(Note: This column is part of an ongoing series on “India’s Next Decade”. Over the next few columns, I have compiled a series of notes from various writers on what Kevin Werbach has called the Next WWW: Web Services, Weblogs and WiFi. Later, I will provide the context of how this is the set of opportunities our generation has to build new companies, and perhaps, a new India.)
Blogs tell stories – of people, time and places. These are unabridged narratives. There is now a growing recognition that this narrative form of story-telling could have much greater significance and impact, especially within corporations for knowledge management (in the form of knowledge logs). Stephen Denning ponders on Narrative in his forthcoming book (working title: The Narrative Angle):
What if narrative and story were not trivial but actually very important? What if narrative is still the instrument by which we all as adults come to make sense of what is happening both in our private lives and in the serious world of organizations and business and government? What if the idea that we have somehow put the natural language of narrative aside or behind us when we grow up, because narrative is the province of children and primitive peoples, is pervasive but mistaken? What if we learn what is going on in the world through the infinite variety of narratives, finding out who did what to whom, or surmising what happened in the past, or what could be or should be done in future? What if story is the very bloodstream of our culture? What if story is the tool by which virtually everything that is of interest to us is communicated?
A much more deeper perspective comes from Judith Shulevitz in the New York Times in an article entitled “At Large in the Blogosphere” (May 6, 2002):
Jorge Luis Borges dreamed of a library the size of a universe, whose wealth of books would induce first delirium, then despair, then breakdown of the social order. Since we first became aware of the Web, we have ricocheted between similar feelings over a universe far more disruptive: one of unbounded, uncensorable streams of text. The current craze is for something called a blog. The name is the diminutive of ”Weblog,” an online news commentary written, usually, by an ordinary citizen, thick with links to articles and other blogs and studded with non sequiturs and ripostes in sometimes hard-to-parse squabbles.
Here’s what blogs are not: (1) the super-personalized news filters that social critics fretted would splinter the nation into a million tiny interest groups, or (2) the Drudge Report. Blogs don’t limit your news intake, break stories or promulgate rumor, at least not intentionally. They have an only seemingly more innocent agenda. Blogs express opinion. They’re one-person pundit shows, replete with the stridency and looniness usually edited off TV.
Jon Udell provides an analogy with Web services:
Loosely-coupled message-driven architecture, the mantra of the Web services movement, is precisely what blogspace is becoming for the realm of human communication. When we adopt this style of communication, we give up some of the benefits of tight coupling: message acknowledgement, tight feedback loops. But we gain (maybe) the ability to scale beyond what is possible when tightly-coupled messaging (email, discussion groups) is the only available mode. This doesn’t mean there’s no benefit to tightly-coupled interpersonal messaging. It only suggests that the loosely-coupled mode is also important.
Going back to the question I had asked in the beginning of the column: what’s so interesting and exciting about Weblogs? Compare Weblogs to the home pages and websites which sprouted across the Internet at the start of the Web revolution in the mid-1990s. The game, as it turned out, was not as much in creating home pages but in leveraging the Internet technologies within and across enterprises to cut communications and interaction costs, and foster closer relationships with customers. Similarly, the public manifestation of the weblogs is a prelude to their use within enterprises to tap into the collective knowledge of employees. The hidden promise of weblogs is to bring into vogue a conversational, narrative form of story-telling and knowledge sharing which will work as the foundation for building knowledge networks and enterprise clusters, where the whole is much greater than the sum of its parts.