They can be informative or silly, practical or potty-mouthed. Many people use them to rant. Others use them to persuade. They are blogs, or web logs, and like it or not, they are coming to a Domino server near you.
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Domino developers, along with plain-old enthusiasts of the platform, are exploring Domino's potential as a tool for posting everything from vacation pictures and restaurant reviews to marketing announcements and project task lists. They see blogs -- those ubiquitous, easy-to-post online journals -- as a powerful extension of the messaging and collaboration tools that are already a part of IBM Lotus Notes/Domino.
"Blogs make it simple to publish content to the Web and allow Web sites to be dynamic, something the personal homepage never was," said Mike Golding, who runs a Domino-driven blog at his Notes/Domino Web site, www.notestips.com. "Yet these are things that Domino has been allowing companies to do for years."
While some Domino professionals believe the words "Domino" and "blog" do not belong in the same sentence, others see blogging as the next big thing in collaboration. Business users may soon want to exploit the medium's most distinguishing features -- instant publishing, tracking, feedback and RSS (Rich Site Summary) syndication -- as ways to encourage online brainstorming sessions or simply give the appearance that their organizations are keeping up with the latest technology trends.
Blogs fall somewhere between the chaos and anonymity of discussion boards and the sterility of canned Websites. They bear the voice of their authors, who can solicit comments from readers, even as they control what gets published to the site. Discussion boards, which depend on many contributors, can quickly degenerate into flame-war battlegrounds -- hardly an appropriate outcome for corporate collaboration.
Developers working in their spare time have produced a handful of freeware and open-source Notes blog applications, which thousands of site visitors have downloaded over the past six months. Many of those downloaders, observers said, will try to plant a blog on their company's Domino server, for personal or business use.
But Domino administrators should not rush to judge a blogger's intent. By noodling around with a new tool, the blogger often demonstrates some initiative and creativity. "Weblog tools certainly have a place in the enterprise culture," said Benjamin Poole, a U.K.-based application development manager at a large financial services company. "They can lend a real dynamism to business processes and planning."
Poole has been keeping a Domino blog at his Web site, www.benpoole.com, for a bit more than a year. Poole blogs tips and opinions regarding Notes/Domino development, as well as news and views on Mac OS X and Java. His entries often elicit dozens of reader responses from other Domino bloggers.
Poole, who developed his own Notes/Domino blog application for his Web site, has also contributed code to BlogSphere, another blogging application for ND 6 and R5. Domino developers (and bloggers) Declan Lynch and Chris Toohey also contributed to BlogSphere, which is a part of the OpenNTF open-source project.
Keep in mind, blogs are not just for fun. Poole and others say that admins should accept the business potential for blogs and learn how to support and secure the technology on their Domino servers. Admins should also establish guidelines for the dissemination of corporate data via personal and business blogs, before the technology overwhelms them.
Domino bloggers acknowledge that there still aren't all that many of them. Each Domino blogger we talked to was aware of no more than only 40 to 50 others. But popular consumer pastimes have a history of touching-off wildfires on corporate relational databases. Remember that other anarchic Internet phenomenon, instant messaging? Stunned by the mass installation of consumer IM applications on their corporate networks, administrators today are only beginning to standardize on secure, auditable applications, like Lotus Instant Messaging (formerly Sametime).
Admins will find the growing spectrum of blog applications similarly difficult to manage. Like IM, as popularity rises, so do demands. Forrester Research analyst Daniel Rasmus said in a recent report that end users should have clear guidelines telling them when they can use commercial blogs. "Penalties and enforcement should also be included," he said. "Bloggers using the technology for business can unintentionally expose company information to parties outside the firewall."
A new blogging application written especially for the enterprise promises to make Domino admins' jobs much easier. An enterprise server version of DominoBlog, the Domino blog application from the Domino resource site ProjectDX.org, will soon have Web-based administration tools for coordinating blogs and communities, as well as aggregating content.
"The interest level in [an enterprise-blogging app] is very high, with a lot of companies wanting to give me money already or help distribute the software," said DominoBlog developer Steve Castledine. ProjectDX is also planning to port his enterprise-grade blogging app to WebSphere.
Lotus is getting into the blogging game, too. Lotus marketing manager Ed Brill, who uses DominoBlog for his own personal blog, said Lotus is contemplating a white paper about the benefits of blogging in Domino, including the software's replication features.
Lotus, which developed its own Notes/Domino blogging templates for Brill's marketing department, has not officially endorsed DominoBlog, BlogSphere, FreeDom Blog (from www.freedomblog.com), or any other blogging templates for use with Domino.
Brill noted, however, that two IBM Lotus business partners, Connectria Corp. and Domino Developer Network Inc., are now offering blog-hosting services.
Some enterprises are already developing and deploying Notes/Domino blogging templates in house for marketing purposes. "It's still experimental, really, but blogs are a way to get some dialog going with clients on hot issues," said Gartner Inc. analyst and enterprise blogger French Caldwell. "They're also a way for analysts to publish stuff that may not be quite ready for prime time."
Blogs also help keep time-limited content from proliferating on a corporation's intranet, Caldwell said. But managers need to get involved early to sell others on blogs and guide the adoption of the publishing tool.
"It will take an enlightened manager that says blogs are a good idea," Caldwell said, "to encourage the company to spend time on it."
Mark Baard is a freelancer writer based in Milton, Mass.
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