Hewlett-Packard has become the latest IT supplier to dip its toes in the wild world of weblogging.
Over the last few weeks, a handful of developers in the company's software development group have quietly begun publishing their regular musings on such technical issues as service-oriented architectures and XML. But the company is now showing signs of following competitors like Microsoft and Sun and opening up its blogging efforts to a wider range of employees.
HP's blog experiment was launched two weeks ago as a way to improve communications with the technical community. "We wanted to foster communication with particular audiences," said HP vice-president David Gee. "In this case, it's with the developers and the managers in the technical space. We buried the blogs in the developer section by design because we want to get our feet wet."
But within the next few months Gee expects employees working on a number of different areas to get involved in blogging. "I think the compiler guys, the OS guys and the Linux guys within HP will use this medium much more aggressively," said Gee.
HP comes late to corporate blogging. Microsoft began publishing employee blogs on its Microsoft Developer Network website in January, and Sun followed suit a few months later. In April, IBM opened up part of its DeveloperWorks website to a small number of technical bloggers.
Analyst Amy Wohl of Wohl Associates said blogging had become a way of reaching audiences that might be unreachable with conventional marketing techniques. "This is all about getting to an audience who ordinarily wouldn't read anything that you put out there. They don’t read marketing material."
Sometimes that audience is reached by making statements that would not normally appear on corporate websites. IBM engineer Bill Higgins, for example, recently dissected some widely publicised comments by Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, accusing the software giant's chief executive officer of making "specious" arguments to spread "fear, uncertainty and doubt" about open source.
HP and Sun are both experimenting with blogs that target less technical audiences as well. Andy Lark, Sun's vice-president of global communications and marketing, regularly posts his observations on media issues. And the blog of Sun president and chief operating officer Jonathan Schwartz has become a must-read for journalists and analysts.
Competitors have also taken notice. Schwartz's recent comments on the "death" of HP's Unix operating system, HP-UX elicited a letter from HP's legal department demanding a retraction. Sun's lawyers responded with a letter of their own, arguing that the contents of Scwhartz's blog were merely his opinion.
HP is also toying with the idea of executive blogs. Last week, HP Linux vice-president Martin Fink launched a blog of his own on Linuxcio.com rather than HP.com. His first post was a critique of Sun's Solaris strategy - something much more controversial than the highly technical musings on the HP.com blogs.
HP senior vice-president Nora Denzel and chief information officer Gilles Bouchard may also begin blogs.
While corporate blogs may eventually become useful ways of addressing partners and customers, Wohl does not recommend companies to follow Schwartz's example and send senior executives into the fray. She said the frankness needed for effective blogging might ultimately be in conflict with legal restrictions on statements from executives at publicly traded companies.
"I sometimes think Schwartz goes a little bit too far," she said. "When you're talking about your feelings about the computer industry, which your company happens to do business in, then I think it's very difficult for you to claim that it was only your personal point of view."
But Harvard University law professor Jonathan Zittrain said that regular blogs from company executives might not be squelched by legal liabilities so much as by overexposing the blogging medium. "Every time I look at blogging, I see the seeds within it of CB radio in the 1980s." While CB turned out to be useful in commercial trucking, the idea that it would be ubiquitous turned out to be false.
HP's blogs are at http://devresource.hp.com/blogs/index.jsp.
IBM's DeveloperWorks are located at: http://www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/
Microsoft's blogs are at: http://www.microsoft.com/communities/blogs/PortalHome.mspx
Sun's blogs are at: http://blogs.sun.com/roller/
Robert McMillan writes for IDG News Service