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So, have you heard about the latest killer app? It comes with a funky dot-com name and the promise to make you famous. You can use it as a Web publisher, a marketing tool, a collaborative platform and a knowledge management system. You don’t need to know html and you can get the software for free. Sounds too good to be true? Well, yes and no. It all depends on your expectations going in and the amount of time and effort you are willing to spend understanding the blog culture. Blogs (aka Web logs) are Web pages that traditionally contain short, frequently updated messages which are arranged by date. These Web pages serve as journals or sounding boards for their owners. While the content and usage of blogs can vary greatly, they usually contain messages on a particular topic or subject matter and sometimes include links to other blogs, articles or Web sites. The topics are as far-ranging as you can imagine. From daily news commentary to law-related blogs (these are called “blawgs”), to news about a company, a person or an idea. Blogs can also include photos, poetry, project updates or religious doctrine. You name the subject and you can probably find a blog to satisfy your informational needs. Blogs have been around since the early ’90s and existed mostly as a collection of links on a specific subject or news story. As the concept evolved, software companies like Blogger ( blogger.com) came up with the idea of making blogging easy for the masses. They launched a free software service including tools that allowed people without knowledge of html to publish new content on a Web site as frequently as possible. Wannabe authors and journalists no longer needed sophisticated publishing software or technical knowledge to publish to their hearts delight on a continuous basis. The blog is the evolutionary child of two previous killer applications, the “listserv” or mailing list and the news group or Usenet. The listserv is software that allows you to create a public mailing list on any particular topic or subject matter and to allow others to subscribe to the listserv and publish their posts. Listservs can be moderated or un-moderated, and some versions of the software allow you to publish archives of the discussions or post onto a Web page. The biggest problem with the listserv was its arcane set of commands which grew out of Unix. These were difficult for “newbies” to learn and understand. Listservs, like blogs, allow for the free exchange of information and the ability to demonstrate your knowledge or expertise on a particular topic. Listservs in the world of law served as an effective business development and secondary research tool. The Usenet or newsgroup also allowed for the posting of messages in a hierarchical fashion through the use of threaded discussions. Initially, Usenet users required a news reader in order to be able to locate Usenet groups and read and write messages. Eventually, with the development of the Web, Usenet moved to a Web-based environment that made it much easier for users to participate. Usenet groups, like blogs, covered a seemingly unending array of subjects and topics. The downside of Usenet groups was the overwhelming amount of “spam” and useless information. The blog has many advantages over its predecessors. As mentioned earlier, it requires zero technical knowledge and the price for the software is affordable. In fact, several mainstream publications, respected journalists and leading-edge technologists have anointed the blog as the next killer application and have officially declared a “blog craze” phenomenon. They claim that the ability to circumvent traditional media outlets and publish content “on the fly” will result in the demise of traditional journalism. The blog is also being championed as an alternative knowledge management system which enables users to publish all their knowledge and expertise to their co-workers and employees. Supporters claim that this decentralized approach allows knowledge workers to collect and disseminate organizational knowledge in a much more effective way than traditionally structured knowledge management systems. Using blogs as an alternative knowledge management system may be a little ambitious. Having served as director of knowledge management at a “Big Five” professional services firm, I learned first hand the advantages and disadvantages of a decentralized approach to knowledge management. While it is imperative that the ability to share knowledge is a direct outcome of our everyday work, an effective KM system needs a structured taxonomy and strict publishing guidelines that ensure that only best practices and current information are available. The blog currently has none of these features, although people are working on creating such structure and search mechanisms. POPULAR SITES Some of the most famous and popular blogs are “blunt force trauma” (now retitled as “blog cognosco,” see radio.weblogs.com/0109150/) and “InstaPundit” ( instapundit.com) owned by University of Tennessee law professor Glenn Reynolds. A visit to these sites can be a little overwhelming. They contain huge amounts of information, some useful, some worthless, and there is no good way to organize and digest the information. Unless you take the time and effort to search the blog index (which contains message titles organized by date), negotiating your way through a blog can be a time-consuming and frustrating experience. On the positive side, when a blog owner takes the time and effort to market it to the right audience, the result can be a wonderful client development tool. Unfortunately, too many blogs are painful to read and not exactly user-friendly when used to find relevant information. Perhaps in a year or two when the technology has been improved they will be worth a revisit. But for now, I’ll concentrate on trying to organize my in-box as I am deluged by the original and still killer app: e-mail. Attorney Guy Alvarez is a principal with BDI Partners, which provides business development services. E-mail: [email protected]. Web: www.bdionline.com.

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