I’ve been hearing a lot about blogs and wikis lately. I first heard about blogs back in 2001 when a high school girl was profiled in the local newspaper and was getting upwards of 10,000 hits per day on her blog. This got my attention, and so I decided to check it out. I started my own blog at the time, primarily to figure out what it was all about but didn’t bother to make it public. I was just writing notes to myself. I’ve since resurrected that blog here and try to post to it about once a week. In 2002, my high school class was planning a reunion and so I started a group blog for that activity. It was quite active for several months before and after the reunion and was a lot of fun. It still gets a few postings a month, mostly from me, and I can see from the web server logs that it gets checked out about 10 times daily on the average, which is a lot since we only had about 170 members in our graduation class.
Wikis are a newer phenomenon. They are pages that allow anyone to edit them. In reality, there are some checks and balances to mitigate vandalism such as moderators that can remove defaced entries by reverting to a previous version of the page. The most famous Wiki is Wikipedia, which is a free on-line encyclopedia and it really seems to work well. Wikis do seem like they have the potential to become FAQ/Knowledgebase replacements.
Today I was reading the Social Customer Manifesto weblog and came across a link to another blog that talked about using blogs and wikis for product support purposes. As some of you reading this may know, I do ‘volunteer’ product support for several products, such as the Yaesu FT100 radio, the HP de100c Digital Entertainment Center, and the HP DVD Movie Writer products. This is done using Yahoo groups and associated FAQs. From time to time, I’ve thought about other approaches, such as using a user community/content management system like PHP-Nuke, vBulletin, or Infopop but decided I didn’t want to immerse myself in the headaches associated with learning and supporting that kind of infrastructure for 3 separate communities. Yahoo Groups is easy to use and although it’s far from perfect, it’s free and people often times already are members of other Yahoo groups so they know how to use the system.
A few months ago, I was having an on-going email discussion with some of my Entcon buddies regarding corporate blogs and how they were the up-and-coming way to help connect the corporate world with its customers without the extraneous layer of the PR department and information filtering that exists between people creating products and those purchasing the products. I’m not sure that today’s corporation is ready for that kind of unedited, unscripted PR quite yet. Sure I do a little of it on the user groups I mentioned, but it’s very limited in scope. If I were to become a product support conduit for every question about all of HP’s products, I’d probably never have a minute’s rest. There are a few HP execs blogging now. I even noticed there are podcasts from Nora Denzel.
GM is doing some corporate blogging now, but it’s mostly to promote new products, not to get feedback or provide product support. It’s interesting to note that they are getting some feedback on a few of their blogs from their own employees!
So it remains to be seen if corporate blogs and wikis will emerge as a sort of kinder, gentler and more intimate way of connecting companies with their customers, and I’ll be keeping lookout for any evidence that it’s actually occurring.