4: The Tools of the New Web

The author suggests that social computing tools are highly diverse, and there are a multitude of tolls that accommodate specific communications tasks as well as communication for similar purposes. This is further compounded by the promotion of non-interactive tools as "social," simply because the term has become fashionable. In this chapter, she means to describe and categorize some of them.

(EN: Scanning forward, the chapter tends to focus mostly on marginally social tools such as blogs, with a smattering of details about some of the other tools. It's neither comprehensive nor particularly helpful, but I'll take notes for what it's worth.)

Corporate Blogging

For most firms, blogs provide an entry point into social media - it's among the oldest and most established of "Web 2.0" technologies that is largely familiar, and a comfortable transition for firms who are accustomed to older communication methods such as newsletters and press releases.

The author then describes what a "blog" is for anyone who's never head of one: a venue for "posts" of moderate length (paragraphs of information) that is listed in reverse-chronological order and provides a comment/discussion thread for each individual post. Unlike traditional communication methods (press releases), blog posts are not formally structured, and are generally written with a natural voice that avoids corporate-speak. The goal of a blog is generally to humanize a company.

Blog syndication is mentioned, as some users do not visit the blog itself, but use software or an aggregation service to give them "feeds" from blogs they wish to follow, which pulls the content into a format where all are listed and the user can read the content without having to visit the individual blogs' sites. Because of the way syndication works, she suggests that "it isn't possible to obtain statistics on who is subscribing to your RSS feed."

(EN: That's not to say statistics aren't available, but they do tend to be less specific. You can tell how many times your feed was requested, but 12 requests in a day can come from one person whose software pulls your deed once an hour to see if there are any updates, or from 12 different services that then provide the feed to thousands of readers. Nor is it true that those who request a feed actually read any articles - they may browse the headlines and decided to read nothing. The only meaningful statistics I have seen from feeds come either from bugging an image to report when an article is viewed or from tracking click-through from links in feed articles.)

The author speaks briefly about using a tool or service that will create a feed and make it available to subscribers. (EN: Which is a good idea, but also be aware that if you use a standard blogging solution, there are tools that will create a feed from the blog itself, which can jack up your blog's statistics with RSS feed spiders, in much the same way and to a worse degree than search engine spiders mar your Web site statistics.)

It is also becoming common for firms to have multiple blogs to serve multiple audiences. The most familiar blog provides information to customers, and a company with multiple brands or customer groups may create multiple blogs to suit them. There may be separate blogs to communicate to prospects and employees of various classes. There is also a growing trend of B2B blogging, in which firms create blogs intended for partners or others in a supply chain.

A blog is primarily a one-way method of communication, from the office to the field, except that there is a comment thread. The author suggests keeping a careful eye on this, and to be responsive when someone posts "spam" or asks a question they expect to be answered. This is fairly simple, as most blog software has an option to send an e-mail to the owner of the blog each time a comment is made.

It's mentioned that vast majority of blogs are personal. Many are diary-style (detailing the events of everyday life), others may be devoted to a specific interest (a blog about a hobby or academic topic) - they are built by people who want to express themselves, share their knowledge, and communicate with like-minded people. Corporate bloggers would do well to follow the same example rather than turning their blog into a marketing pump or press-release newsfeed.

(EN: Historically, a web log was maintained by a site owner, an individual or team that maintained a site, and was a working log that documented changes and updates. This was later shared with users as a way to promote new features. While the format was adopted for personal Web publishing, corporate blogs stem more from the original use than personal blogs, and this is also a valid perspective to take.)


The term "microblogging" is used to describe a version of blogging in which the author posts more frequently, but a very small amount of content each time. (EN: the term is also misused for anything that contains a small amount of text, even it if is a shared comment thread among various users, even if it is not meant to function as a blog.)

The most well-known at this time is Twitter, though a few others have arisen. Popular for mobile blogging, Twitter limits the content to 140 characters (including spaces) per post (called a "tweet") and uses a single thread. To overcome the lack of post titles, "hash" tags are used to specify a post's subject (#subject) in the body of the post; and to overcome the lack of a comment thread, a post direct at someone (@username) is used to indicate the intended recipient of a comment.

Twitter users have a blog page that lists their posts and provides a small profile (160 characters), but this very rarely used by anyone. Most people subscribe to a feed, and use interface that consolidates tweets from various individuals rather than visiting their twitter pages.

A handful of URL shortening services have also sprung up to accommodate Twitter users. Since the URL to an article can be lengthy (consuming some of the precious 140 characters), users make an association to a shortened URL such as http://short.com/xxxxxx which redirects to another, longer address.

(EN: Worth noting that for site owners, this can obfuscate links to your site, as the service shows as the referrer - that is, your stats on referring sites will include the name of the service, not the original tweet.)

One feature that gets a great deal of attention is "retweeting," which is passing a person's post along to your own followers. The current format has been adopted for accrediting the original author ("RT @username" at the beginning of the message)\, but "via" replaces "RT" for people who were doing this before the term "retweet" was coined.

Two different statistics measure the reach of twitter posts: follower indicate the number of people who receive (and presumably read) your tweets, retweets measures the degree to which they spread your message to others. Since subscriber counts do not mean active listeners, retweet is considered the more significant statistic.

On the topic of dead accounts, the author speculates there are likely many. At the time the book was written, there were 10 million accounts, 50% were completely inactive and only 5% (50 thousand) were actively tweeting. (EN: I'm enthusiastic about the idea of twitter, but have to concede that these statistics suggest it may be a fad rather than a technology with staying power.)


The author shifts from blogs to "wikis," which are collections of information that may be edited by multiple people. Whereas a blog is timely information, in which each post has a single author (though the posts in a single blog may be contributed by several different people), a wiki contains evergreen information in which any authorized used can edit or add to the content at any time.

The author also refers to the general-purpose wiki, Wikipedia, suggestion "it is imperative that corporate entities have a presence on Wikipedia." (EN: The truth is, most have one whether they know about it or not - what is imperative is that the company keep tabs on it to make sure the information is accurate.)

The author also refers to the phenomenon of "wiki vandalism," which describes the practice of deleting content or "malicious editing" of content, though a note of caution is added that not all such edits are of malicious intent (sometimes a person spreads bad information because they believe it to be good information - it's a mistake, not an intent to harm). Keeping an eye on the wiki, especially the record of changes, can help to detect and react to such activity.

(EN: Wikis tend to be a niche tool for exactly this reason: while owners like the idea of others pitching in to help maintain content, they still wish to retain firm control of content - but you can't have both.)


(EN: I created this section to contain some of the random bits that the author mentioned in passing that didn't fit into one of the three main topics of the chapter - blogs, wikis, and microblogs.)

The author notes that "there are so many tools ... that it could take an age to go through them all" - and so she doesn't. She gives brief mention to a couple (social bookmarking, ratings and reviews) and goes into slightly more detail about a few:

While blogging is traditionally a text medium, there are also blogs that consist entirely of audio programs, photos, or other media. The author mentions some of the portmanteau terms for these (e.g. "vlog" for a video blog), but doesn't go into much detail.

(EN: Worth mentioning that these have largely not caught on due to the difficulty of consumption. The more common behavior among blog consumers is to scan headlines and browse content, and other formats do not facilitate this. Podcasting, another form of audio blogging, had some novelty interest but never did build as substantial an audience. Video blogs have become YouTube channels, photo blogs have become Flickr albums, etc.)

Video conferencing over the Internet has gained some popularity, whether it is a person-to-person communication, a meeting among a small group of people, or a one-to-may online presentation.

Creating a content stream for mobile devices (mobile blogging) is useful for a niche market. There are instances in which people can consume a small amount of content, generally content that is highly time-sensitive, but they tend to be few and far between. However, it is common for people to update their social media sites using a mobile device for input, particularly when attending an event or travelling.

The author spends rather too much time talking about Virtual Worlds (like Second Life), which have never gained much steam, as well as interacting within the existing virtual world of video games, which is a common feature of multiplayer games, but has very little value to business. Thus far, some have been fascinated by the possibility of grabbing attention by advertising in games, but no-one has found much success.