Weblogs in my tool mix

Yet another “what are blogs?” article in the general press (the Las Vegas Review-Journal of all places) including the obligatory do they threaten journalism question. Normally I probably wouldn't bother to link to the article, except that I do get quoted. The reporter, Matt Crowley, and I had a good conversation several weeks back that helped me pull together some of my thoughts on the topic.

I would have preferred a little more attention to the business and organizational implications, but I really can't complain. They spelled my name right and they quoted me accurately:

Nevertheless, Blood and Jim McGee, an adjunct professor of technology at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern University, say traditional news channels are safe.

Also, McGee added, reading a blog is less like reading a story and more like reading a reporter's notebook; thoughts are stream-of-consciousness and disorganized.

“The signal-to-noise ratio in a blog is much different,” McGee said. “It's information and ideas they may not necessarily turn into a story. I think of a blog as a backup brain, a place to remember stuff and a place to work out ideas.”

Although chat rooms and messaging software allow instant idea exchange, McGee said blogging may make for better conversation because it allows time to compose thoughts. Also, because blogs present ideas straightforwardly, they may beat e-mail for data sharing.

“When stuff is buried in an e-mail or conversation, it's hard to manage,” McGee said. “When you move to e-mail to PowerPoint to Word documents, unless you get them printed, you may not know what's going on.”

We all try to make sense out of the new in terms of what we already understand–the “horseless carriage” phenomenon. It's a necessary step in working our way to understanding the new on its own terms.

There were a couple of things we talked about that didn't make it into the final copy that have to do with organizational uses.

One was the value of using a news aggregator, such as “Radio”'s. Coupled with blogs, aggregators let me track an order of magnitude more sources than I could using conventional surfing. Right now, for example, I'm subscribed to almost 200 sources with my aggregator. What that has created is an early warning system of sources (mostly other weblogs) that I've learned to trust over time. Moreover, these weblog sources of experts in topics I'm interested in generally have a one to two week lead time over conventional news sources that I follow.

The second was a prediction that weblogs in organizations would become as indispensable as email and would take on some functions that now get done in email for lack of a better place.

Here's what I expect will occur. Email will remain the place where I manage shared activity (instant messaging may take some of that over – something I'll talk about another time). Weblogs will be where I start and share my thinking. The tools that now comprise office suites will support specialized tasks (e.g. spreadsheets for quantitative analysis) and will be where I sometimes package materials for broader consumption or distribution to audiences who can't or won't visit my weblog. I'm finding, for example, that I now do 80-90% of my writing inside “Radio”. Granted I use its outliner rather than the desktop website for most of that, but it does represent an interesting shift in my work habits.