BLOGGERS are questioning whether Google Inc.’s official corporate blog qualifies as a blog because the company does not permit readers to comment on its posts.
The debate was sparked after Google posted a year-end review touting impressive traffic statistics for its Official Google Blog, a website the company says is its corporate blog.
By the company’s account, the corporate blog is doing very well. The article says it had 7.6 million unique visitors and 15 million page views in 2006. It ranks 17th amongst all blogs according to Technorati, the prominent blog search site.
However, Zoli Erdos, a Silicon Valley entrepreneur and start-up advisor who maintains a blog, has questioned whether the official Google Blog can really be deemed a blog since it doesn’t permit comments from readers.
Wrote Erdos: “I’m sorry, Google… but until you open up commenting, you don’t have a Google Blog.”
This has prompted other bloggers like technology journalist Mathew Ingram and web consultant Jeremiah Owyang to add their own opinions (both like comments), while a good debate has ensued on a variety of other sites and blogs.
Michael Arrington, publisher of the popular Techcrunch blog, posted a poll for his readers asking them to register their opinions. At the time of writing, almost 2,300 votes had been registered, of which 589 or 26% said that without comments a site is not a blog, while another 924 or 40% said comments were not required but recommended. About 34% said comments are not required.
Without user input, there’s little engagement
So where do we at IR Web Report stand on this question? We think that if you are talking about a corporate setting, then a blog is only a blog if it permits comments.
Some might argue that if the writing style is conversational then it is a blog. However, that’s nonsense. Warren Buffett’s letters to shareholders are conversational and he’s not claiming them as a blog.
Others will say if the content is organized in reverse chronological order (most-recent at the top) then it’s a blog. Nonsense again, as you can see from Berkshire Hathaway’s news release page. It’s organized just like a blog, but no one calls it a blog.
Still others will say that a blog has an RSS feed, but many websites now have RSS feeds and no one calls them blogs.
No, a corporate blog is only a blog when it permits users to have their say. The whole point of corporate blogs is engagement, to create a dialogue between a company and its stakeholders.
It’s a corporate hearing aid of sorts, a way for companies to stay in tune with their stakeholders, build understanding and engender trust.
Lines blurring between websites and blogs
A “blog” that does not permit users to publish comments is no better or worse than any other website. But that doesn’t mean a blog that permits commenting is better than a website or other “blogs”.
What if a website permits comments on its pages, as some corporate sites do? Is that website now a blog? The lines between websites and blogs are increasingly becoming less obvious.
What Google calls its official corporate blog is really a very good corporate bulletin board telling interested stakeholders about events and developments at the company. It’s an effective tool — judging by the traffic stats — for Google to communicate outwards to its stakeholders, including consumers, the media, analysts, bloggers and even shareholders and investors.
However, it’s not a blog — and even as a corporate bulletin board it would be better if it had user comments.
How many Googlers does it take to make a comment form?
An interesting angle to this story is that Google seems to be dragging its feet on allowing its millions of blog readers an opportunity to add their comments to the company’s blog/bulletin board.
In its current year-end post, Google indicates that the company is aware of the importance of comments to sites that call themselves blogs. It says “before long” readers will “perhaps” be able to leave comments on the site. It says the company is “working on” it.
But that’s what the company said exactly a year ago. In its 2005 year-end post, Google acknowledged that “some” readers would like to offer comments and that the company wanted to do so but it would need to add staff.
It seems unreal to think that a company as profitable and growing as fast as Google can’t afford to add someone to manage comments on its corporate blog. In fact, Google employed 9,378 full-time employees as of September 30, 2006, up from 7,942 full time employees as of June 30, 2006. Couldn’t one of those new hires have been assigned to the blog crew?
Fraidy cat! Fraidy cat!
If resources aren’t holding Google back, then could it be that Google is afraid of what people will say on its official blog? That’s part of it for sure. Adding user comments is going to take guts for a public company of Google’s profile.
However, I don’t see how the company can really avoid doing so when rivals like Microsoft and Yahoo! permit comments on their blogs. At minimum, it makes Google look like it doesn’t really want to listen to its users. In time, the company risks looking arrogant and aloof, which I know from experience it mostly is not.
Google management should see this problem as an opportunity. With such impressive traffic statistics, Google management has an unique opportunity to obtain broad public input on its products and business practices. Most companies can only dream of being so lucky.
Until the company officially starts to listen to all the people itching to sing the company’s praises, offer suggestions and, yes, even gripe, Google is really no different from every other big company.
And for a company that aims to be different, being an also-ran should be Google’s worst fear.
Update: Dave Winer, widely regarded as one of the founding fathers of blogging, says a blog is the unedited work of a single individual voice.
In 2003, when I was beginning my stint as a fellow at Berkman Center, since I was going to be doing stuff with blogs, I felt it necessary to start by explaining what makes a blog a blog, and I concluded it wasn’t so much the form, although most blogs seem to follow a similar form, nor was it the content, rather it was the voice.
If it was one voice, unedited, not determined by group-think — then it was a blog, no matter what form it took. If it was the result of group-think, with lots of ass-covering and offense avoiding, then it’s not. Things like spelling and grammatic errors were okay, in fact they helped convince one that it was unedited. (Dogma 2000 expressed this very concisely.)
Do comments make it a blog? Do the lack of comments make it not a blog? Well actually, my opinion is different from many, but it still is my opinion that it does not follow that a blog must have comments, in fact, to the extent that comments interfere with the natural expression of the unedited voice of an individual, comments may act to make something not a blog.
With this, I think Winer has essentially ruled the Google Blog not to be a blog. The Google Blog is a collective activity, a variety of voices rather than one. Adding direct user commenting, though, would give it greater legitimacy and make it, er, more blog-like.
But perhaps I’m wrong. Perhaps a collection of individual voices — ala the Official Google Blog — can represent the single voice of a corporation. Or does the voice of a corporation sound more like an SEC 10-K filing? Heck, now I’m confused.