Monday, June 09, 2003

Weblog Business Strategies 2003 IX

Amundsen, Appnel, Berk, French, Robb, Stow, and Weinroth: Blogs and/as Content Management

Mike Amundsen is president of EraServer.Net, Timothy Appnel is an independent writer, Matthew Berk is a senior analyst for Jupiter Research, Bill French is co-founder of MyST Technology Partners, John Robb is president and COO of Userland Software, William Stow is president of Tsunamin Corporation, and Adam Weinroth is founder of Easyjournal. Here is a rought transcript of their discussion:

Matthew Berk: We have the after-snack crowd here. I hope your blood sugar hasn't bottomed out. Content management is a pretty huge part of what I cover. I spend a lot of time thinking and writing about search technology and stuff like that.

Tim Appnel: I've been an IT consultant for 12 years. The last year I've been a freelancer. Before that I spent over five years working for a company called While there I did a lot of advising on content management, portals, and things of that nature. One of the last projects I did there was a corporate Web site. That was 18 months ago and was my first taste of Weblogs. I can tell you about what makes a corporate Weblog fail. Here's your walking case study right here. I also keep an O'Reilly Weblog where I occasionally write an article time to time.

Mike Amundsen: I'm president of a company called EraServer.Net. We do a content management service called EraBlog.

Bill French: If you don't know me, you're lucky because I really tend to stir the pot quite a bit at the conferences I attend. I come from a relatively old school of computing. Everything I learned about conversation I learned from Doc Searls. About a year ago I left a company called StarBase. My former CEO is right here, and he's the only CEO I know who encourages Weblogs. I partnered with a guy and decided we'd look at content management in a slightly different light and look at knowledge management with XML standards. We realized we were really onto something that made a lot of sense. We put the services out on the street and realized that people wanted to blog with our technology because it really looked at objects in a different way. You can think of them as virtual blogs. I am now self-unemployed.

John Robb: I'm president and COO of Userland Software. I joined Userland when I saw the concept of blogging three years ago. I thought it was a great way of sharing knowledge within organizations. It didn't have the stumbling blocks that a lot of knowledge management had. Userland sells primarily to organizations, corporations like Dupont, Nokia, Intel, and Apple, as well as universities such as CalTech and Harvard. Lots and lots of small businesses, nonprofits, government organizations. Working with all these customers, I have a pretty good perspective of what works and what doesn't. The topic of this discussion today is interesting. Within bigger organizations I don't really see anyone buying content management systems any more. In smaller organizations, if you have a blogging tool that is a content management system -- and most aren't -- you can save money and have a complete system.

Bill Stow: StarBase was my third company, and I've worked mostly in team software. In my last six months before StarBase was sold to Borland, I spent a lot of time with customers. There was a kind of product that everyone talked about, a tool that allowed for communication across the entire corporation across departments. Blogging is the foundation of that communication. I started a new company called Tsunamin. In order to this, we'll see blogging transform itself into multiple forms of communication and multiple views of information. Teams become really great when people have voice in their teams. Content management tends to repress voice. It can't be that kind of a repressive large package.

Adam Weinroth: I run a little Web site down in Austin, Texas, called Easyjournal. I'm kind of the new kid on the block. I started the company last year and came out with a product that I basically built myself. We have about 65,000 users, and we're kind of playing catch up in terms of business strategy. In the spring of 2001, I decided to travel through western and central Europe solo for four months before entering business school in Austin. Nothing really let me share my experiences with family and friends back hone,. I developed my own content management system and used it to manage my personal Web site. It became quite popular among the people who knew about it, and we're trying to deal with that popularity so it doesn't implode. Blogging is essentially content management, personal content management. What do these tools offer in terms of alternative to the other large systems that are out there?

Berk: I have to act daft. What is content management? On the one hand, blogging seems as a subspecies of content management. But when you look at it really hard, it seems to pose all of the essentials.

Robb: Weblog software is built on content management. It's an application. It's Web publishing for the rest of us. When you look at what you can do with Vignette versus a Weblog system, you may be conflating the issue. Maybe you should say what can you do with a low-cost content management system? Weblogging is an app that's pretty well defined. The feature well is pretty deep. There's a community.

Berk: Blogging is a vertical application that's generally content management?

Robb: What you'll find is that it's a truly horizontal application that can be used in many instances. There's lots of different ways people are using the tool. But if someone builds something on Word, it doesn't necessarily mean that it's a straight one-to-one relationship.

Berk: Bill, would you consider knowledge management as part of that core set of services?

French: When I look at this space, our company decided to take a step back. We took a step so far back we fell off the dock. What is the goal of content management? We're trying to help people make better decisions at a great velocity. We are trying to create the capacity to act. That's what people do with blogs. And it's what people do with content in a very abstract way. When you think about content management, you think about deployment, rigid rules, approval. Those don't make content management very high velocity or high capacity to act. There's a third element: the ability to derive an insight. Content is information. There is no way to escape that fact. But the one thing that blogs bring to the world is the ability to bring people an increased awareness. When I think of CMS or the term blog, I get particularly aggravated when people attempt to pigeonhole it. That essentially puts a straitjacket on your thinking. You're taking your brain and putting it in a vice. Most of the blogging tools have the capacity for the concept of reuse. At the end of the day it's information.

Berk: There are conventions. Blogs have a relatively rigid set of conventions. Web sites have fewer conventions.

Stow: I fully agree with Bill that we need to abstract our perception of the blog. We started with our product at StarBase, StarTeam. Many large organizations require control and process. Even though we might not like the idea that we're going to be controlled and repressed, this is what corporations look for in their software. If you take what Bill's talking about high velocity and try to transform it into content management, you'll destroy what blogs are all about today. You've got to see this new thing. It's going to have to appear in new forms. If we can find ways of reusing and reforming this wonderful notion, we'll see new forms of communication.

Amundsen: We're not talking about something that's very important here. And that's putting words like blogs and content management together. These are conversations we've had before. One of the things I notice quite a bit is that we do this goofy acronym thing. We had HTML. Now we have RSS and other meta markup and meta tagging of information. Instead of people authoring information and marking it up about where it should go, we have people marking up information about where it comes from, what category it's in. Annotation. From the content point of view, content is no longer as stuck as it used to be. Content management may be a silly notion in a few years. Maybe it becomes content capture, search, reformatting. We're all going to be thinking wow isn’t this amazing that this content can be displayed on my PDA, my phone, my laptop in ways that make content management systems almost superfluous. Content management may be a quaint thing. Instead of empowering users, we're empowering authors.

Berk: This industry has taken an eight-year hiatus. We're obsessed with markup. We're obsessed with design. Adam, you seem much more on the consumer side. Is it true that on the consumer side, use is dependent on content per se rather than layout?

Weinroth: It's hard to make sense of what my users are saying because there are so many of them. On the one hand, I've seen a lot of praise on Easyjournal not paying a lot of fuss on whiz-bang design. At the same time, some people want to design a very professional Web presence. I'm very visually oriented. Content is also impressive.

Berk: We're seeing a switch away from that, but it's kind of a slow and painful switch. HTML isn't the great enabler. It's probably http or XML.

Weinroth: One thing that I have seen is that people are concerned about the visuals, but not the design language or vocabulary. They care about the bells and whistles. They want a funny-looking cursor. They don't really care what the Web site looks like.

Appnel: I generally agree with what people are saying. What I'm hearing is a bit of an overlap between the notion of blogging and content management systems versus the actual tools themselves. In my consulting, I've been using a blogging tool as a low-cost content-management tool. It's like talking about a handsaw versus a chainsaw versus a jigsaw. It's the same tool done different. The clients I've been working with are small to medium companies that don't have small budgets. They can't afford a Microsoft content management system. And they've got a staff of three people. Blogging tools are Web native tools. The content management systems that I've worked with are more geared to enterprise usage and large media bases. They don't know what they have there. The Interwovens handle that well. The blogging tools are better at linking.

Amundsen: Are you saying that what we're talking about in terms of content management is really document management?

Appnel: The line blurred long ago. The blogging tools have stayed pretty pure in what is a Web native format.

Berk: What are your thoughts that content management is going to disappear in five years and that the place it's going to go is to the user level?

Appnel: I think it's the blogging tools that are going to fade into the background.

Robb: I disagree with that. The Weblog community is a certain class of communication. It's like email. When you see one, you know what it is. This is an application that has staying power. It's extremely hard to create an interface that's pleasing to the reader as well as the publisher. The feature set keeps getting deeper and deeper. You don't hit people with the deep features right away. But they're there.

Weinroth: I don't see Weblogs fading into the background at all. The key role that they're playing right now is that they're filling in the glaring gap at the end of the content management spectrum. Blogging is totally becoming an amazing answer right now. One of the reasons they work so well for small organizations and nonprofits is that blogs by nature are grassroots. It's a natural fit for small businesses and local businesses.

Berk: This is more the view of the blog as a very specific application with a broad niche use. Why have those people not looked to page-building tools. Why have they turned to blogs?

Weinroth: Those are lame.

Berk: I totally agree. If it's all about publishing, you could've done that 10 years ago with Geocities.

Weinroth: One big difference with a total solution off the site is that those sites have mistakenly tried too hard to integrate the design functionality with the publishing functionality. Some people just want to publish.

Amundsen: It's not about being on the Web. It's about content. Content is king. And we're seeing content elevated above design.

French: I want to comment briefly on the idea of the future of content and content management. Blog use is one use case of content. It's just a way to purpose content. It's extremely free. It sets you free as a writer. But there are other use cases we need to think about. A Web page product brochure. Group blogs. If that's going to happen you better be certain that the application can support the integration of seven blogs. We have people asking us for integration with XP -- from a blog. And you know those digital sticky notes? Those can be integrated with a blog. Think about the platform when you think about what's over th hill. What's over the hill? A federation of services, not an application. You want a system that is so agile that it looks like a chameleon in a bowl of skittles. I stole that from Dennis Miller.

Robb: It's interface. You can't train people on a chameleon in a bowl of skittles. It needs to be recognizable. Interface provides staying power.

Appnel: I didn't mean that the very purpose of this conference was going to go away in five year. I don't want anyone to blog that Appnel claims blogs are dead.

Weinroth: Interface is the reason why blogs are going to continue being the powerful force they are. Interface is huge. Ease of use. How long does it take for you to train your staff to use Vignette versus, say, Blogger? Another thing is cost. Just think about the barrier of entry. There are also switching costs. When you look at the economics, the role blogs can play is being undervalued.

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