Anil Dash is the chief evangelist at
, the company behind popular blog platforms Movable Type, Vox and Typepad.
With many businesses still to recognise the potential benefits of blogging for SEO, internal communications and customer relations, we asked him how more converts can be won over in the enterprise space.
What are going to be the main drivers of growth for blogging this year, particularly in the enterprise market?
Clearly the biggest driver for growth is the success that so many companies have demonstrated over the past 18 months or so, using blogs to build their businesses.
The hundreds of customer success stories that we’ve shared really help show companies that are new to blogging that it’s safe to get started, and also demonstrate the maturity of platforms like Movable Type or TypePad.
Frankly, I think a lot of those reports are based on bad data. The most extreme numbers for blogosphere growth were probably blown out of proportion, and the most extreme numbers showing blog growth slowing are being blown out of proportion as well.
The truth is, only a tiny percentage of companies use blogs as communications tools, either internally or for talking to the public.
We think most companies will be using blogs in a few years, and that means there’s enormous growth ahead for business blogging.
What’s been your reaction to the recent KnowNow/Automattic partnership, and how do you feel they shape up against your enterprise tools?
I think they get a lot of attention because they definitely have fans for personal blogging, but the platform isn’t really designed for manageability and KnowNow has tried a few times now to understand the business blogging market and none of their previous efforts have really stuck.
Honestly, the more players that try to enter the space, the better validation there is for the market, but the only tools that we see regularly being evaluated for enterprise-scale deployment are things like Microsoft SharePoint or Lotus Domino.
Movable Type consistently gets chosen over those platforms, and I think it’s because we really understand blogging and have been meeting business needs with blogs for half a decade.
The best reason for a small business to create and maintain a blog is because it’s the most cost-effective method of maintaining a relationship with important audiences like customers, potential customers, partners, or employees.
A blog doesn’t need to be run in place of other tools - it can easily complement them. For example, many companies post the content from their email newsletters on their blogs, making the most of the content while also allowing for a level of interactivity and discoverability that email alone doesn’t provide.
Similarly, social networks like MySpace are more like a corner pub – they’re appropriate places for socialisation, but might not be appropriate for professional communication or particularly effective at achieving measurable business goals.
What are the main things companies should include in their blogging policies for employees?
The key thing to understand is that a company needs to have a communication policy for employees.
Whether it’s forwarding on a private email, writing something inappropriate on a blog, posting a cameraphone video on YouTube, or shouting something on a street corner, we’re all only a few clicks away from being public figures or making public statements.
Understand that your employees are going to make public statements, and that there needs to be a consistent way to solicit advice on how to reflect the company most positively, and you can get the most value from the fact that every single one of your employees is a spokesperson now.
What would be your advice to a company about how often to update a blog? Is it really important to blog every day, considering the growing usage of RSS aggregators and customised start pages like Netvibes and Feedraider?
Any hard-and-fast rule about how often you should blog just doesn’t take into account the nuances of human conversation.
Blogs should be updated as often as is appropriate for the conversation. At Six Apart, we maintain over 20 blogs. Many are updated daily or more frequently, but some go weeks or months without updates, based on those audiences only wanting new messages when there’s significant news to be delivered.
As long as you set appropriate expectations for frequency of updating, your audience will let you know what’s ideal.
How serious a problem do you feel splogging is becoming for your end-users, what do you think should be done about it and are you working on any tools to help deal with it?
We don’t have a significant splog hosting problem on our platforms because we’ve encouraged accountability through straightforward methods like requiring payments or analysing the social network of a blog to make sure it’s legitimate.
As a result, companies that run their business blogs on Movable Type and TypePad don’t risk their blog being lumped in with spammers, as might be the case on other platforms.
This yields a lot of benefits – for example, TypePad blogs are delivered right to search engines like Google and Technorati, and they know they can trust the content because TypePad is a ‘good neighbourhood’ in the blogosphere.
These are multi-year investments in blogging accountability and quality that we’ve made, and we think they’re starting to see significant results already.
In light of splogging, what’s your advice to bloggers re. RSS feeds, including whether to include segments or entire stories?
This flip side of splogging, where spammers republish your content on their own sites, can be a real issue.
Though there are some larger industry-wide initiatives taking place to try and combat the practice. For most small businesses, the value of getting the message out outweighs the risk that someone might misuse your content.
It’s similar to printing flyers to promote your business, while realising that some people might use them as scratch paper.
What figures can you give us on usage of your blog platforms, and what percentage of your blogs are still active?
One of the most telling measures is that more than half of the top 100 blogs on Technorati’s Most Popular list are powered by Movable Type or TypePad.
That’s more than the number of blogs powered by Google, Microsoft, Yahoo! and AOL, and everyone else combined. And we don’t think it’s coincidence – our community has always placed a priority on creating valuable, meaningful blogs, and the results show in that top 100 chart.
Similarly, Wired Magazine’s Fortune 500 blogging wiki shows an (admittedly incomplete) list of Fortune 500 companies that are blogging, and of those listed, over 80% are using Six Apart platforms for at least one of their blogs.
We’ve been working to build the success and awareness of business blogging for over five years, and it seems that this has really taken off in the past year.
Because TypePad and Movable Type are both professional-grade tools which businesses pay for, our blogs tend to be very active.
I don’t have specific statistics, but the overwhelming majority of all the blogs ever created with either tool are still running and active today.
Do you agree with Technorati’s definition of an ‘active blog’ as one that has been updated in the last three months?
I think there are a few different industry standards for ‘activity’, either updated in the last 30 or 90 days.
I think a lot of the focus on those statistics ignores the fact that some blogs have a finite life span by design.
For example, Visa launched an excellent blog during last year’s Winter Olympics, but then ended the blog at the end of the Games. Similarly, the Washington Post started blogs for specific events like the US Presidential inauguration, then put the site in suspension after the event.
Those blogs were successful for those businesses, though they’re not updated today. That seems appropriate and sensible, as many forms of communication run their course after a set period of time.
What in your opinion is the best way to rate a blog’s influence and popularity and are you involved in any push towards common metrics for blogs?
I’d been an advocate of common metrics in the past, but have retreated from the desire somewhat in recent months because I think blogs are created for so many different reasons, and with so many different goals, that it may be impossible to find a consistent measure that makes sense.
A media blog may be looking for the widest possible audience, or might be targeting just the readers that advertisers find attractive. A professional communications blog might be written to only make sense to experts in a field, and thus its page rank or overall traffic numbers are meaningless.
An internal company blog might be addressed to only the other members of your workgroup, and might only be for future reference in documenting a process, and thus still succeeds even if it has few readers at its time of publication.
It’s up to each blogger to decide what their goals are, and then create metrics in service of those goals.
How difficult do you find it to keep up with SEO trends on behalf of your end-users?
Actually, this has become simpler over time. As the SEO industry gets more and more complicated, we find that, in the long run, the techniques that are most consistently successful are to create content that’s compelling, well-presented, and of use to its audience.
Instead of diving farther into the arcane details of site construction or HTML tricks, we’ve been working on designing our tools to handle the basics of page publishing automatically, and then enable bloggers to create the kind of cleanly-formatted, frequently-updated, intelligently-linked content that search engines favor.
If you could get the major portals and search engines to do one thing to help validate and promote blogging vis-a-vis traditional media, what would it be?
I think we all need to tell more success stories about business blogging. Right now, the major portals and search engines have blogging tools, but they don’t care about the blogging medium itself, and thus don’t do much advocacy for it.
As a result, traditional media likes to tell scare stories about privacy violations or online flame wars instead of the thousands of real-world examples of companies that have succeeded because of blogs. Just highlighting those stories would be a huge service to those of us who love the blogging medium and care deeply about it.
What is your stance towards and plans for widgets?
I think any technology that simplifies the ability for a blogger to connect to the rest of their world online is a valuable and useful one. Widgets seem to be the most straightforward way to do that, and lower the barrier towards technological integration.
Any time a regular user can perform a task that used to take a technical expert, that increases the potential for all of us. And it’s just fun to say ‘widgets’!
What do you make of these recent comments from the head of the UK’s Press Complaints Commission about a voluntary code of conduct for bloggers?
I think living in the States, it’s hard to really understand the different perspective on public speech between the UK and the US. Without that context, I can’t fully appreciate his statements.
That being said, all of us at Six Apart talk regularly about the need for bloggers to be responsible for what they say, and to not publish things online that one wouldn’t say in person.
Ultimately, anyone who posts something on a blog that’s false or unnecessarily negative or sensationalised will be hurting their own reputation and credibility in the long run. Perhaps just doing more to emphasise those repercussions would be enough to encourage a more civil debate.