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The second assigned task in the course was to create a blog.  See the About this blog.. link. Essentially a blog is an open forum for discussion on any topic the blogger posts on. The initial requirement, of course, is that the blogger has some topic they want to write about or say and think it’s important enough for at least a few people, to want to read about it, and that it hasn’t already been written about extensively. I think the key here is a narrow purpose, or focus. The focus of this blog is to record and report my own thoughts and learnings about Social Media, Web 2.0, and – maybe – the use of technology in general.

“There are dozens of blogs with an audience of hundreds of thousands and hundreds of thousands of blogs with an audience of a dozen.” We’re in that latter category here. 😉 And if you know who said that first, let me know so I can give credit.

A blog can be of use to an organization by extending and exposing thier corporate culture or ideas and inviting open discussion about their products or services.  It can be a valuable resource for staying in touch with their customers. It will be almost guarenteed at least a small audience of existing customers and start with a nice narrow focus which is probably almost unique.

A blog can also be used as a virtual classroom. The instructor/teacher posts and then leads or promotes the resulting discussion. Although this is more typically done within the structure of a discussion forum application which has more extensive features to control and manage student access. Some discussion forums even have ‘blog’ areas within them.

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The first assignment for the course was to create an account with an RSS feed reader and subscribe to a few feeds. RSS reminds me of something called “Push” about a dozen years ago which was followed by Microsoft’s ‘channels’ feature in IE4 and 5. The solution to the problem of keeping up with all the miriad of websites one needed to visit to stay up to date in the online world.  Many websites have incorporated their own e-mail subscription features especially for forums.

RSS allows you to subscribe to websites or specific sections or pages of websites without visiting them or giving up your e-mail address. In practice your needs must fit this solution quite closely for it to be useful. It must be a website you want, or need, to see updates to, but is not updated so often that you would visit it regularly anyway. Blogs and really narrowly focused news pages would likely fit this description. Further, you need to use an RSS reader service this may create yet another thing to log into, another ID and password.

Windows Vista users can employ a Widget sitting on the desktop which is integrated with both IE and Outlook.  Simply clicking the RSS logo adds the feed to IE7. Pretty handy, however, the Widget can only pull from one feed. To make this work for me I subscribed IE to my own reader page in Google’s reader service.

For organizations RSS is a frustrating thing because of the anonymity. There is no way you can tell anything about the people that are subscribing to your feeds except how many they are are what feed readers they are using. For information consumers and providers alike, RSS could be a talking frog. Cool but, perhaps, ultimately pointless. Time will tell.

OK it’s an old joke. Originally a jab at engineers, I first heard it with a Microsoft programmer as the lucky geek that found a talking frog. The point is still valid. Sometimes we do things or hang onto things not because they’re useful but simply because we find them ‘cool’.  We may miss a better opportunity simply marveling at a thing we have found that will ultimately be of no use at all.

In fact when technology is involved this is more true than ever. Many people use cellphones as effective business tools. I think many others have them because they are simply cool and then often spend time, effort,and money, for a technology service they’d be better off without.