Balancing in the Blogosphere

Did you know that I won a spelling bee in my second-grade class? Or that I’m partially color-blind, especially when it comes to green/brown shades? Or, that I’ve been to 47 states, and am determined to hit them all before my grad-school roommate Doug, who only has two to go?

Well, you might have known these facts if I had my own personal Web log, or “blog.” Or at least my own lame blog. For bad blogs are clogging bandwidth these days more than e-mails offering us a glimpse of what Paris Hilton does in those private, scantily clad, videotaped moments.

Don’t get me wrong: I support the right of everyone to their own blog, even the many people with bad judgment who already have one. After all, a horrible blog is like a horrible television show: If you don’t like it,
then quit watching the WB!

Fortunately, not all blogs exist in that part of cyberspace where technological ubiquity meets public solipsism. In the corporate world, especially, blogs are emerging as crucial tools for workers to communicate, share ideas and solve problems.

Developers especially seem drawn to — and passionate about — blogging. That’s why it was no surprise recently when blogging developers working at Microsoft rebelled after the company made some technical changes to how their blogs are packaged and distributed through its site.

There are nearly 1,000 blogs on the Microsoft site. While some include links to topics of personal interest, all of the blogs I looked at there were very much about shop talk — coding problems, solutions, questions, tricks, etc.

In an effort to ease bandwidth burdens generated by RSS feeds, Microsoft decided to reduce the size of the home page and to truncate an aggregate RSS feed of all the blogs at the site. Instead of getting the full text of blog postings, RSS subscribers were provided a link that would take them to the full posting.

Well, as Dan Rather and CBS found out recently, reaction in the blogosphere is swift. And the response from developers at Microsoft was immediate and negative, with complaints centering on the elimination of the full RSS feeds.

Then Microsoft did the right thing: It listened to its developers and dropped the changes. And while this meant giving up operational efficiencies, the company’s reversal signaled respect for the opinions of its workers and acknowledged their feelings of ownership regarding corporate blogs.

The decision also prompted a healthy discussion of technological solutions to the bandwidth challenges posed by blogs and related delivery technologies. Can RSS scale to meet demand? Are aggregate feeds impractical? Should we look to solutions such as RFC (Request for Comment) 3229, an extension of HTTP that enables browsers and RSS readers to restrict searches to content posted only since the most recent request? It is from this kind of collective thinking that technology is advanced. And it is exactly this kind of discussion for which blogs are ideally suited.

It’s very tempting for enterprises to base every decision — how much bandwidth to give bloggers, for example — on ROI analysis. But by doing so, they sometimes miss things that do show up in the bottom line, but maybe not right away or directly. Microsoft got this one right, and other companies with employee blogs would do well to pay attention.

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