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January 30, 2006

Forrester’s corporate blogging solutions evaluation, Part 1

By Charlene Li

I'm conducting a review of corporate blogging solutions this quarter and could use your help in the process. Forrester has been doing evaluations -- we call them "waves" of technology solutions for the past few years and we thought this would be helpful to do for blogging software and services, specifically targeted at corporate solutions (so this excludes blogging sites like Blogger, LiveJournal, MSN Spaces, and Xanga that are focused more on individual consumer bloggers).

But in a departure from other Forrester Waves, we'll be managing this process in a more open process, primarily through this blog. It won't be neat, it won't be smooth, but my hope is to engage a wider audience in the process and tap into your collective knowledge and wisdom.

So this is the process we'll be following:

Part 1: We’ll ask for feedback on features and functionality required for corporate blogging, and get recommendations on providers to evaluate. Open source solutions will also be considered.

Part 2: A set of specific criteria will be posted on this blog for feedback.

Part 3: The final set of criteria will be available for you to use in grading a current/potential blogging solution provider. You will be able to suggest and grade any blogging solution provider that you have had personally used.

Forrester will also conduct our own in-depth interviews and evaluations of a select group of providers using the same criteria. We will also conduct detailed interviews with end-users of those blogging solutions.

We’ll end up with two evaluations: one that’s the result of open participation and one that’s the result of Forrester’s formal evaluation methodology. I think that there’s value in both approaches and we’ll see at the end of this process how much they differ or agree.

The top line results of both evaluations will be available on this blog and survey participants in Part 3 will receive a copy of the summary report. But only Forrester clients will be able to access the full report, evaluations, and detailed spreadsheets at www.forrester.com.

My hope is that this open process will lead to greater input from the general community, resulting in a richer evaluation of the blogging solutions than can be provided by just a few knowledgeable experts. I honestly don't know if we're doing this the right way or what the result will be, but I trust that you'll help me figure it out as we go along. So by all means, let me know what we should be doing differently in this process, and how we can improve it.

So on to Part 1 of the process!

My definition of a blogging solution is a software or service that enables the online publication and management of a blog. At a minimum, the solution should allow the user to set up a Web page, write posts, and manage them. Blog support services like FeedBurner or aggregators like NewsGator don't fall into this category.

I'd love to get your feedback on the following two questions -- feel free to post as a comment or to email me directly.

1) What features and functionality are most important to you when selecting a corporate blogging solution?

2) What corporate blogging solutions did you/are you considering? Why did these solutions make it on to your short list? And in the end, why did you pick your solution over the others?

Thanks, and hope to hear from you all soon!

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Listed below are links to weblogs that reference Forrester’s corporate blogging solutions evaluation, Part 1:

» Forrester Research evaluating corporate blogging solutions from NevOn
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Comments

Al Sargent

Jot.com has a corporate blogging app that you might want to check out.

Darren

1. Criteria: These are basic features, but they're pretty important:

* User permissions/user groups (in particular, granular control over who can do what)
* Post and comment moderation (particularly with email notification)
* Robust anti-spam functionality
* WYSIWYG editor
* Lots of flexibility for RSS feeds (by category, by author, etc)
* A built-in RSS aggregator is nice.

2. I'll just stump for one solution, as they're friends of mine: Bryght.com. It's basically hosted Drupal. Probably scarily cheap for the average Fortune 500, but it does the job.

Vassil Mladjov

The above info is a good start, but I would like to add the following as well.

1. Support
2. Active directory integration
3. High security options
4. Appliance for added security
5. Community blogging
6. Content corporate compliance tools
7. Statistics
8. Wiki integration
9. User rights and management
10. RSS readers integration
11. Mobile access
12. Video and audio integration
13. SUPPORT

These are just some of the options we offer on our corporate blogging platform. There are a lot more to come that I can’t blog about yet.
Since, our startup Blogtronix (http://www.blogtronix.com) is based on the .NET platform, you can figure out that we do not think Drupal is the right choice for corporate blogging. Drupal is great for personal blogging and it is free. Many large companies are still reluctant to deploy open source platforms on their secure intranets or extranets, where corporate blogging will be useful for collaboration between employees, clients and partners. There are too many security risks and no professional (paid) support options for it. There is a great development community that can help with issues, but there needs to be a company for the insurance policy (if you want to call it that way) that the IT department can point to when the blog goes down and the PR person or the CEO is cutting the head count in systems department. My good friend Mårten Mickos, CEO of MySQL can teach many open source companies how to run successfully in the enterprise. They simply offer support, consulting and training options for their paid clients. JotSpot and SimpleText are also good examples of successful open source collaboration platforms with secure appliances and paid support.
Vassil Mladjov

Prabhas Sinha

1) Criteria:
* Easy to setup so that even a non-computer literate should be able to set, manage and use
* To set up various channels and have granular control over who can do what
* Post and comment moderation (particularly with email notification)
* Robust anti-spam functionality
* RSS Feeds

2) I am using Blogger. I also considered 21Publish but realized that Blogger had a much easier installation process and lots of flexibility to use my own template. * Free Blogging toolkit so that it doesnt add to my marketing budget.

Easton Ellsworth

1) Scalability, ease of use, security/backup, flexibility

2) Know More Media uses Movable Type because it lets us tinker with its interface and add new blogs quickly.

P.S. You might consider creating, say, a Writely doc and collaborating with others here to firm up a list using these comments and the emails you receive.

Jeff Barr

Here's what matters to me:

* Simple facility for the addition of new users
* Integration into existing LDAP or Active Directory for identities, passwords, permissions, and roles.
* Complete control of final blog presentation/format.
* Comment moderation with spam filtering.
* Workflow management -- editor & author roles and the ability for authors to submit documents to the editor for approval.
* Simple image uploading and integration.
* Extremely good statistics and reporting.


serge the concierge

Even though my company is incorporated (LLC), I am a small business owner.
My company is Errands Express LLC (Personal Assistants Service) and based in Montclair, New Jersey.
My market is Northern New Jersey Busy Professionals.
I promote my services mainly through 2 websites, Montclair Concierges and New Jersey Concierges.
I started a Blog, 'Serge the Concierge' about 10 months ago to share products, services and insight that might be of use to my actual and potential customers.
In a business context the main things a company should look for in a blog in my opinion are:
-stable platform
-ease of use
-comment moderation
-frequent and original postings
-keep it short

I have used Typepad so far but I am taking a look at squarespace (I already gave it a test drive)and wordpress right now for a second blog that i will start shortly.

Have a good evening

SERGE

Website:
http://www.njconcierges.com
http://www.montclairconcierges.com

Blog:
http://www.sergetheconcierge.typepad.com

Sharespace ( my Test Drive blog):
http://frenchcountrybasket.squarespace.com

Zoli Erdos

Here's an interesting case study on the use of Social Media at SAP:
http://ross.typepad.com/blog/2006/02/social_media_at.html
Social Media meaning an integrated Blog / Wiki solution, like Socialtext or JotSpot.
Hybrids are the next wave :-)

Brian Z.

I would recommend ExpressionEngine (www.pmachine.com) been around for years, stable, fast and flexible. I know of a number of large companies using for Intranet applications, but a few nice sites I know are running it:

www.sacunion.com
www.inthesetimes.com
www.ilounge.com
www.parisjc.edu

Just to name a few.

Their support staff and community are extremely helpful and very responsive as well.

Bill French

I'm obviously biased, but I'll try to set that aside and deal strictly with question #1 based on business requirements from our customers that led us to develop MyST Blogsite™. These requirements are presented in no particular order.

Truly discrete addressability. While friendly URL's are nice, most corporate information architects find great benefit in unique addresses for all content artifacts - especially addresses that never change regardless of the state of the post (i.e., archived, embargoed, etc).

Granular permissions model. This is a key success ingredient for businesses that want to use weblogs for internal (or external trusted) communications because not all content consumers should see all blog posts.

Secure syndication formats. While the idea of creating a secure address for an RSS feed document is nice, many companies require a platform that provides granular user permissions at the item level (i.e., each syndication subscriber sees items in the feed based on their individual permissions). This suggests the idea that all syndicated (or rendered) content must fall under a unified permissions context that applies that context whether the user is viewing a weblog, reading an Atom feed, accessing a blog post via a Microsoft Office Smart Tag, or searching a collection of weblogs.

Platform agility. Our customers invariably ask about integration with other content systems, Microsoft Office, and business process applications. A unified XML API based on open standards is a key requirement that meets the agility test. More important is the ability to augment the integration connectors when new requirements emerge. The corporate weblog platform must integrate with applications and processes that have not yet been invented.

Quality assurance. Businesses use weblogs to meet objectives that are typically different from individuals. Requirements such as a the posting velocity across all weblogs in a blogsite and for weekly, monthly quarterly, and yearly time periods are important to content stakeholders. Notification when a link in a blog post begins to fail is also quite helpful especially if the weblog is being used as an advertorial. Our customers typically use our secure topic cloud feature to quickly determine if any keywords are misspelled. QA processes must also include email notifications.

Commenting visibility and permissions agility. We’ve learned that in a secure setting, the visibility (and authoring permissions) of weblog comments is a key issue. Some blog channels must support open commenting but limited viewing by other readers of the secure environment. Other scenarios must allow commenting by some classes of users, but read-only access (to comments) by other user classes. The possible scenarios are seemingly endless, so the platform must be extremely agile in this aspect of the architecture.

Architecturally, comments are no different than blog posts. We’ve come to realize that a comment object should be no different than a blog post object. Both object types should support similar constructs -- keywords, categorization, synopsis, WYSIWYG editing, binary enclosures, link properties, etc. Furthermore, the weblog platform must support the idea that items may exist in multiple states simultaneously – i.e., sometimes an item is a comment *about* a blog post, but in another association, the comment may exist as a blog post. Indeed, this kind of agility is necessary if you need to support the notion that comments can be *about* other comments and in some cases, a comment may be *about* two or more blog posts.

Seamless aggregation and rendering. Corporate blogsites must provide a seamless mechanism for aggregating content into the weblog application at the server level. This requirement addresses many obvious needs. When content is syndicated at the server, search engines (both public and private) will index the syndicated content as if it were integral to the blogsite. This is a key requirement for organization that are trying to use weblogs for knowledge management purposes or as advertorials. This requirement makes it possible to “roll-up” content from a variety of sources using RSS, Atom, or other less common formats. The aggregation mechanism must be agile enough to embrace legacy environments as well which are typically not RSS.

International character encoding support. While most corporate weblog implementations are localized today, this will not be the case for long. Already we’re seeing requirements from our customers to provide RSS “plumbing” in many different languages (Chinese, Arabic, Russian, and Japanese are just a few). The weblog platform must gracefully support localized character sets in the capture, management, and rendering processes (including all syndication formats). Most blog tools are not designed to meet these emerging requirements.

Content discoverability. Corporate blogsites must provide alternative views of information that lead readers to discover the gems of knowledge that exist within them. While public weblogs are typically subscribed to and followed closely by the its reader constituents, this is not generally the case for corporate information seekers. Information workers forage for knowledge in more ad-hoc ways – search, word of mouth, references in email messages, etc. The ability to integrate weblogs with Microsoft Office Research Services, and Microsoft Smart Tags are just a few of the possibilities that will create successful use cases as organizations adopt weblogs as strategic knowledge solutions. Pursuant to greater discoverability is the idea that alternative views of weblog content are required. Tag clouds are one such example, but they must support the idea of associations. A flat list of blog posts that relate to a keyword is a good start, but organizations already recognize the need for more advanced concepts like topic clouds.

Intelligent filtering. While most weblog tools support the idea of categories, that idea leaves most organizations wondering how to manage taxonomies of information. There are many complex solutions including ontologies (XTM) and RDF. However, most businesses are not that advanced and typically struggle with content organization. One requirement that they do appreciate is the ability to create virtual categories based on a filter. This idea is about information agility and the ability of the weblog platform to easily support constant change. Weblog systems must be able to slice across keywords, categories, authors, and topics without requiring new programming.

Time/Date agility. Businesses that blog have requirements that extend beyond the typical calendar and archive functionality. Some use cases require the ability to see all posts written in a particular week, or maybe a two week period. Some need a five day period, while others may want to see all posts written in the Fall of 2005. This capability must be provided pervasively across the platform and must also be supported in all rendered formats – Atom, RSS, HTML, XML, etc.

Automated pinging. While pinging is pretty ubiquitous among blog tools, the interface for reconfiguring this capability is generally not. Many businesses want to use blogsites to create greater Internet visibility and pinging is an important requirement for that objective. However, there are other types of corporate systems that can benefit from pings including business process applications and automation processes. As such, we’ve concluded that the ping infrastructure must embrace an abstract concept of change notification that is easily modified though business logic plugins.

Brandability. Customers that use our services for advertorial purposes are not shy about the demand for a completely branded blogsite. The brand requirements extend all the way into their RSS feeds – e.g., the feeds must contain URL’s and images that speak only of the businesses brand. This also includes the domain name of the blogsite as well as weblog styling that must mimic the corporate website in every regard.

I'll pass on #2 - perhaps that's best answered by some of our customers.

-- bf

Boris Mann

@Darren: thanks...one of these days we'll productize the more corporate features...

@Vassil Mladjov: "Drupal is great for personal blogging". Actually, no. Wordpress is great for personal blogging...Drupal should not be deployed unless you want massive scale, multi-user :P I think you would be surprised at some of the corporations using it...

Charlene: I'm not convinced that you're asking the right questions yet. What do you mean by "corporate blogging"?

1. Corporate Blogging as Blog: a way for all interested people at a company to have a blog, integrated or not with the main company site (e.g. company.com/blogs or blogs.company.com)

2. Corporate Blogging as Intranet: a corporate intranet based on blogging technology to be used for everything from project logs to internal communication to competitive intelligence.

3. Corporate Blogging as Inforouter: a system that aggregates all info from different systems within the company using everything from RSS (lowest common denominator) to direct APIs (maps from Google, contacts from Salesforce).

4. Corporate Blogging as CMS: replace the public/private website and/or portal with a system that has its roots in easy editing and updating.

Also...you want WAY more than just blogging, I think. What about automatically aggregating in all mentions of your company, but in a way that lets you categorize and approve (spam) which aggregated content to republish?

Can you tell that I think "just" blogging is no longer interesting?

Thanks to all for comments here...lots of good stuff.

Troy Angrignon

Hi Charlene:

Here is my 2 cents.

I agree with Boris. Blogging platforms are already uninteresting. Full 2.0 platforms are what we need. Blog + wiki + rss aggregation + forums + static pages + other modules + user directory.

You may want to consider doing two waves: one for blog platforms and one for 2.0 "full" platforms.

Basic features that need to be in both include:

* security: connection to internal authentication system via LDAP and VPN using delegated authentication
* rich-text editing is a MUST-HAVE. As any web app developer will attest, this is a non-trivial thing to achieve. Most applications today are using sub-standard text editors.
* Ease of use: it must be simple and easy to use
* Email interaction with system. It should allow users to interact with the system without having to use the web interface. That way users can send mail into the system or get email out of the system without visiting the site's web pages.
* Speed: self-explanatory

Here are some related links:

Text Editor Hell: http://www.troyangrignon.com/blog/_archives/2005/6/21/960479.html
When to use a blog or a 2.o platform: http://www.troyangrignon.com/blog/_archives/2005/11/3/1339995.html
All of my web 2.0 articles: http://www.troyangrignon.com/blog?cmd=search&keywords=web+2.0+or+read%2Fwrite+web+or+bubble+2.0+or+social+network

Steve Genco

I agree with the recent comments that corporate blogs need to be viewed in a broader context of enterprise knowledge sharing. At the startup I'm working on (Search Science at www.searchscience.com), we're developing a suite of enterprise products that we feel are the minimal toolset for recreating in enterprises the explosion of knowledge sharing and collaboration we've seen on the web. These tools are:
* enterprise blog engine
* community of practice / collaboration / wiki engine
* enterprise RSS engine
* enterprise search engine
* enterprise taxonomy

Of the many features and functions that have been identified by others above, I think a focus on making blogs taxonomy-based is worth adding. We have worked with several large corporations trying to improve their internal KM capabilities, and in each case it was findability that was the #1 problem that had to be solved before any knowledge sharing tool was likely to make an impact.

In every case, we found that having blogs, community sites, other internal web sites, web content, and enterprise search pre- and post-query refinement tied to a multi-faceted taxonomy was the best way to help people discover resources they didn't know existed, and communicate their insights and knowledge to others in the organization who had parallel interests.

This is an interesting difference between organizations and the open web. Taxonomies are less effective in the open web because it is ... well ... so open, and people has so many different interests they're trying to keep track of. Tagging works great under these circumstances. But in organizations, people are doing a more limited set of things (like creating products, marketing, selling, providing customer service, etc.) in a more structured domain of products, technologies, and people, so taxonomies make much more sense, and work much better.

So I would say a big difference between corporate blogs and public blogs is that the former should support taxonomies. (They should support tagging as well, by the way, because there's always room for new categories, and monitoring tags is a great way to figure out how the "official" taxonomy needs to evolve over time.)

I recently started a blog at www.web2enterprise.com where I have been discussing how some of the features associated with "Web 2.0" apps can be adapted to knowledge sharing in the enterprise, including blogs as a key component. Please feel free to drop by there for more details.

At Search Science we're basing our enterprise blog engine features and functions on the needs we've identified in our enterprise consulting engagements and lots of interviews with potential corporate users of blogs, communities, RSS, search and taxonomies. Here's the basic list of requirements we came up with. Many reiterate what others have posted, but some have not been mentioned yet:

1. Enterprise taxonomy-enabled blogging and posting -– ability to classify blogs and posts as relevant to a specific business process, location, organization, community, product, project, or other identifying business category
2. Enterprise blog administration -– ability to set up, monitor, and administer all enterprise blogs from one central
3. Editorial workflow for “edited blogs” -– enable editors to manage submission, review, and editing of blog entries prior to posting
4. Multi-level blog security –- control over ability to see, post, or comment in blogs, based on multiple membership criteria (workgroup, community, organization, region, job type, etc.)
5. Application of corporate document deletion policies to blogs, posts, and comments
6. Ability to identify internal experts based on blogging and posting activity
7. Personalization via user profiles to streamline tagging and classification of blogs and posts
8. Integration with existing corporate LDAP directories
9. Flag and/or disallow language in a post that might be offensive or objectionable in a business context
10. Complete and seamless integration with Enterprise RSS, including “home page” alerts and notifications of blog subscription updates
11. Support for multiple language postings -– ability to save and present text in different languages, double-byte language encoding
12. Seamless integration of blogs and posts with Enterprise Networking Communities
13. One-click blogging (posting) from a web page or MS Office document
14. Ability to automatically post blog entries on a Microsoft SharePoint Portal
15. Support for “guest” logins to enable anonymous blog posting (can be switched on or off by enterprise administration)
16. Built-in rating and feedback system -– ability to rate bloggers, blogs, or posts (customizable)

Thanks Charlene, for giving us a chance to discuss this in your blog. Looking forward to Parts II and III of the study!

Steve Genco

Oh, one other aspect of enterprise blog functionality I forgot to mention. I think this one is really important, may seem a little controversial, but is critical to getting full value from blogs inside organizations.

This is the capability to use blog links and posts to generate net maps of who's listening to whom inside the organization. Every corporation will want to see what's essentially the PageRank of blogs and bloggers among their knowledge seekers and sharers. Once you have the capability to subscribe to blogs, comment on blogs, search blogs, and reference blogs (e.g., in a blogroll), the corporation is going to want to know who's the top-cited and referenced expert in any given area, who connects to whom, and perhaps most ominously, who's out of the loop.

With this information enterprises can really begin to understand how knowledge and info actually flow within the organization, and who are the real knowledge leaders. No more hiding behind titles and hierarchy but contributing nothing.

This will be the most radical and fundamental change that blogs and other web-born tools of knowledge sharing and collaboration will bring to the enterprise.

Just as it has done on the web, blogging in organizations will bring out a new generation of knowledge leaders ... the key people who know how to identify and disseminate what the organization needs to know to compete successfully. This will lead to changes in how people are rated, rewarded, and promoted.

Bram Bessoff

CompeteNet (www.competenet.com) started a corporate blog to disseminate our CEOs thought leadership in the training and educational space as it relates to sales effectiveness, leadership & management development, as well as interpersonal communications for both the public (Army) and private (Fortune 500) sectors. Here's what we assessed upon start up of our corporate blog (www.bentoncompeting.com):

1) What features and functionality are most important to you when selecting a corporate blogging solution?

A) 3rd party hosted solution so as not to tie up our engineering department resources for maintenance and feature development

B) An architecture that fully supported a custom look & feel

C) A fully automated and easy-to-use admin interface so posting and maintenance will be quick and easy

D) A host provider company that will be in business for years to come

E) An inexpensive solution

2) What corporate blogging solutions did you/are you considering? Why did these solutions make it on to your short list? And in the end, why did you pick your solution over the others?

Our solution was chosen by myself (Marketing and Creative Director) along with the help of our engineering and IT department. We first looked to host our blog site in-house and found too many caveats in wasting precious resources in maintaining/supporting the site as well as development of new features as the technology advanced, etc.

After deciding to use a 3rd party solution, we looked at several of the leading blog hosting companies like Blogger and Six Apart's Typepad. Our decision was based on how well the providers features matched to our priorities as stated above in No.1. We found Six Apart's Type Pad to fulfill our requirements best at the right price point.

Chris Parente

Charlene:

Very interesting exercise. But this assumes that the company is comfortable with producing the amount of content required for a corporate blog.

What about thoughts on when a client should engage in blog conversations? Many of my clients are b2b and are hesitant to dip into the unrestrained blogoshere. And who to do it? Senior people are too busy, junior people may not keep the corporate message in mind.

Do you have any general thoughts about when to engage? Here's a link to an article I wrote that suggests it's a three step process to launching a corporate blog:

http://navigator.bacons.com/current/three_steps_incorporating_blogs.asp

Chris Parente
Strategic Communications Group

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