Collaborating via Blogs and Wikis : Evaluating Blogs for Collaboration

8/9/2012 4:29:06 PM
Group projects are all about collaboration and communication, so it pays to seek out every possible way to communicate with other group members. We’ve already looked at web mail and instant messaging, social network groups and groupware, but there are even more ways to handle your group communications.

Evaluating Blogs for Collaboration

If you’ve been on the Internet for any length of time, you’ve probably heard something about blogs. A blog (short for “web log”) is a kind of online journal that its author updates frequently with new musings and information.

In terms of organization, a blog is a collection of individual posts or messages. The posts are arranged in reverse chronological order, with the newest posts at the top—which makes it easy to keep track of the latest developments. Older posts are relegated to the blog archives, which are generally accessible via a link in the sidebar column. And, at the end of each post, you’ll find a link to comments; this is where blog readers can register their own personal comments about any given post.

But here’s what makes blogs really powerful. A blog doesn’t have to be the work of a single author; it can include posts from multiple contributors, as well as comments on each of those posts. This makes a blog ideal for keeping track of progress on a group project.

Here’s how it goes. You create your blog, hosted on your company’s servers or on a popular blogging tool such as Blogger or WordPad. You make it a private blog and assign authorship status to all the members of your team. This means that everyone on your team can initiate new posts, as well as comment on the posts of others.

When you have something important to say to the group, you make a blog post. Same with the other members; when they have updated info, they post it. In addition, other members can comment on your posts—for example, you can create a post to schedule a meeting, and have the other members comment on your post with their replies.


Your blog posts don’t have to be text only (although they can be). Most blogs let you include digital photos, blueprints, and other graphics, as well as audio and video files, in your posts.

Members of your group can access the blog by navigating to its web page to see what’s new, or subscribe to an RSS feed that will notify them whenever there’s a new post to the blog, so they’re never in the dark.

Where can your blog be hosted? If you work for a large company, ask your IT department about hosting your blog on the company’s servers. Otherwise, you can check out any of the following blog-hosting communities, all of which will let you create private group blogs.


Blogger (www.blogger.com) is Google’s blog-hosting community, and with more than 8 million individual blogs, the largest blog host on the Internet. All Blogger blogs are free, which contributes to their popularity.

The Blogger Dashboard, shown in Figure 1, is where you manage all your blog activity. From here you can create new blog posts, edit comments to your posts, manage your Blogger account and profile, and access Blogger’s help system. It’s also where you create a new blog.

Figure 1. Managing your blog via the Blogger Dashboard.

Creating a new Blogger blog is as easy as filling in a few forms. After you click the Create a Blog link in the Blogger Dashboard, you’re asked to enter a title for your blog and a corresponding blog address (the part of the URL that goes before Blogger’s blogspot.com domain). Next, you get to choose a template for your blog—a predesigned combination of page layout, colors, and fonts. Blogger now creates your blog—and you’re ready to start posting.


By default, Blogger serves as host for your blog, and assigns you a URL in the blogspot.com domain. If you’d rather host your blog on your own website, that option is also available.

Figure 2 shows a typical Blogger blog—if there is such a beast as a “typical” blog. You can customize your blog with any number of different templates and color schemes; you can also add a variety of gadgets and other nonpost page elements.

Figure 2. A “typical” Blogger blog—for the author’s book Googlepedia: The Ultimate Google Resource.

Of course, one of the things you’ll want to customize is the list of people who have access to you blog. By default, a Blogger blog is completely public, and anyone on the Internet can read it. However, there’s a way to make your blog private so that only invited guests can view it; just go to the Blogger Dashboard, click the Manage: Settings link, and then click the Permissions link. When the next page appears, go to the Blog Readers section and select who can view your blog: Anybody (keeps the blog public), Only People I Choose, or Only Blog Authors.

For a group blog, the option you want is Only Blog Authors. Of course, you now have to invite the other members of your group to be blog authors; do this by clicking the Add Authors button.


In Blogger parlance, a blog author is someone who, like you, can create new blog postings. Although anyone can add comments to existing postings, only blog authors can create new postings.


TypePad (www.typepad.com) is quite similar to Blogger. You can customize your blog with a number of different designs and widgets, and you can select multiple coauthors for your blog. However, TypePad isn’t free; you pay anywhere from $4.95 to $89.95 per month, depending on the features you want. (You need at least the Pro plan, starting at $14.95/month, to support multiple co-authors.)


WordPress (www.wordpress.com) is another popular blog-hosting community. It’s a lot like both Blogger and TypePad, but perhaps a bit more customizable. You get lots of themes to choose from, sidebar widgets, and a private members-only option. You also can create multiple blogs and assign multiple authors. And, like Blogger, a WordPress blog is completely free.


Facebook, MySpace, and other social networks also include blogs as part of their profile pages—as do many online groupware and web-based desktop applications.

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