MasterNewMedia
Curated by: Luigi Canali De Rossi
 


Monday, May 16, 2005

Group And Multi-User Blog Platforms Compared

Multi-user and group blogs are a new, rapidly emerging reality, representing one of the most interesting aspects of the strong market adoption and diversification process that the new generation of online publishing tools is giving life to.

serg_2_by_maqsan.jpg
Photo credit: Alexander OPL

As blogs are about to get their final prime-time stage in the coming months, group and multi-user blogs have been silently defining their own characteristics and traits by first stretching what single-user blogs offered out of the box.

On paid assignment for one of the companies competing in this field, I have taken to test the major multi-user and group blog publishing tools for an independent comparative review.

In this introduction to the public release of this report, I want to clarify why group and multi-user blogs are so important and why they will find a great, fertile and growing market in front of them.

Group blogs are like singleton blogs, but with one or more contributors posting original material.

If you want to get a good exploratory of popular group blogs here is a very
comprehensive list by Wampum at:
http://wampum.wabanaki.net/archives/001578.html

Some of the more popular and successful group blogs are:

Of a slightly different nature are community blogs like:


where basically anyone can submit short stories which are then selected and
approved by a tight team of editors. By sheer virtue of the active participation of
many news contributors these community news sites can have a constant stream of relevant breaking news.

But in community blogs, while there is some kind of user-centered CMS and/or blog publishing platform at the end of the cycle, it's only a few editors that actually select and post the content online.

Authors and contributors remain often anonymous, and have no option of deciding whether their posts will be published or not.

At the Harvard Berkman Center for Internet & Society at Harvard Law School Dave Winer (the person who popularized RSS and weblogs thanks
also to his two successful weblog publishing products Radio Userland and Manila) wrote:

"During the war in Iraq I came across a page on the BBC website that claimed to be a weblog. Have a look, give it some thought, and then come back.

It's missing most of the technical features common to weblogs. I can't point to an individual bit of writing because it doesn't have permalinks. It doesn't have a calendar, and there's no link to a bio page for each of the authors. There's
another problem -- it's not for one person, it's a group weblog; and they're pros, not amateurs.

On the other hand, they are writing about their own experience. And if there's editing it hasn't interfered with the style of the writing. The personalities of the writers come through. That is the essential element of weblog writing, and
almost all the other elements can be missing, and the rules can be violated, imho, as long as the voice of a person comes
through, it's a weblog."

May 23, 2003; Dave Winer

What does this tell you?

a) The BBC, not only had a visionary feel for the type of journalism needed online (without using any "dedicated" weblog publishing tool), but it had
already embraced in 2003 the idea of a group blog, when very few examples existed at the time.

b) Weblogs should not be uniquely identified with the availability of trackbacks, comments or permalinks features.

Being these optional features that publishers can turn on or off at their discretion, what makes a weblog a weblog, is rather more the general ability to allow a direct, unmediated, publishing channel enabling authors to get their uncensored message out on the web in the shortest time possible, rather than the overall compliance with a predetermined feature list of any kind.

And such traits are in my opinion the very reasons why blogs have been establishing themselves as one of the most effective online communication tools for a great range of uses and applications.

The most characterizing trait that differentiates this new online publishing tool from traditional web sites is the intrinsic ability to allow individuals to write and publish multimedia content on the web without needing to know anything about HTML or about any other technical issue.

Freeing the communicator from needing to be also a geek, has enabled a
whole army of frustrated natural communicators, change agents, PR people,
online entrepreneurs, marketers and home-based news reporters to take the
flight to blogland the instant they learned about it.

To buy, activate and start publishing articles inside a blog may take between 5 and 15 minutes depending on the blog brand you choose and your level of familiarity with some uniquely typical blog-related terms like "post", trackback", "comments", and a few others.

For the uninitiated, a blog is characterized by a simple, Web-based page acting as a simple input form for the content ot be published. Basic formatting controls
are provided, just like in a standard word processing application, to help the non-technical user achieve professionally-looking results.

This makes it extremely easy for the uninitiated user to start publishing content
online in no time at all.

The oldest, probably the easiest and most popular blog service to-date is
Blogger.com, owned by Google. In less than five minutes you can sign-up for the service (free) and start publishing your own articles, on a site with your name, selected "look and feel" and unique web address.

Since 1998, when PyraLabs in San Francisco started popularizing its pioneering
blog service (what later became Blogger.com), to this day, where literally
hundreds of companies provide blogging tools and services, blogs have marked
a major revolution in the way that a large portion of the Internet public consumes the news, discusses critical issues from politics to science and evolves into the first generation of credible citizen journalists.

But blogs are more than instruments of personal expression and independent news reporting, they are in fact effective vehicles of open conversation, promotion, PR, public awareness, analysis, project management and more.

Blogs can be used to explore and brainstorm solutions as well as to support
specific projects, initiatives or x-events (extended events) of all kinds.

Blogs have also started to become important commercial vehicles that can
generate significant profits when designed and nurtured with systematic
dedication to the coverage of specific information categories.

The examples of Engadget and Gizmodo, two excellently architected blogs dedicated to the exclusive coverage of cutting edge new gadgets, shiny new toys and technological gizmos, show how effective and profitable theme-specific commercial blogs can actually be.

And if one or two bloggers can be so commercially effective, imagine how
effective it can be the leveraging of multiple authors and writers taking turns or
shots at different topics within the same coordinate blog publishing infrastructure.



The Power of Group and Multi-User Blogs

Blogging in a professional and consistent fashion is a tough and challenging job especially for those who use blogs to report news on specific industries or market sectors. As the sources of information keep increasing and our ability to filter out and select what is relevant from what is not have not significantly improved, individual news blogs tremendous challenge is one of keeping abreast the ocean of new information continuosly flowing on the Web while becoming efficient and trusted filtering points for their readers.

But when multiple researchers, analysts, news reporters or even amateur but passionate individual writers start to contribute in a systematic and effective fashion to one coordinated blog then you have something really powerful happening.

Pioneered by the likes of Weblogs Inc, Corante and in his own, personal, but extraordinarily effective way, by Chris Pirillo's own Lockergnome multiple news channels, group blogs are showing that there is value and demand for aggregating multiple quality voices reporting news and reviewing products on a specified theme.

All these group blogs use a blogging system like Movable Type, Typepad or one among the few dedicate multi-user blogs available today in the market. With it they create an online news outlet in which multiple, qualified writers, analysts and reporters can freely contribute news, commentary and insight in a rich and varied stream of quality posts, without needing to be moderated, edited or approved by anyone else.

Group and multi-user blogs can also be extremely effective instruments of team
aggregation and project management within the enterprise and large organization, leveraging distributed teams untied from one unique physical
location.

A team-based blog supporting a project, is one of the most valuable resources for effective project management available today and it is only the natural evolution from the old idea of a "project site" originally conceived by David Siegel nearly ten years ago.

The "project site", was a revolutionary concept at the time
of its inception, and was targeted at providing one centralized online reference
resource for information about a Web site development project allowing access
to all parties involved, from the executing designing firm, to the HTML engineers,
to the actual customers and decision-makers.

As blogs first nature was one of personal diaries ( from the abbreviation of web + log) it is not difficult to see how, when such tools are transposed to the corporate world, they can provide a very effective mean to report and update a whole organization or team in being connected over the different milestones, project issues, problems and plan changes integral to any sized team-based project.

And as "project sites" didn't need to be exclusive to the world of web site
development, many a organization, even in the academic field, started to adopt them as a pragmatical solution to create useful online centralized news clearinghouses helping support the development of ongoing projects, classes, training courses and more.

It takes no Einstein to realize that if all team members of a given project could post their updates, organized by categories, to a centralized, web-based clearinghouse in a format that could be immediately read (without needing to download, unzip and open individual files in different applications) by any other team member, then a major efficiency step, in communication effectiveness and ability to bring all team members on "the same page", could be effectively reached.

YahooGroups (formerly eGroups), set the pace for this new type of online aggregation resource by creating a free, multi-user clearinghouse in which anything from emails and simple announcements, to shared calendars, archival areas and photo albums could be opened up to either the public or only to a restricted and private team group.

Unfortunately, Yahoo got too focused on intruding with annoying banner ads and interruptive promotions all parts of its otherwise excellent service, never woke up to the idea that YahooGroups could have been the perfect basis for the creation of personal and group-based blog services, as blogs and the typical Yahoogroups facilities could have been perfect complements to each other. (This article was written in March 2005 before Yahoo launched its blog based Yahoo 360° service).

Newspapers and online magazines are another ideal beneficiary of both group
and multi-user blogs, as the adoption of such simple and direct publishing tools
for their entire team of news reporters has been boosting breadth of coverage,
responsiveness, time-to-press and the immensely valuable option to open news
stories to readers' comments and feedback.

Multi-user blogs make such news-oriented setup not only possible, but often very conducive to the way news reporter prefer to operate. It also makes the newspaper stories appear much sooner than with traditional content
management systems and, as said above, open to further comments, additions
and feedback from readers themselves. Something altogether not possible in
traditional news making whether online or off.

Group blogs leverage the potential of immediacy and ease of use of
traditional blogs while matching them with the facilities needed to support solid contribution of multiple writers.

To this day, the potential that multi-user and group blogs have in store is largely yet untapped, as aggregation, filtering and coordinated group publishing are all more evolved forms of a phenomenon (the one of blogs) that is till establishing itself.

It is in fact thanks to web publishing pioneers like Chris Pirillo, technology
innovators like Hylton Jolliffe, the founder, editor and publisher of Corante, visionary grassroots entrepreneurs like Jason Calacanis that we can clearly see how powerful and resource-efficient the power of many contributors can be.

They, before others, have understood the tenets that make their group blog
efforts so successful and respected:

Let the group be. Not an anthology of individual voices but a mesh of ideas and positions intercepting, coincidentally overlapping and complementing each other.

Allow infection, contamination, and collaborative inspiration to grow as a bonding lymph for those who contribute.

Make access and use as easy as conceivably possible in order to let the ideas and voices of your authors come through loud and clear.

Reward individual authors by money, stock or simply by returning good traffic to their personal sites, and allowing a beneficial infinite loop in which individual contributors post their best content to the group blog while receiving back valuable credit, link popularity and increased exposure to their personal blogs.

Finally, for entrepreneurial independent publishers like me, group blogs may be the ultimate and much-awaited opportunity to enable more powerful and economically successful niche blogs by making it easier to enlist and manage multiple distributed contributors.

If more qualified individuals can contribute, enrich and extend the coverage of what my online publications can presently cover, why resist?




Comparative Report

The report puts head-to-head Silkblogs, Drupal, Manila, 21Publish, Typepad and Wordpress MU.

The reporting comparative scoring table was found to have some major errors relative to the points awarded to Drupal. Nonetheless the review indicated correctly drupal strengths and weaknesses in the transcription and publication process correct scores were not properly assigned.

The report is being updated at this very time and will be made available in the coming hours.

Drupal correct score is 10 (out of 11), which makes it the best scoring tool overall, above Manila (score: 9.5 - only when used with the Userland Radio Community server) and 21Publish (score 9.5).

Final reports available at:
http://brickblogs.com/pub/ooa/report-full.pdf
http://brickblogs.com/pub/ooa/report-small.pdf

[ Read more ]
 
 
 
Readers' Comments    
2006-08-30 08:29:32

Robert

I have just set up an "open blog" using Blogger, which although old and cranky is about to take a step forward with "BETA".



2006-06-06 05:00:42

Eric

I am not able to access the reports. Have they been taken off line?



2005-06-01 20:15:01

Robin Good

There was no specific reason to this.

There were indeed other tools that did qualify, but we decided for this first edition to include only those 5.

As a matter of fact, there were only three listed initially to be reviewed and then the list was later expanded to 5.

I hope to be able to add more tools in an upcoming revised edition.



2005-06-01 19:56:04

Les Jenkins

The article was quite interesting to read, but I'm curious as to why you left out any mention of ExpressionEngine from the folks at pMachine.com? It certainly qualifies as a package capable of supporting group blogging as my own personal blog will attest to.

It has a number of the feature's you've mentioned in your comparison and I think it stands up pretty well to the other packages listed. If you plan to update your work over time I think it would be worth having you take a look at ExpressionEngine.



2005-05-19 09:24:27

Robin Good

Hello Nancy,

no I don't think I was conflicted when I wrote this. Rather I may have focused more on the production and publishing side of things, forgetting altogether the relevance of the "network effect" you so kindly have pointed out.

I think yours is an interesting and challenging question. That is:
"Are blogs as useful and effective if you were to take away the RSS distribution ability from them?"

My initial unthoughtful reaction is YES, they are.

But as soon as I start thinking about it I can't deny the vastly greater potential that RSS distribution and syndication adds to them."



2005-05-18 23:05:50

Nancy White

The real question is, do blog teams have to dress in the same t-shirts? Grin.

Seriously, thanks for the interesting article. The thing that most caught my attention was your definition of blogs as the publishing medium without the requirement of RSS, et. al.

I am pleasantly conflicted by your assertion. (That's a good thing). The ease of publishing to give voice is clearly central. But the RSS pulls in the network effect. The publishing alone is of enough value IMO for the blog definition, but the network effect is what pushes it over the edge.

Were you conflicted when you made your definition?



 
posted by Robin Good on Monday, May 16 2005, updated on Wednesday, July 4 2007


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