My knowledge management class has been rolling for a few weeks, and we are doing a quarter-long project to introduce them to blogging as a possible KM or business tool. The first task was introduce them to some relevant blogs and the use of an aggregator. And now they've set up their own blogs, which are listed on the blogroll of the class home page.
Here are the topics the students have touched upon in their first posts, where I asked them to reflect on what they think of blogs and blogging at this point. Topics range from their previous experience to privacy & security to information overload.
The assignment (I'm also incorporating some class discussion below):
Discuss what you know of blogs at this point, based on the your reading them and on other experience. Where do you see blogs fitting on the personal-collective-corporate continuum?
In a change from previous years, several of the students have had direct experience with blogging. And, as is consistent with the blogging phenomenon, most of those experiences were a few posts and then nothing. One student has been blogging for about two years as a means to keep in touch with his friends and family overseas. Several more students read blogs on a regular basis.
Many people are familiar with blogs from the popular media depiction of them as personal / vanity ventures. This perspective appears to color much of the initial discussion about how blogs might provide value. Even those who have found / written business blogs have not seen them demonstrate much value. A number of people have said that even this first few weeks of exposure to more professional blogs has altered their perspective.
A number of students expressed a sentiment along the lines of "it felt like jumping into an ongoing conversation" with reading or understanding the context of what people are discussing on blogs. I found these comments particularly interesting, since I really like the blogs-as-front-porch metaphor.
This "jumping in" observation also related to a number of people who said they were overwhelmed with the amount and variety of additional materials to read. While this is nothing new online, having new resources put in their laps with the aggregator has created some cognitive tension. We've talked about the importance of skimming and being reflective about the kinds of materials that one decides to allow into their lives. With the aggregator potentially creating even more, this issue arises again.
Another aspect to the "jumping in" idea is that people don't necessarily know how to start participating. Do you have to read all the background material? Do you have to get permission? Do you have anything to say? I think this has a lot to do with community participation in general, which is another discussion arc in the class. Long term, I am not expecting all the students to continue blogging for these and many other reasons. They will have more understanding around how blogs work.
A surprise was the strong concern about privacy and personal identity with respect to setting up their own blogs. I had expected a couple people to raise the issue, but it seemed a good portion of the students have this concern as one of their barriers. As a result, most of the students have chosen to operate under a pseudonym with varying levels of connection to their real identity. One student has asked that their blog remain behind a login wall due to concerns about how their company regards unapproved public writing. There is awareness about the longevity of content on the web, but not the power an individual has to control what shows up on a search for their name.
In relation to this personal identity issue, there have been discussions about corporate identity and blogging. On one side, there is the "control" perspective of people speaking outside the official channels. On the other side, there are people speaking about companies in their own blogs and in other settings that influence how the company is perceived. One student expressed frustration with the Yahoo Finance discussion boards being more up-to-date (right and wrong) on the happenings at her company than the PR machine could ever be. How careful do companies need to be? How careful do individuals need to be?