to bloggers.

* General Motors (GM) FastLane Biog. fastlane.gmblogs.com

GM Vice Chairman Robert Lutz is the most prominent blogger here and has achieved something of a celebrity status. This contains lots of discussion about new GM cars and the car market in an often reflective manner. "The sun keeps coming up," said Lutz's April 19, 2005, blog, despite "the doom and gloom surrounding GM lately." He further wrote that the new Buick Lacrosse is "wonderfully executed, has fabulous workmanship [and] sensationally good dynamics" and that other new cars will keep GM competitive.

* IBM developerWorks blogs. www-106.ibm.com/developerworks.blogs

Some IBM professionals blog to share opinions, stimulate discussion, garner ideas, provide insights into IBM's strategies, and, to some degree, promote IBM leadership. Postings in early May 2005 included such topics as autonomic computing, middleware, and tools, "web services, distributed computing, and interoperability," and "software architecture, software engineering, and Renaissance Jazz."

* Information Week Weblog. blog.informationweek.com

This blog is worth attention for information professionals because it tries to follow information policy and technology issues. It is arguably shorter, snappier, and more up-to-the-minute than stories in its online and in-print parent journal, Information Week. Postings in early May 2005 included views on outsourcing, grid computing tools, the IT labor shortage, Oracle's expansion plans, and IT as a career.

* Jonathan's Blog by Sun Microsystems President Jonathan Schwartz. www.blogs.sun.com/jonathan

Schwartz is one of more than 1,000 Sun employees who maintain blogs. There is plenty of hype included about Sun, e.g., "Sun's objectives with free and open source software: to lower the cost of computing, lower barriers to entry, and consistent with our history, fuel the communities that give rise to the next era of network computing," an April 4, 2005 entry said. But also included are thoughtful discussions of how Sun views its competitors, the usability of software, social responsibilities of high tech companies, and the future of computing.

* Outsell Now. Outsell, Inc. http://now.outsellinc.com/now/

Outsell analyzes breaking events and trends affecting the information industry, particularly publishers, commercial information providers, and content software vendors. Its blog postings in April--May 2005 covered, among other things, newspaper circulation, business-to-business publishers and market research firms, social networking websites, and a piece entitled "The Information Industry is a Darned Big Tent."

* Scobleizer. By Robert Scoble of Microsoft Corp. radio.weblogs.com/0001011

This is perhaps the most popular blog by any individual in a business. Robert Scoble, a "technical evangelist" at Microsoft Corp., provides his "personal opinion ... not read or approved before it is posted" on trends in the field, Microsoft's new products and plans (occasionally a bit self-critical), other technology firms, and books, articles, and presentations at conferences. This is worth reading because of its clarity of explanations of technical issues and its links to other blogs. It is also widely read and cited; therefore, it is highly influential. But it also includes Scoble's views on food, wine, restaurants, and the news of the day.

* State of Utah/Chief Information Officer www.utah.gov/ cio/archive/windleyarchive.html

Phil Windley, Utah's chief information officer (CIO) flora 2001-2002, posted information for state agencies and the public on IT planning, web services, managing IT assets, IT's role in homeland defense, and other issues. He blogged internally with state technology experts and others, encouraging them to start their own blogs. He helped make blogging a vital tool for Utah state government, according to Public CIO magazine.

Opportunities and Challenges

Take away the hype, and blogs--particularly those generated by or inside a company--still have vast implications for RIM professionals in many companies. Blogs are here to stay and will grow in importance. In some ways, the challenges are akin to those associated with managing websites and e-mail: skyrocketing growth in volume, "hype" and "buzz" intermingled with objective facts, traditional records management practices partially, but not fully, applicable, information technology outdistancing policy, technology getting the attention but information content and impact are what really count, legal implications needing definition, and blogs needing management in the context of overall information policy and records management programs.

RIM implications may be grouped into four areas.

1. Education. Blogs are still in the early stage of development aim application. Precedents and guidelines are lacking; the topic seems mysterious; people need leadership, guidance, encouragement, and some caution. CIOs and RIM professionals can take the lead in educating their organizations about blogs, providing insight into their optimal use, stressing the need for care and accuracy in postings, pointing out the need for following policies, developing or helping to develop training courses, integrating blogs with other aspects of records and information management, and advising employees on processes and criteria for identifying the most helpful outside blogs.

2. Policies. Companies need written policies concerning their blogs. If employees are free to post, there need to be guidelines governing language and content, and it needs to be clear whether the opinions are the individual's, the company's, or some combination of both. The need to guard professional and trade secrets is vital. Get advice from the counsel's office. "To help prevent smoking-gun blog content from triggering a workplace lawsuit, stock slide media feeding frenzy, prohibit employees from posting negative opinions or critical comments about the company's people, products, and services," advises legal expert Nancy Flynn, in her article "Blog Rules" in Optimize.

3. Records and information management. Is a company blog an official record? If it represents official, fixed-and-recorded information, it is; if it represents the personal views of individual employees, the answer needs to be determined. Blogs that are records need to be managed as records, including providing workable access, indexing tools, authenticity, preservation, appraisal, scheduling, storage, and access for as long as needed for administrative, legal, research, and other purposes. These issues need to be addressed before blogging begins.

4. Records and information management applications. Blogs are not just information devices to be managed; they have implications and potential applications for all RIM professionals. A CIO, for example, might want to follow Phil Windley's example and blog to explain information policies and communicate with staff. A records management officer might consider blog technology to manage records management projects and publicize new regulations and guidelines. Professional RIM associations should consider supplementing their journals and newsletters with blogs, such as one from the association's president on key issues of the day.

Blogging is a new force on the information stage; it is fluid and needs shaping. RIM managers must decide how to address it to ensure that blogs are managed as the records they are.

References

Accenture. "To Blog or Not To Blog." Available at http://digitalforum.accenture.com/DigitalForum/Global/ViewByTopic/VirtualCo mmunications/0409_ToBlogOrNot (accessed 21 July 2005).

Baker, Stephen and Heather Green. "Blogs Will Change Your Business," Business Week 2 May 2005, pp. 57-67.

Berkman Center for Internet and Policy, Harvard Law Scbool, "What Makes a Weblog a Weblog?" Available at http://blogs.law.harvard.edu/whatMakesAWeblogAWeblog (accessed 21 July 2005).

Flynn, Nancy. "Blog Rules." Optimize. January, 2005. Available at http://www.optimizemag.com/ (accessed 21 July 2005).

Harris, Blake. "The Coming of blog.gov.?" Public CIO, 31 January 2005. Available at www.public-cio.com/story.php?id= 2005.01.31-92920 (accessed 21 July 2005).

Kirkpatrick, David and Daniel Droth. "Why There's No Escaping the Blog," Fortune, 10 January 2005, pp. 44-50.

Microsoft. "The Four-Letter Word That Can Get People Excited About Your Products." Available at www.microsoft.com/business-solutions/blogs_explained.tnspx (accessed 21 July 2005).

Perseus Development Corp. "The Blogging Iceberg," Available at www.perseus.com/blogsurvey/iceberg.html (accessed 21 July 2005).

Rainie, Lee. "The State of Blogging." Pew Internet and American Life Project. January 2005. Available at www.pewinternet.org/pdfs/ PIP_bloggin_data.pdf (accessed 21 July 2005).

Rosencrance, Linda. "Blogs Bubble Into Business." Computerworld 38 26 January 2004, p. 23.

Scott, David M. "Big Business Blogging." E-Content. March 2005, pp. 48-51.

Technorati. "About Technorati." Available at www.technorati.com/ about (accessed 21 July 2005).

At the Core This article

* Describes the emerging popularity of weblogs

* Classifies blogs into five general categories

* Highlights a mixture of actual blogs

* Pinpoints the areas in which RIM managers can influence blog policy

RELATED ARTICLE: 10 questions to ask before organizational blogging begins.

* How should we separate the "hype" from realistic assessments as a way of gauging the importance and potential applicability of blogging in our organization?

* What are the most impressive, provocative, or influential blogs in our field, and what gives them those characteristics?

* What criteria or measures should we develop to evaluate the advantages, disadvantages, costs, paybacks, and overall impact of blogging?

* What are the appropriate leadership, policy, education, review, and oversight roles for the CEO, program managers, CIO, counsel, records managers, and other information professionals?

* Where/how is blogging likely to affect or fit into our overall strategic information management strategies and objectives?

* How do we foster and support individuals' spontaneity and creativity and at the same time protect the organization's interests?

* Should employee blogs be defined as official, personal, or some other category?

* What legal and other policies do we need to have in place before permitting or encouraging blogging?

* How will we handle the records management issues associated with blogging?

* What IT capabilities do we need to support blogging?

RELATED ARTICLE: Exploring the blogosphere.

Books

Hewitt, Hugh. Blog: Understanding the Information Transformation That's Changing Your World. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2005.

Stone, Biz. Who Let the Blogs Out? A Hyper-connected Peek at the World of Weblogs. New York: Griffin St Martin's, 2004.

Web Sites

www.blogger.com. Part of Google, this web-site provides information on the nature of blogs and how to establish and maintain them.

www.blogstreet.com. This is one of several sites that ranks blogs, includes directories, and has advice on how to get started.

blogs.ittoolbox.com. This site contains links I to several blogs on information technology issues.

blogdex.net. MIT Media Lab's research project tracks diffusion of information through the blog community.

dir.yahoo.com/Computers_and_Internet/Internet/World_Wide_Web/Weblogs/. This spot on the Yahoo! site lists more than 30 blog directories.

www.technorati.com. Technorati provides updates on trends and ranks blogs influence.

Bruce W. Dearstyne, Ph.D., is Professor at the College of Information Studies, University of Maryland, where he also served as Interim Dean, 2001-2004. He has more than 30 years of experience in records and information work. He is the author of many articles and several books, including Managing Government Records and Information, published by ARMA International.
COPYRIGHT 2005 Association of Records Managers & Administrators (ARMA)
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
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Title Annotation:Records and Information Management
Author:Dearstyne, Bruce W.
Publication:Information Management Journal
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Sep 1, 2005
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