Blogging as a web team
Writing about web page http://blogs.edgehill.ac.uk/webservices/2008/07/28/blogging-web-teams/trackback/
I was pushed onto Mike Nolan's post on the Edge Hill University Web Services blog by a colleague, and found it quite interesting to consider what it would be like to have a web team blog here. There are a few members of the web team who already blog about work-related things, albeit on personal blogs (and as a result entwined with all sorts of randomness):
- Steve Carpenter's blog (mostly AIR development related)
- Chris May's blog (Sys-adminy things with web architecture-related posts too)
- John Dale's blog [tech tag] (Web architecture)
- Nick Howes' blog (Java)
- Hannah Vickery's blog (Design)
- Matt Jones' blog (Front-side development)
- Hongfeng Sun's Oracle/Java/Others blog (Oracle/Java)
- Sara Lever's blog (Flex, CSS, design, accessibility)
- This blog [web development tag] (Java)
If we had a single, over-arcing web development team blog then content would most likely include a selection from above - probably not everything (as that'd be a lot of stuff) but a lot of relevant posts. In this case, I guess we'd get quite a lot of good content on there, but would it actually be interesting to someone?
Mike also mentions that one of the main reasons for blogging as a web services team is to be able to "Communicate what you're doing":
One of the best uses of a blog is to talk about what you’re doing within the Web Services team. Informing colleagues of current projects, changes to sites, even reporting on problems that have happened to the website keeps them in the loop and it’s less likely to be a surprise at the end of the day. A blog can complement and support other methods of communication. Many IT Services (or Marketing, or Communications, or wherever-you-are) departments have a regular (if not necessarily frequent) newsletter and often blog posts can be adapted for use there.
At the moment we tend to communicate what we're doing on each separately for each of our main projects. For example, when we release new functionality in Warwick Blogs/Blogbuilder, we announce it on the Blogbuilder News blog, and for most other projects we tend to announce things on the forum that is set up for each. (Such as on the Sitebuilder forum)
I think we have explored ways of exposing new releases to users but it's difficult to find a balance between boring people and actually getting the information over to them. When we deploy new versions of Sitebuilder (the University's CMS system), for example, Chris tends to Twitter about it, but that only reaches two people outside the web team who (may or may not) care that a new version is being released. For very large changes, such as the new search interface that I blogged about, it gets mentioned on the University's Intranet and also in the IT Services newsletter that is sent to departments.
In this case, I'm not sure I agree with Mike that the usefulness of a blog is to keep users in the loop - although it is obviously useful to collate this kind of information into one place as it would allow those who care about it to subscribe to what we're doing. Since we have tagging in blogs it would seem sensible that some people would only want to subscribe to certain posts and that would seem easy enough with the current system. The way that using a blog would provide more functionality than, say, a news feed (which also allows tag filtering) is that it allows comments. On the Blogbuilder news blog this has allowed users to give feedback and bug reports directly, which can be helpful.
So, in theory, a web services blog seems like an excellent idea - but possibly with a few caveats. If the blog was neglected and forgotten about, what message does that send out to our users, that we're not interested in conversing with them anymore or that we're not doing anything? Also, you need to take into example occasions when this kind of thing can turn into a PR disaster. When Southampton re-launched their web presence, they posted a blog post announcing it and inviting comments from their users - most of the responses were negative and their scheduled downtime attracted a bit of stir on other institution's blogs.
Although I'd definitely be interested in contributing on a team-wide web services blog, there are a lot of pitfalls!