Try the business benefits of blogs

"How is your blog doing?" That is a terrible way to start a dinner party conversation, or a Computer Weekly column, but it is a...

"How is your blog doing?" That is a terrible way to start a dinner party conversation, or a Computer Weekly column, but it is a question you should be able to answer. I bet very few of you can.

One of the problems with blogs, which is short for web logs, is that people usually mistake the content for the form. It is a bit like condemning the press after skimming a copy of Hello magazine.

Yes, a lot of blogs are self-indulgent rubbish. However, blogging software is a powerful tool that all businesses should now be planning to use - which is why you should have been playing with it.

Blogs have three key features:

  • They are easy to use - as easy as sending e-mail
  • They have a simple, comprehensible structure - a blog is basically just a day book or diary. Whatever you enter gets filed by date
  • Blogs can generate XML data. Add an RSS (rich site summary) feed, and when the content is updated, that information can be circulated (or syndicated) and captured.

In sum, blogging software is a tool for capturing knowledge and making it widely available (through a browser). It may not, technically, be the best way of doing this. However, we know from experience that the technically superior methods are too hard to use, and absurdly expensive.

Your assignment for the day is to create three blogs. First, make a personal blog where you can keep notes of things you have seen and want to remember. Once they are blogged you will be able to search for them. (Make this blog private. No one else needs to know.)

Second, create a group blog to track a project. Each team member must be able to make posts to create a record of actions and decisions. Everyone will be better informed, and anyone joining the project will be able to get up to speed almost instantly just by skimming the blog.

Third, create a public blog based on information you already publish - a newsletter, perhaps. Today you probably send this out by e-mail, and it is immediately lost without trace in people's spam-filled inboxes. Publish it in a blog and people will know where it is, and be able to find things by keyword searches or by date.

Not only are these powerful uses for blogging software, you can try all three in a couple of hours and it won't cost you a penny. The return on investment is compelling.

Jack Schofield is computer editor of the Guardian

What is a blog?

A web log, or blog, is a web page that contains links to websites relevant to a particular subject or user. A blog typically provides a short summary and comments on the referenced sites.

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