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Blogging for Dollars

Once the domain of the disgruntled and demented, Web logs are being embraced by business executives.

Technology companies now boost blogs, too. Microsoft, for instance, plays host to more than 1,000 in-house Web logs, where workers can offer opinions on everything from astrobiology to C++ programming. Since blogs are publicly accessible, outsiders can get a glimpse of what’s going on inside Microsoft. “We see blogging as a great opportunity for direct and deep two-way conversations,” says Sanjay Parthasarathy, Microsoft’s corporate vice president (Developer & Platform Evangelism Group). “We get important, real-time feedback on our products, and customers get greater insight into what is going on with key technologies inside the company.”

Blogging has become so popular at Microsoft that the company offers a Web clearinghouse to highlight its various blogs and bloggers. The tech giant has also created Channel 9, a project that aims to take blogging to its next level by combining text with streaming video and other multimedia content.

Rival Sun Microsystems has also jumped on the blog wagon. Tim Bray, Sun’s director of Web technologies, says blogs are helping the company build strong ties to its global customer base. “People who don’t know how to talk to a big California company find it easy to speak up when they’re talking to a person whose name they know and whose stuff they read regularly,” he says. Like Microsoft, Sun has created its own central blog site. “So far it’s been all upside,” says Bray. “We think we’ve improved Sun’s image and, more important, become better at hearing what the market is saying.”

Quidnuncs Aplenty

That’s the beauty of blogs: they get people involved. Indeed, blogging took off when programmers started developing Web publishing tools that practically anybody could master. Today, scores of vendors offer blogging software and services, including Google, Movable Type, and UserLand.

While putting up blogs is easy, finding enough material to keep them fresh can be a pain. “Blogging in general needs attention in order to keep postings current and to respond to input from the community,” says Microsoft’s Parthasarathy. While Stonyfield turned its blogs over to a full-time writer, most companies rely on rank-and-file employees to generate content. Generally, businesses have little problem finding workers who are willing to pen a blog. In fact, the task often confers a bit of celebrity. “People have a natural desire to be heard, and blogging enables that,” says Chris Shipley, editorial director of Guidewire Group, a Las Vegas-based company that presents blog training events and trade shows.

Stonyfield’s blogs are crammed with human-interest stories, nutrition tips, and strong opinions on issues ranging from personal health to politics. “The more outrageous the headlines are, the more people comment on them,” says Toomey. “We don’t expect everyone to agree with us on everything we do.”

Putting a muzzle on blog posters can be tricky stuff, however, particularly if it’s the CEO’s blog. Experts also point out that visitors to Web logs are often won over by the frankness of an executive’s opinions, not the opinions themselves. Notes Rick Bruner, a New York-based Internet marketing consultant: “Blogs are a way to remind customers that there are human beings behind the corporation,” not just fabrications created by the marketing and legal departments.

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