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Blogtronix - a great enterprise 2.0 collaboration and web publishing platform

About 4 weeks ago I wrote up a few preliminary thoughts on Blogtronix, following a long, late night (for me!) session with George Athannassov and John West, but I've finally had time to do a fuller write up.
 
One of the frustrations of the current web 2.0 and enterprise 2.0 world is that there are great social networking and collaboration tools that each cover a limited range of functionality or do one thing well.  It's good for these companies to have focus, but for a more complete, enterprise wide solution I'd love to have several products connected together with a single log in, with my favourite bits of functionality from a few others included too.  The other aspect is that many of the tool providers have a more consumer oriented approach, which works well for initial adoption and training within a department, but leads to concerns over how scalable the solution will be, and how acceptable it will be when the CIO or IT get involved in a more significant, enterprise wide rollout. 
 
Blogtronix - the enterprise 2.0 collaboration and web publishing platform
George's starting point for Blogtronix addresses these two key issues.  Firstly, he has assembled a collection of collaboration tools that cover blogging, wikis, document management, RSS feeds and social networking in an integrated approach where the design philosophy is "no boundaries".  Secondly, he has adopted Microsoft .NET and SQL Server technology as the platform, as well as a choice of deployment options.  This approach, plus the fact that Blogtronix already have a live implementation with 50,000 users, 5,000 of whom are active, will mean that most CIOs will take the solution very seriously.  For the rest of us, provided it has the functionality we need, we shouldn't care what the underlying database and platform is.  
 
Blogtronix is a community based, web publishing and collaboration platform that will be useful to most businesses, and have a variety of applications.  Major organisations like the BBC have implemented social networking to connect together like minded people in their organisation and to facilitate collaboration.  Euan Semple put together their approach, which developed over time using a number of different tools.  They started with an internal bulletin board, which has been used by over 18,000 of their 24,000 employees.   Then created their own social networking tool called Connect, which helps them track down specific expertise in their organisation, and form interest groups for particular projects.  After that they started using blogging tools for internal communication.  There are currently over 130 in the organisation, one of which is regularly read by over 4,000 employees.  They have also implemented use of wikis as well.  Around 500 people have access to them in a controlled way to do things like creating procedural documentation, or for project collaboration.  The big advantage with a product like Blogtronix is the BBC could have done all of these things with just one platform to learn, and a single log in. 
 
When you log in to Blogtronix as a user, it generally has the look and feel of a function rich, 3 column style blog site, although you can also create static pages of any sort of content that you need.    You'll see any posts, articles or documents you've written, the groups that you belong to, connections you've made with other users, links to useful sites (internal or external), feeds you've set up, events for you or the groups you belong to, news items, the menu structure of your site, categories to help you find content, or a tag cloud.  But everything is configurable.  All of the various content modules that are available can be switched on or off, moved up or down, or between columns.  You could add your own widgets using javascript.  You can use CSS style sheets to change the look and feel.  You can choose a 1, 2 or 3 column style.  Feeds can be RSS or XML-RPC, but could be news feeds, blog posts, or comments on posts.  The system is fully multi-lingual, but you could use those same language files to change all of the terminology if you wanted to.  This all comes back to the design criteria of creating a platform with no boundaries.  It operates on Mac or PC, with Safari, Firefox or Internet Explorer. 
 
Blogtronix has an impressive and flexible security system.  You can set up as many groups and sub groups as you like, maybe with some form of tree structure.  These could be internal within your company, or external with partners, customers or suppliers, or you could set up areas of your system that are publicly available.  Your membership will  define which groups you belong to, your rights and security access, but it's also important to understand that you could be on Blogtronix's Software as a Service hosted service, using their appliance, or deploy the product behind a firewall.  With some configuration and set-up, any Blogtronix user can be connected together with any other. anywhere. 
 
Within a particular community there are facilities to show you who's online, recent content, recent comments, the most read posts, the most discussed authors, user ratings for authors and posts.   The post editor allows you to upload files, access the system's image and file manager, insert audio,  HTML objects, add tags, Technorati tags, categories, create an automatic post summary, making this a strong blogging platform in its own right.  You can add video from YouTube, and there is a separate module for video blogging.  Their wiki functionality is comprehensive, but not as strong as some products, but they are working to improve it.  For example they don't have a wiki spreadsheet editor yet.  However, from a document creation point they have everything you would need to create and store documents and sub documents in a hierarchical folder structure.  You can attach images, flash, video, attachments, links, and export content to Word.  All changes are properly tracked so you can view the complete document history, compare changes and restore previous versions. 
 
The document management system can store any types of files, and links to the wiki document system.  Within document management or attachments there is comprehensive version control, where the system will automatically increment the version number when another version of the file is uploaded.  Categories and tagging with key words is available with documents and the wiki as well. 
 
As a user I can set up a personal profile and a corporate profile.  This could include my work history, education history, skills, responsibilities, job function, training, notes, anything.  If I have the appropriate admin rights, I can search for people by criteria and keywords, and then make connections with people for a particular project or topic. Of course, within the system I can send a message to any other Blogtronix user.
From an administration point of view, I have the facility to set up forbidden words, or track particular warning words.  I can drill down to see when and how the system is being used, and easily identify the content and opinion creators within particular groups or organisations.   From a content management point of view, the system has trigger and workflow capability to help you  manage the drafting and publishing process.
 
My overall take is that Blogtronix is an excellent collaboration and web publishing platform that will be useful to a wide variety of organisations.  Their hybrid deployment approach and technology choice will make the product attractive to major corporations.  The application lends itself to creating a community environment in a company with thousands of employees.  However, this product will be just as useful to small and medium businesses as well.  It provides an integrated approach to content production and community interaction, so that it could work as your company intranet, support system for partners or customers, or even your customer facing website.  One of the downsides of this kind of tool is that it is so flexible, with so many different applications, that the message of how useful it could be gets lost within the options available.  Although the Blogtronix website touches on the possibilities, the strength of the product doesn't come across - they need more examples to bring it to life.  I don't know what their marketing strategy is, but I would narrow the focus on to some specific niche markets to build up a customer base.  I'm already thinking of some specific applications in our customer set - practice management for example.  In any case, this is an enterprise 2.0 product you need to take a serious look at. 
 
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You'll probably find that "over 18,000 BBC employees" is a typo: it is usually stated as "over 8,000". I'm not even sure that 18,000 even have access to the system.
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Hi David,
It'll be a shame if that's the case... I'll track down the source and check with Euan for the definitive position.
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Well, after a lot of discussion, I now understand what's been going on. I interviewed Euan a couple of years ago and he mentioned that the service had 8000 participants. At the time his rule of thumb was that the BBC had 25,000 employees, of whom about 1/3 were 'on the road'.

You can do the sums... It meant that something like 50% of the available people were using the system.

According to Euan, the new 18,500 figure is pretty much correct. It is the number of people who've accessed the system. This includes a goodly number of those 'on the road' people mentioned earlier.

It also reflects the growth in activity over the past couple of years, which one would expect. It was also boosted enormously by events such as when Greg Dyke left.

Around 20% of the above figure have actively contributed but, of course, there are always many lurkers who derive value from the system.

So, the bottom line? I'm delighted with the above information, I'm thrilled that you got it right and I'm sorry I cast doubt.
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Hi David,
No problem. It's the nature of your journalistic approach to seek corroboration, and it's great we had the dialogue with Euan to sort this out definitively. Thanks.

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