Blog RUBRIC: Designing your Business Blog
Robin Yap, Brent Muirhead, Jeffrey Keefer
Blogs are seemingly ubiquitous. Whether for academic, business, or personal use, people have found ways to use blogs for a variety of purposes. Originally created for online diaries and journals, weblogs (commonly referred to as blogs) have morphed into a plethora of uses and features that continue to develop and evolve. Blogs are used to cover political events (Rogers, 2005), publically share information and opinions about nearly everything (Walker, 2005), and are increasingly being used for more formal purposes in academic settings.
What are they? Blogs are software programs that run on servers over the Internet or on a network. They look like web pages, but the difference is that any authorized user can add comments or upload documents and pictures to them. All software is on the network, so changes can be made from any computer that has access to the network. For example, an online blog (which is where most of the estimated 10 million + blogs exist) can be accessed, viewed, or changed from any web browser (such as Internet Explorer) that can access it. This means that blogs can be updated without having any special programming ability or software installed on a specific computer. This makes blogs easy and fast to change, and this appeals to those who have come to rely on the flexibility of the blog design.
Another common component of blogs is the ability for readers to comment and link to comments on other blogs. This dynamic ability allows for communal use of this technology and enables individuals as well as large organizations to publish online.
When you are on a guided tour to a location that you are unfamiliar with, you rely on the expertise of your tour guide to provide you with information that may be of interest to you as you go from one location to the next. Some tour guides are entertaining, others provide very intricate information about a specific subject matter, and still others allow you to participate in the experience. A web log (or blog) can be akin to a tour of specifically chosen Internet sites that may be of interest to the reader. In as much as there are many tour guides to choose from, there are many blogs available for various types of readers. Each blog site develops its own audience-type, camaraderie and even politics amongst the readers; ergo developing their own community.
Weblogs or blogs have been defined as a “cross between a diary, a web site, and an online community” (Embrey, 2002). Wagner (2005) takes this one step further by stating that blogs are “conversational knowledge management” tools. This paper will explore its viability in the workplace.
Tim Berners-Lee at CERN wrote the first website, http://info.cern.ch/, which was also the first weblog as it pointed to other websites when they first came online. This “linkage to other sites” is one of the characteristics of a blog. In the 1993-1996 timeframe, the NCSA’s “What’s New” webpage (http://www.ncsa.uiuc.edu/) and Netscape’s “What’s New” webpage http://wp.netscape.com/home/whatsnew/ were the next blogs to hold information about other blogs.
Journalists, tech writers, Internet programmers, and developers were among the first to jump in to the blogging world. Blogs like Robot Wisdom (http://www.robotwisdom.com/), Tomalak’s Realm (http://www.tomalak.org/), CamWorld (http://www.camworld.com/), and Scripting News (http://www.scripting.com) were widely read and discussed. Articles have been written about the viability of blogs as methods of communication and sharing of information (Oravec, 2003; Oravec, 2002; Clyde, 2005). Blog usage has even permeated corporate organizations (Delio, 2005; IBM, 2005)
Figure 1. RUBRIC model
Model for Viability
In determining a blog for business use, the acronym RUBRIC (Figure 1) reflects the six tests that make up the model for the blog’s viability. RUBRIC stands for Reliability, Usability, Behavior, Reflection, Information, and Creativity.
At the core of the RUBRIC model is reliability. When reliability ceases to exist, the blog, however aesthetically gratifying it may be, will not be useful in a business context. Reliable sources include C-level executives, industry experts and strategists, and well-respected thinkers in the field.
A reliable blog can only be effective if intuitively navigable by its target audience. The second layer of this model is “ease of use.” A graphic, table, text, and other navigation tools should be appropriately placed to reflect the mission, vision, and goal of the blog. Any decision on pop-up windows, links to other sites, shopping carts, advertisements, font sizes, colors, backgrounds, audio, and use of multimedia software like Flash, should thematically alignment with the business directives of the blog.
A layer above “ease of navigation” is the “appropriateness” of the blog. A blog written in the first person can reflect accessibility to the writer while a scholarly written blog shows an authority in the field. There can be many perceptions of blogs and a survey should be conducted to determine if the audience’s perception aligns with the corporate culture intended by the blog developers. When this behavior is inconsistent across all blog pages and/or posting entries, then the “idea” of the blog crumbles.
It is important for a blog developer to be flexible in their product. When a poll of the target audience results in confused readers or requests made for increased updates to the blog, for example, the developers should be immediate in their response. “Reflection” wraps the three other layers of this model as it is in this stage where there may be constant flux due to the many external factors affecting the blog’s content, appearance, and navigation. Another example would be a merger by the blog sponsor resulting in combining two or more seemingly disparate blogs into a cohesive website. In as much as the blog is updated frequently, so does the design to reflect the state of the business as well as the needs of the audience.
The blog information should always be current and relevant. The main concept of a blog is its ability to be practically instantaneous in its postings. When this inherent blog characteristic fails, the website as a whole becomes ineffective. The sources of information can be very reliable but if the information is not current, audiences do not to use this blog as a reference.
The overall layer that surrounds this RUBRIC model is the blog’s ability to shine above the rest. The creativity of a blog comes through in the form of the “spirit” of the developers and its writers. The uniqueness of a blog provides a lasting imprint to its readers. When readers use a blog’s links to leave the blog without returning, then the site’s “hook” is lost. When the blog is noted for its overall refined state, then its creativity edge is engaged.
This six-component blog-model-for-viability to corporate use can be utilized in the form of a checklist, discussion points with developers and project supporters, audience surveys as well as focus group topics. It is important for developers to have a clear understanding of their corporate mission to have a direct alignment with the blog being developed.
Blogging represent a dynamic and growing activity among professionals and students who appreciate blogs for their mix of informal commentary, links to resources and personal touch. Every blog carries a unique character that makes its distinct contribution to the Internet. Downes (2004) relates that “… a blog is also characterized by its reflection of a personal style, and this style may be reflected in either the writing or the selection of links passed along to readers. Blogs are, the purists form, the core of what has come to be called personal publishing” (p. 18).
Downes (2004) raises an excellent point about blogs appealing to people because it is an opportunity for personal sharing of life experiences, vent frustrations and offer reflections on a variety of social issues. Contemporary life can be quite impersonal and people long for having opportunities to express themselves to others in a nonthreatening atmosphere. Additionally, blogging offers educators an excellent platform to forge their own professional identity by sharing with other colleagues and debating ideas. The blogging community is a diverse one that transcends any simplistic descriptions. Blogs vary in their purposes but they represent a new intellectual and creative frontier. Farrell (2005) argues that “academic blogs, like their 18th-century equivalent, are rife with feuds, displays of spleen, crotchets, fads, and nonsenses. As in the blogosphere more generally, there is a lot of dross. However, academic blogs also provide a carnival of ideas, a lively and exciting interchange of argument and debate that makes many scholarly conversations seem drab and desiccated in comparison” ( B14).
The formal print media through journals, newspapers and magazines continues to supply an important avenue for exchanging ideas within the academic world. Blogs reflect a powerful new communication tool that provides an intellectual leveling effect that invites people who represent more diverse backgrounds. Today’s blogs often function as a practical technological format for creating professional bridges between people across and within academic disciplines. Farrell (2005) observes how blogs serve specific knowledge interests and needs:
§ Panda's Thumb (evolution)
§ RealClimate (global warming and climate science),
§ Cosmic Variance (physics).
§ Savage Minds for anthropologists
§ the Volokh Conspiracy, Balkinization, and Prawfsblawg for legal scholars;
§ Duck of Minerva for international-relations theorists; and
§ Cleopatra for historians (B14).
Evaluating blogs does not have to be a tedious and time consuming activity. Rather, individuals should consider some basic criteria to guide their selection process. The authors have created the following list of items which can be quickly noted when first visiting a blog:
§ Content - depth of material, subject area, archives, resources, type of links. Do they meet my research and teaching needs? Does it contain archives of comments?
§ Current information - Does it update information and resources?
§ Online tone of blog - Is it friendly? Inviting others to join into the blog? Is a community spirit is evident?
§ Creativity - Does it promote creativity and reflective sharing of ideas?
§ Accessibility - Is it easy to navigate to different areas of the blog? Are links to resources / articles working? Can people easily post comments to site?
A superb example of an in-depth blog is Stephen’s Web (Downes, 2005) which contains an enormous amount of well organized materials, links and archives. The blog is easy to access and locate material on a diversity of educational and technology subjects.
Teachers who are interested in using blogs can enhance their professional growth by utilizing material related to their specific academic field and share instructional ideas with those who have similar interests. Blogs can be used to share course announcements, readings and relevant information links. As blogs become more sophisticated and organized on the Internet, they will play a larger role in knowledge management for both teachers and students. Teachers should explore opportunities to use blogs in their classes such as having students write reflective journals, create e-portfolios and conduct learning team assignments (Education blogs, 2005)
Why Blogs are useful in business analytics
Blogs were initially used for personal communication and sharing online. People can easily and relatively inexpensively buy a domain name for their own blog and host it (such as the model used by MovableType), pay a monthly fee for a blog hosting service (such as TypePad), or use one of the freely available online services that is supported by advertising (such as Blogger). Buying blog software for corporate use is relatively inexpensive (MovableType has a free unsupported version for personal use and starts at around $200 for a corporate license), or can get large and complicated depending on the number of user licenses or servers that may be purchased and configured for various uses. While all of these models work well for an individual, large businesses and organizations have also found this style of communication and collaboration to be useful for both internal as well as external purposes.
Externally, many small (Geerts, 2005; Lang, 2005; Nardini, 2005) and large organizations are using blogs for marketing and public relations purposes (Delio, 2005). Some examples of official, sanctioned external blogs include the QuickBooks blog (quickbooks_online_blog.typepad.com) and Boeing’s blog (www.boeing.com/randy/). While they both are staffed by marketers and public-relations staffers, many other organizations know or even actively support their employees to blog, with notable examples being Robert Scoble of Microsoft (scoble.weblogs.com), Charlene Li of Forrester Research (blogs.forrester.com/charleneli), and even IBM (www.snellspace.com/IBM_Blogging_Policy_and_Guidelines.pdf) and Sun (www.sun.com/aboutsun/media/blogs/policy.html) officially encourage their employees to blog. What better way to project a public face to a company than to have employees blog independently about their work and interests?
Internally, many organizations are also using blogs for internal communication (Chang, 2005), collaboration, and knowledge sharing and management (Wagner, 2005). When these programs are installed on an organization’s servers inside a firewall, they allow for a sharing and flow of ideas that is not possible without such technology. Even now, wiki (the step-child of the blog) technology allows for blog-like use with the ability to edit one another’s posts themselves (Delio, 2005; Niles, 2005).
As blogs have increased in popularity and frequency of use, it is increasingly important for those who create and those who use blog resources to consciously determine which ones are substantial and accurate enough for either academic or corporate use. Our RUBRIC model is an attempt to help this process and begin a standardizing approach to blogs. The RUBRIC elements of Reliability, Usability, Behavior, Reflection, Information, and Creativity are intended to lay a foundation from which academics and corporate communicators can begin to build and use blogs knowing their work will be evaluated and assessed using a standard criterion. Blogs are so ubiquitous that a standard evaluative process is increasingly useful for those who wish to make use of the information or discussions on blogs. The RUBRIC model was created to fill this void.
Conclusion and Future Research
The evaluation and standard measurement criterion is a new development for blogs, and as such the RUBRIC model should now be tested and analyzed to determine its completeness. Future areas of research include applying these criteria to academic class blogs, official corporate blogs, and even the distant cousins of blogs, wikis. It is hoped that such quantitative and qualitative research into this online communications medium will bear fruit for those who want to incorporate these methods into their classes and endeavors.
Barton, D., Hamilton, M. & Ivanic, R. (2000). Situated literacies: Reading and writing in context. New York: Routledge.
Clyde, L. (2005). Educational blogging. Teacher Librarian. 32(3), 43-45.
Cope, B., & Kalantzis, M. (2000). Multiliteracies: Literacy learning and the design of social futures. New York: Routledge.
Delio, M. (2005). The enterprise blogosphere. InfoWorld, 41-47.
Downes, S. (2004). Educational blogging. Educause, 14-26.
Embrey, T.R. (2002). You blog, we blog: A guide to how teacher-librarians can use weblogs to build communication and research skills. Teacher Librarian, 30(2), 7-9.
Farrell, H. (2005, December 7). The blogosphere as a carnival of ideas. The Chronicle Review 52 (7), B14
Geerts, G. L., & Kim, M. (2005). Blogging 101 for CPAs. The CPA Journal, 75(7), 12-13.
Glenn, J. (2004). Blogging for Teaching and Learning. Business Education Forum. 59(2), 8-131.
IBM. (2005). IBM blogging policy and guidelines. Retrieved 6/2, from http://www.snellspace.com/IBM_Blogging_Policy_and_Guidelines.pdf
Lang, E. M. (2005). Would You, Could You, Should You Blog? Journal of Accountancy, 199(6), 36-42.
Nardini, J. (2005). Blogging 101. Frozen Food Age, 53(12), 32-33.
Niles, R. (2005). Wikis will help readers direct the community's most powerful voice. The Masthead, 57(3), 10-11.
Oravec, J. (2002). Bookmarking the world: Weblog applications in education. Journal of Adolescent & Adult Literacy. 45(7), 616-621.
Oravec, J. (2004). Using weblogs to counter information overload in business education. Business Education Forum. 58(3), 55-57.
Oravec, J. (2003). Weblogs as an emerging genre in higher education. Journal of computing in higher education. 14(2), 21-44.
Stephen’s Web (2005). Available: http://www.downes.ca/news/OLDaily.htm
Stiler, G., & Philleo, T. (2003). Blogging and Blogspots: An alternative format for encouraging reflective practice among preservice teachers. Education. 123(4), 789-797.
Wagner, C., & Bolloju, N. (2005). Supporting knowledge management in organizations with conversational technologies: discussion forums, weblogs, and wikis. Journal of Database Management, 16(2), i-viii.
About the Authors
|November 2005 Index|