On the Learning Circuits blog Jay Cross raised the question of the use of blogs for organizational puposes, in particular bottom-up knowledge management. This has sparked a debate about how useful blogs are within organizations and what is required to turn them into tools of productivity. It occurred to me that there are two issues that need to be clarified before this straegy can become successful. One is technical (the evolving range of functionality of blogs) and the other -- far more important -- is cultural. The following expands on a comment I left in the Learning Circuits blog.
One of what I would call the "cultural" problems with blogs is that, although manifestly public, the implicit model of a blog is the personal diary. This apparent contradiction may help to explain some of the frustration we feel with certain blogs. It conditions how we write in a blog as well as how we read it. It also conditions our expectations as to what we might get out of a blog in terms of information, enlightenment or even a "sense of community".
When considering how the blog can usefully and naturally fulfil an organizational role, I expect that we will have to let the concept (and the blogging tools) evolve towards something that is more team-oriented and less linear in structure. The reliability of information offered by individuals qua individuals will always be suspect and the principle of growth by simple accretion (creating amorphous “heaps” of information mixed with opinion) may not be the best way of clarifying or even exploring important issues. If blogs were truly redesigned for team rather than individual expression, the teams could find, define and redefine objectives and then measure their performance against those objectives. They might thereby achieve the kind of focus that would make it easier for those consulting the blog to understand and use.
Blogs are currently purely vertical structures. Perhaps they need to become horizontal as well and to move away from the model of private individual expression “shared” with the public. This would be a cultural shift that would have an impact on how we contribute to blogs. The question then arises, "which comes first, the new architecture of the blog or the cultural shift?". The only possible answer, as with chickens and eggs and all other evolutionary questions, is "both". But this will only happen if our dominantly individualistic IT culture and global capitalist economy can themselves integrate concepts that are more specifically collectivist. I tend to believe there are powerful economic and political (and therefore cultural) forces that will seek to prevent this from happening in any significant way. The consumer society depends on the atomization of society, ensuring that people cannot easily and spontaneously organize into effective teams that may generate their own values at odds with the dominant ones. Effective teams born of bottom-up initiatives may be suspected of challenging existing power structures as well as disrupting planning based entirely on predictable (and/or controlable) trends.
Which, of course, shouldn't prevent us bottom-uppers from trying!