Intro to Web 2.0: Using Blogs, RSS and Wikis in the Workplace

Background

When Tim Berners-Lee invented the web, he envisioned a read/write web. But what had emerged in the 1990s was an essentially read-only web on which you needed an account with an ISP (Internet service provider) to host your web site, special tools, and/or HTML expertise to create a decent site.

Consider Tim Berners-Lee’s web to be version 1.0. With the invention of interactive sites and tools like blogs and wikis the web has changed dramatically – allowing people without programming knowledge (such as HTML) to create websites with the click of a few buttons. This is what is now considered the Read/Write web or Web 2.0.

This presentation is going to cover 3 of these Web 2.0 technologies: Blogs, RSS and Wikis. First you’ll need some definitions.

What is a Blog?

A blog is a website on which the owner(s) post content a regular basis. The term blog is a shortened form of weblog or web log. In the legal profession you will also see the term “blawg”. A blawg is just a blog that focuses on legal topics.

There are 2 pieces of criteria that make a blog different from all other websites:

  • Posts are displayed in reverse chronological order (this is a definite)
  • Posts are made on a regular basis (web sites are mostly static, blogs change)

It’s that simple!

What is a Wiki?

A wiki is a website that allows anyone to add or edit content. This model works very well for company intranets because it allows the entire staff to edit pages and work collaboratively on projects without web programming knowledge or the help of your IT staff.

Most people have heard about Wikipedia (www.wikipedia.org); an online encyclopedia that can be edited by anyone. Wikis are also used on several other websites to promote collaboration among members of a community. Although wikis like Wikipedia are open to the world, the owner of the wiki does have the ability to limit who can add and edit content.

What is RSS?

RSS is short for Real Simple Syndication. This technology allows users to subscribe to websites that have provided RSS feeds. When you subscribe to a site’s RSS feed you will be notified whenever the site is updated. RSS feeds are most commonly found on blogs and wikis since content is changing regularly.

One of the original uses for RSS was syndication. This means that you could publish content from another website on your own site for others to read. This is still possible with a little programming knowledge.

In order to read an RSS feed you will need a feed reader or aggregator. Without this tool RSS feeds are difficult to read – see: www.jenkinslaw.org/webblits/rss.php.

A RSS aggregator/feed reader allows you to subscribe to multiple RSS feeds and read them all at once. Using an aggregator eliminates the need to visit every single site you’d like to catch up on because all of the content is kept in one place.

Choosing an RSS Reader/Aggregator

Bloglines (www.bloglines.com) seems to be the aggregator of choice among most blog readers. Bloglines lets you organize your subscriptions and keep track of them all on the internet, meaning you can access it from any computer with an internet connection.

There are also programs you can install right on to your computer, but this limits where you can catch up on your reading.

There is a decent listing of aggregator options at Wikipedia (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_news_aggregators).

Finding Blogs That Will Interest You

Start by seeing what other people are reading – a big part of Web 2.0 is collaboration and communication. This means you should ask your colleagues and people you trust what they are reading on a regular basis. Once you have a short list you can see what those bloggers read and so on.

You can also use blog search engines to find sites that might interest you.

There are also lists of blogs by category that may be of interest to you:

In addition to blogs, a lot of other legal sites offer RSS feeds to keep you up-to-date. Law.com offers several topic specific RSS feeds (www.law.com/service/rss.shtml) and LexisNexis offers legal news via RSS (www.mealeys.com/legalnews/RSSfeed.html). Some services will even let you track new search results by saving your search as an RSS feed.

How Do I Start Blogging?

After you’ve been reading blogs for a while, you may decide that you too have something to contribute.

There are a bunch of freely hosted blogging options that you can start with to get the hang of things. I’ve tried both Blogger (www.blogger.com) and WordPress (www.wordpress.com) and I prefer the latter because it’s easy to transition from a hosted blog to one on your own server (www.wordpress.org).

There are 2 blogging options:

  1. Remotely Hosted
    1. Stored on someone else’s server
    2. May have a cost associated with it
    3. Limited control
    4. Great way to learn how to blog without needing to know the technical end of things
  2. Locally Hosted
    1. Technical skills required
    2. Your own web server required (will cost money)
    3. Complete control

It’s up to you to decide which option is the best for you.

There is a blog software comparison chart (www.ojr.org/ojr/images/blog_software_comparison.cfm) you can use to help you make your decision.

Blog software can also be used to organize communication in your office. Jenkins Law Library has several blogs on our staff Intranet that are used to eliminate the many emails going back and forth. This allows us to keep track and share information with everyone easily.

Does my blog have to be public?

Most blogging packages out there are meant for public blogs, but some do allow for password protection if you’d like your blog to only be accessible to a specific set of people.

TypePad (www.typepad.com) and LiveJournal (www.sixapart.com/livejournal/) allow the author to control who can read the blog. Packages like this are great for use on your staff intranet or for sites you only want to share with your family and/or friends.

How do I start a wiki?

When starting a wiki you have the same 2 options you had with blogs: remotely hosted or locally hosted. Remotely hosted options like pbwiki (www.pbwiki.com) are free, while others may have associated costs. Wikipedia has a comparison chart (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Comparison_of_wiki_software) of some locally hosted wiki options.

The one drawback of wikis is that each wiki has its own unique syntax that you must learn in order to make edits. So for example if you want bold text on a pbwiki site you need to put 2 asterisks in front of and at the end of the word(s) you want bolded (**this sentence is bold**).

How can wikis be used in the workplace?

Wikis are a great way to allow people without HTML knowledge to edit entire web pages. A wiki on your staff intranet will allow people to collaborate on projects and keep a record of their progress. It will also make it easy for administrators to share office policies and procedures with the staff – and update those policies whenever they need to.

Jenkins Law Library has been using a wiki on our Intranet for over 6 months now and it has been a huge success with the staff. It empowers the staff and eliminates stagnant intranets.

Conclusion

Web 2.0 technologies have made it much easier for us to communicate and collaborate across borders. With the use of the technologies discussed here you will be able to keep up with the profession in a more organized fashion.