Kate's Comment

Thoughts on British ICT, energy & environment, cloud computing and security from Memset's MD

The power of blogging

Well, it has been over 3 months since I last posted, which is rather feeble! In my defense I have been insanely busy – winning various awards for service and innovation does rather take up one’s time *looks smug*. Seriously though, trying to write a sensible blog (OK, look, I did say “trying”!) is surprisingly time consuming, but I am determined to get back to it again. This little hiatus has given me a chance to reflect on my blogging activities thus far, and to ponder their usefulness.

I am presently catching a few moments late in the evening on a train seeing as I managed to forget my Vodafone datacard and am unplugged so can’t do any real work. Certainly, I enjoy writing about various topics, and doing things you enjoy is always important. However, is this blogging thing actually of any practical use in a business context? First of all though, we should perhaps break up blogging into two categories. The vast majority of writings are social blogs – people sharing their life experiences, usually with a fairly small (20-100 people) community of online and/or “real life” friends. The principle site for that activity seems to be MySpace, especially for slightly younger age groups, while LiveJournal appears to attract a slightly more mature group of writers.

In my view blogs are the modern day soap operas; giving people a chance to peer into others’ lives on the one hand, while allowing the writer to fulfil that deep-seated desire to share personal details with the world on the other. The range of subjects is quite staggering (here are some of the terms associated with blogging. Some simply write about their day-to-day trials and tribulations (a lot of blogs are really rather depressing), while more focused examples include details of the writer’s sexual adventures, or the dreaded catbloggers – people writing about their cat, often pictured in amusing poses (why?!). I would like to be able to disdainfully sniff at this apparent mass waste of time, but I’m just as guilty and have at times been drawn into some of the online communities that grow up and have ultimately met some good friends through them. That is, perhaps, the ultimate drive behind personal / social blogging – a modern-day means of connecting with like-minded others and making new friends.

The massive human desire (need, even?) to share can of course be dangerous. There have been many examples in the news lately of incidents such people losing job interviews thanks to be a little too open in their personal blogs and forgetting that the whole world can view what they write. More serious issues around cyberstalking have also come into the spotlight, with MySpace being sued after a young girl was assualted by someone that she met on the site. Personally, I think that is daft. When I was young the mantra “don’t talk to strangers” was drummed into us, and our parents took responsibility for our protection. It is no more the job of Web hosts and community site owners to police their content and users’ activities than it is for the phone operators to scan / filter text messages or calls. To blame a Web site for a girl being dim enough to give out personal information is a dangerous step on a slippery slope.

Anyway, rants aside, back to the subject in hand; does blogging have a place in the business world? Even though I have not been doing it long, I am already seeing benefits. On the one hand, it appears to have helped people see that there is a real person behind Memset, and that human aspect seems to be popular in what can be a rather impersonal online business world. I also like it as a platform (soap box?) to voice my opinions on a number of topics, and the very act of doing so is something I find very useful since it gives me a chance to sit back and look at the world through a different lens and to get some feedback and debate from my eclectic group of readers. Also, it seems there is demand for people willing to give their views; partly as a result of this blog I have been invited to give a few talks and recently wrote an article for a leading IT business magazine (I’ll post it here once they have published it).

So, in short, yes I do think blogging is useful for me in a business context, however there is also a misconception around it. While this blog does divert some traffic to the Memset Web site, it is pretty small in the grander scheme of things, and generating traffic is definitely not a significant benefit. That could change, I suppose, but I would encourage those writing “business blogs” in the hope that it will improve their main site’s traffic to re-evaluate their motives.

Finally, it is worth mentioning an impressive example of the power of the blogosphere. Many scientists write blogs of their activities in lieu of formal peer-reviewed publications. Last December, John Conway mentioned in his blog that he thought he might have glimpsed a sign of one of the most elusive things in modern physics; the Higgs Boson (the theoretical particle that gives everything in the universe mass). He mentioned it in his blog, but dismissed it as an abberation, however two months later another group noticed something similar and they too made a passing mention in their blog. Independently both results might be dismissed, but together the coincidence is striking and might never have been noticed otherwise (read more at New Scientist).

Blogging could be argued to be a vast waste of time, but in my view it is certainly better than watching TV, gives people an important creative & social outlet, and can have serious benefits for business and professionals. Communication is almost always a good thing – we just need to develop new mental tools to ensure that it does not absorb all our time, and employ a bit more common sense when interacting en-masse with strangers.