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FCW Insider: Some tips to bloggers

So I've been working on a post for some time about some baby steps for those interested in stepping into the world of collaboration. Some people are just freaked out by it, whether it is called Web 2.0, collaboration, information sharing -- or Facebook. Personally, I don't think this is all that scary -- and it can be empowering -- but I understand the concerns. So -- in violation of my own hint below -- I'm working on a post about how to take baby steps.

But, before I get to that, I thought I would talk about blogs for a moment, given that the May 12 issue of Federal Computer Week focused, in part, on blogs.

First, a justification of blogs. Former FCW news editor Jason Miller and I had regular spirited debates about blogs. He writes them all off as frivolous banter about somebody's life or thoughts. Without trying to exaggerate his views, he -- and many others -- see blogs as being more about Paris Hilton -- or Hillary Clinton -- then about...well, anything real. And without a doubt there are frivolous blogs out the -- the TMZ.com's of the world. There is certainly a role for them and I'm sure they play some role in collaboration in their own way, but...they are more fun then anything else.

I think blogs are part of of the collaborative landscape because they start a conversation -- a conversation among many different parties in a transparent  way that can be transformative. My general take with blogs is that they are simply a step in this process. I don't think they are an end in and of themselves, but...they are a step. Frankly, I'm not sure they will be around in five or 10 years, but they are an important part in transforming the way we share information. After all, blogs are the great leveler. And I'll go back to Sun CEO Jonathan Schwartz's point -- suddenly, one can share information across a much broader platform -- very easily. Anybody and everybody can be a publisher. And blogs are transparent. You share the same information with your boss, with your employees, with your partners, with your competitors, with your overseers. It is a big step is the notion that all of us are smarter then any one of us. And, for government, it is an enormous step in transparency, communication and openness.

Blogs can also start a conversation. With any luck, blogs can generate comments -- wisdom of the crowds.

So I think blogs can be an important step in information sharing and collaboration -- what we have come to call Web 2.0.

So, in the May 12 issue, we had a few stories:

Government enters the blogosphere [Federal Computer Week, 05.12.2008]
TSA and other pioneering agencies identify best practices for leveraging blogs and other social networking applications

5 blogs worth reading [Federal Computer Week, 05.12.2008]
A quick guide to 4 government blogs (and one other) that are becoming important voices in the community

Feds discover gold in blog posts [Federal Computer Week, 05.12.2008]
Interactive Web becomes a tool for agencies to highlight resources and engage the public

And... a few minutes with... the first government CIO to have a public blog... the Navy CIO Robert Carey.

You can also take the FCW.com poll, How valuable are blogs? Take the poll at www.fcw.com/polls.

The main feature has a sidebar about getting started. FCW senior editor John Zyskowski includes these suggestions:

Are you ready to leave the sidelines and try Web 2.0 communication and collaboration tools? If so, you might still find it difficult to know where to start. Which tools do you use? Who at the agency should be involved?

Those are important questions, said Frank DiGiamarino, vice president of strategic initiatives at the National Academy of Public Administration. But before answering them, he said, keep in mind three suggestions.

1. Have a notion. Just because it seems like everyone else is doing it is not a valid reason to plunge into Web 2.0. “You need to focus on the business problem and the specific community you need to engage to solve that problem,” DiGiamarino said. If a blog or a wiki is the best mechanism to get input or start a discussion, then go for it.

2. Just do it. Staging a test project is often a prudent choice when dealing with traditional technology projects, but that’s not so when it comes to many Web 2.0 applications. “You can’t pilot an interactive Web community,” DiGiamarino said. “Once it’s out there and it gets going, you’ll find it hard to take it away.” The better choice is to start with a smaller, lower-profile project but one that’s nevertheless the real deal. [FYI... NAPA and DiGiamarino have a lot of good information on their Web site at at NAPA's Collaboration Project Web site.]

3. Tap your organization’s inner Web 2.0. Think you don’t have in-house Web 2.0 experts? Of course you do. They are the department managers and frontline workers who wrestle with your organization’s toughest challenges every day, DiGiamarino said. That is what makes their participation in interactive Web applications so valuable. “Creating new silos to manage this process is a big mistake,” he said.

— John Zyskowski

I have been blogging for... well, for awhile now. In fact, we are coming up on the three-year anniversary of this blog. To be honest, it didn't start off very well. (Here is a very early post -- yawn! -- and the posts from the first month weren't much of anything, to be honest. I know -- as opposed to the magic that this blog is today, right?)

FCW is using blogs for all kinds of things... we offer Steve Kelman an opportunity to offer his insights... a place to talk about your money that we call the Pay Check... letters to the editor... insights about what we are working on for upcoming issues... a forum for you to speak out about issues... and even a place where we list all of our corrections that we make -- print and online. Again, our effort at transparency.

So I think there are many uses for this tool and we are trying it out.

But I have learned a thing or two about blogging over the years. So, if you are a blogger or a wannabe blogger, here are some of my tips.

* Have a notion... I wanted to pull one from above because I think it is very important -- and it isn't all that different from what we try to do as journalists -- know your audience. Who are you writing this for? It makes a big difference.

* That notion will change... My experience is that blogs evolve. And how you use them will evolve.

* Post regularly... If a blog is going to work, you have to post regularly. Find some regular interval and make the time. But realize that this does take time. The corollary to that is...

* Integrate your blog into your life... This one is important. If it is going to work and be sustainable, you need to work it into your life. So, for example, if you are working on a security policy, blog about it. What better way to show people that you are pondering the issue -- and get others insights. The same can be true about whatever you are working on. Ponder how much time you spend on documents and -- god help us -- e-mail messages responding to one issue or another. Rather then just sending an e-mail message, turn it into a blog post and send others the link to that post. Blogs are an opportunity to be real -- and I think people will appreciate the work you do and the challenges you face much more.

* Don't let perfection get in the way of the good... We hear this so often, but it is particularly true in the blogging world. Blogs are iterative. I often kick myself because I'll think about some post several times. Well, just break it up into pieces. Don't write the great American novel. Write the OK chapter or the not-bad paragraph. It is about sharing thoughts -- and the people who are expecting perfection in a blog have come to the wrong place and, frankly, should go somewhere else.

* Appreciate comments... Even critical ones. Yes, bosses. It isn't always easy, but... relish in the discussion. It is going on. It's it better to be a part of that discussion rather then having it go on without yo ? (And in the government world, comments can be hard to come by. Know your audience and realize that feds have been burned before for speaking. It takes time.)

* Time management... The one thing you will hear from any blogger is frustration about time. And you need to realize and understand that this does take time. I have found that it works best if I have a time that I blog -- each and every day. (Pre-puppy, that was the morning. I'm still searching for that time again.) Some people have done multiple-user blogs to defray the time cost.

* Don't discount what you do... This one frustrates me the most -- and I've heard it from CIOs. They say, 'Who would want to read what I work on?' And most government folks will probably have this notion. Have you looked at some of the blogs out there? If you build a community of even a few hundred people and get a few new notions of a better way of doing your job or creating a policy, it could be worth it. This community works on important issues and important programs. Please don't discount that.

* Just do it... Again, I am going to mirror what is above and NAPA's Frank DiGiamarino's wise words -- just do it.

* Share... Share your lessons learned, share your ideas, share your thoughts. Be open to what might happen.

I'd welcome others thoughts...about blogs...from bloggers with ideas about how they make it all work... from readers about what they find valuable in a blog. I'd prefer for you to post your insights here for everybody to see them, but you can also send me a note.

Meanwhile, just do it!

Posted by Christopher J. Dorobek on May 21, 2008 at 12:17 PM

Reader comments

Tue, May 27, 2008 Scott Burns

I enjoyed reading your post, Chris. I've been working on my own blog at www.reachthepublic.com and some of these observations are useful. We’re doing a lot of work with government agencies on using Web 2.0 approaches to collaborate with other agencies. We've seen agencies embrace the opportunity because we've worked hard to adopt the mindset that agencies are capable of collaboration, given the right tools. I agree that there’s a lot of potential for collaboration using Web 2.0 tools and think that it’s important for vendors not to have a condescending mindset towards agencies, as they evaluate the tools they’d like to use.

Fri, May 23, 2008 Dana Theus

Chris:Great insights. I agree with you that blogs are not likely to be around (in their current form anyway) in a decade. I think the web will integrate social features (including posts and comments) to the point where it will be everywhere ("like air" as Charlene Li says). I am confronting what I consider to be the next generation of issue in building a social network and wondering if anyone will participate. I blogged about it today. Baby steps to collaboration is a good idea, but there are a lot of barriers as well, not the least of which is simple usability and understanding of what the social web can do for you. (My blog post at: http://m-2-m.typepad.com/m2m/2008/05/unusability-the-social-webs-dirty-little-secret.html)And what do you mean you don't find time for blogging? (referencing our discussion after the Social Media Club talk last week). You are one prolific blogger! I will take your advice for sure.

Thu, May 22, 2008 Marc Hausman

Excellent post, Chris. I agree with you completely on your suggestions for how to ease into blogging.In fact, we've followed your suggestions in working with the president of government services vendor Altron to introduce his executive blog called Perspective:http://altroninc.blogspot.com/ An issue you failed to address though is the importance for a blogger to understand the policy of his/her agency or organization. Many an executive has gotten into trouble by blogging about issues considered by their employer to be confidential.

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