2003 has so far been a year of hype for weblogs and k-logs. Blogging is on the cusp of the mainstream. Or is it? A few posts recently have me wondering: why would normal people want to publish to the Web?
Mark Pilgrim: "... itís possible that an unfiltered... unedited... personal publishing system... with instantaneous worldwide distribution... is not for you."
Dan Shafer: "OS integration...isn't the big feature that's going to draw millions of folks to blogging."
Robert Scoble, responding to Dan Shafer: "Personally, no one has found the mother lode of weblogging tools yet: corporate webloggers."
My disclaimer: I believe strongly in the power of the two-way web - where any person can not only read and browse the World Wide Web, but they also have the power to write and publish to the Web. Mainstream publishing mediums today are mostly one-way. Newspapers, television, radio, magazines - these things all dish out content to a largely passive public. And people lap it up. We live in a Remote Control culture. We believe we have control over our ideas and thoughts, simply because we can flip to a different channel. Well the Web has changed all that. Weblogs in particular have shown us that not only can we consume content, we can create it too.
Now that my prejudices are out of the way, let's consider some real life issues. How many people have cottoned onto the read/write revolution? How many people actually have a reason or the inclination to publish their ideas and thoughts to the Web? In my country, New Zealand, I only know of a handful of people who blog. I'm definitely in a minority. And I have to wonder whether it will always be a minority activity. I hope not, but consider this...
I've been working on Intranet development over the past 5 years, in a variety of companies. And you know what the biggest challenge has always been? Getting the "content owners" to write stuff. There are always a few business users who are keen to publish their own content, but these people are the minority. The majority of business users don't want to write and publish content on the Intranet. The excuse I hear most often is that they don't have time and it's not what they're paid to do. Which are perfectly valid reasons. What business people are really saying is: hey, I don't have any interest in writing or publishing - I have my own job to do (be it accounting, legal, corporate, marketing, whatever).
Granted, partly this has been a tools issue. Over the years I've managed my fair share of unnecessarily complex Content Management Systems. But in 2003 we have the option of using weblog authoring systems like Radio Userland and Movable Type. Those tools are proof that publishing can be a 'one-click' experience. And now there are new tools being introduced to the market that make publishing even simpler, by taking the set-up and configuration hassle out of the equation - Typepad and i-book are two examples. So ease of use for publishing to the Web should no longer be an issue. But the question remains - do most people have a reason or inclination to write and publish on the Web? There's an old saying: where there's a will, there's a way. Do people have the will to publish?
"Now it's time for Resumes, Reviews, Calendar Events, Recipes, Conversations and People. These data structs are just as important as blog posts. You can call them micro-content, new kinds of blog structs or whatever - but everybody wants to subscribe to them."
...and everybody may want to write them too. The things Marc mentions are all simple, everyday things that people may be willing to contribute content to. Another trend I've noticed that people are doing in droves is taking pictures with their mobile phones. Moblogging is the term for publishing data from a mobile device to a weblog. While moblogging is a minority activity now, the number of people who own a mobile phone capable of taking pictures is growing daily. Which means the potential for moblogging also grows. (me, I'm still waiting for photo-capable mobile phones to reduce in price - in this I'm not an early adopter!).
Back to weblogging and writing. k-logs (which is the fancy term for corporate blogging) are being trumpeted by various people as being the next big thing in Intranet tools. This from John Robb:
"K-Logs radically increase the possibility that meaningful information and knowledge will be captured and archived on the Intranet. There isn't another system that even comes close. K-Logs provide employees with a system that is easy to use (virtually zero training), immediate benefits, and enhanced personal prestige/value."
While I agree wholeheartily with the sentiments expressed by John and others like Phil Wolff, I wonder how practical it is to expect business people to write k-logs. It's all very well having tools like k-collector to aggregate Intranet content, but the real issue is how do we get people to create the content in the first place? Interestingly, this is the exact same problem the Semantic Web has getting off the ground, people currently aren't writing enough metadata to make the Semantic Web happen.
So while I am an avid supporter of the Two-Way Web, I do wonder whether writing to the Web will ever be more than just a minority activity. And if it does become popular, maybe we need to consider Mark Pilgrim's advice that it isn't for everyone. Personally, I hope that weblogging does become mainstream and helps people find their voices (on whatever topics are dear to them).
The current blogging activity amongst American presidential candidates is a fascinating experiment to see if weblogging has the legs to stand up in the mainstream. I actually wish Dave Winer would blog more on this subject - perhaps he will after he's finished with BloggerCon, which is preaching to the converted. What we need to do now is preach to the masses ;-)