13:51 11/06/2004 Mathemagenic: Mathemagenic
on personal productivity in knowledge-intensive environments, weblog research, knowledge management, PhD, serendipity and lack of work-life balance...


  Thursday, November 30, 2006

  Enabling management oversight in corporate blog space

Song, D., Bruza, P. D., McArthur, R. M., & Mansfield, T. (2006). Enabling management oversight in corporate blog space. AAAI Spring 2006 Symposia on Computational Approaches to Analysing Weblogs.

Abstract. When a modern corporation empower its staff to use blogs to communicate with colleagues, partners, suppliers and customers, the role of management in exercising oversight and guidance over g public speech of staff becomes dramatically challenged. This paper describes a computational solution to the interpretation of human-readable blog publishing polity documents into semi-automatic disconformance checking of corporate blog entries. The disconformance interpretation is regarded as an abductive reasoning, which is operationalized by information flow computations. Using a socio-cognitively motivated representation of shared knowledge, and applying an appropriate information flow inference mechanism from a normative perspective, a mechanism to automatically detect potentially non-confirming blog entries is detailed. Candidate non-confirming non-conforming blog entries are flagged for a human to make a judgment on whether they should be published. Experiments on data from a public corporate blog demonstrate an encouraging performance of the proposed methodology.

This is one of those in my big "to blog" list (more papers from AAAI 2006 Symposia on Computational Approaches to Analyzing Weblogs). I find this paper interesting for two reasons. First, the methods it uses could be interesting for our own work on topic detection in weblogs (see Anjo's blog, e.g. here). This one I'll leave to the specialists (in our team I'm more of a rough quality check: I look at the results of a new method and say if it makes sense given my subjective knowledge behind the dataset :)

The second is more for my own work: it's an assumption behind the research that what employees of a company say in their weblogs should be controlled by the company (hence developing methods to do so). Although I agree with the authors that weblog posts that do not comply with corporate communication policies can pose significant risks, I'm not sure I would ever want to work for a company that would try to censor my weblog. It's not the act of censoring that I'm against, but the idea that employees could not be trusted enough to judge.

This corresponds well with the recent post on Enterprise 2.0 Insecurities by Andrew McAfee (discussing the problem from another angle):

people already know how to behave appropriately, and they're not going to be driven suddenly wild by the appearance of the new platforms

That said, I have to admit that the issue is not an easy one. In one of my drafts I talk about it in a section on business challenges that blogging brings:

Lack of control of company’s message to the external world. Each blogger turns into "self-appointed spokesperson", communicating with the rest of the world based on own interpretations of corporate policies, interests and risks. This could turn into accidental leaks of confidential information, disrupt "official" public relations or marketing campaigns or create unexpected incidents when business-related information misinterpreted or amplified by media.

So, what might go wrong?

  • Corporate policies (and other information necessary for a good judgment) are not necessarily explicit, easy to interpret or communicated well to employees. Sometimes it just doesn't make sense to think of any possible situation and describe it in policies at right level of detail.
  • Corporate policies and/or bloggers themselves do not take into account specific characteristics of blogging that make it different from other forms of communication (e.g. speed, visibility, persistence) that could make a weblog post on a topic potentially more "risky".
  • Sometimes "bad effects" of a weblog post couldn't be predicted in advance.
  • Bloggers do make mistakes.

What could be done?

  • Making sure that those rules that exist are clear and communicated to bloggers.
  • Reflect on potential risks (especially those specific to weblogs) and raise awareness about them. Make sure that stories of bloggers about undesired effects of their own blog posts are heard by others. Do not police, but help people to learn making better judgment.
  • If you really want to employ preventive text analysis try to turn it into an educating experience. E.g. instead of sending "suspicious post" to a manager for an approval, return it to the blogger with something like "there is a chance that you might be violating company policy regarding information about our stocks - are you sure you want to post it?". People do use spell-checkers to avoid stupid mistakes, so if positioned properly this might work.
  • Think of potential benefits and relax. As said in Russia, those who do not take risks do not get a chance to drink champagne :)

  Challenges on writing literature overview on business blogging (or another turn on researcher vs. blogger)

As you could imagine, given my research I can't avoid doing it. A couple of years ago life was easy: you could always say "hardly anything has been published" and get away with it. Now things are more complicated, there is a lot of stuff all over the place

So, some of the challenges I'm struggling with:

Separating stories about what and how actually works from how things might or should be done. At this moment coming up with all kinds of normative or speculative ideas about business uses of weblogs is not a problem. The problem is that there are only a few studies of what actually happens in practice.

Figuring out how far you can (scientifically) trust a certain story based on explicit indications on what data has been collected and why.

Deciding how far I should go "out of the scientific" in selecting what to cite. Academic publications on business blogs are scarce, while there are quite a lot of white papers, case-studies from commercial companies, business publications or general media stories on the topic. And, of course, there are lots of ideas worth citing across the blogosphere.

The last one is a difficult decision. For an academic getting into research on business blogging it wouldn't be an issue: just run search through databases of scientific publications, work with the results and pretend that the rest doesn't exist. For me, learning about interesting issues in the field from weblogs years before something along the same lines gets "properly" published, it is a challenge. I can not pretend that the body of knowledge in weblogs doesn't exist, but, bounded by academic conventions, I can't figure a good way to fit it into my publications.

Even more, even if I try to give an overview of what is there on the topic across weblogs, I can't do it according to academic standards that aim for completeness and objectivity. I know that I shouldn't even try to provide a complete and objective picture when giving an overview on post on whatever issue across weblogs.

Why it's so incredibly easier and more rewarding to write a blog post than a piece of scientific text? Why can't I have best of both worlds: grounded claims of academic publications and the style of a blog post?

  Tuesday, November 28, 2006

  Blogging practices, episodes and uses

One of the things I try to grasp in my conceptual struggles in weblog research is about relationships between blogging activities at different levels and co-dependencies between them.

A good starting point is comes from framework of blogging practices by Jan Schmidt (earlier comments on it). He distinguishes between: (1) blogging episodes that serve specific goals and (2) rules, relations and code that frame blogging episodes from one side and get redefined by them from another. Following this logic (in a heavily simplified way) one can talk about blogging practices as a whole and/or specific blogging episodes, taking into account the relations between those two.

Another distinction that could be made is between goals (why?), activities (what/how?) and effects (what happens as a result?) of blogging. Those are not always explicit (lots of writing happens without setting specific targets) and logical (goals, activities and effects are not necessarily correspond to each other).

Also it could make sense to talk about goals, activities and effects at both levels: those of a specific blogging episode and those "aggregated" over time into a personal blogging practice.

This is exactly where I have a problem, since once you interview people about their blogging experiences they do not make clear-cut distinction between all those things. They could tell you about their personal reasons to start blogging, give examples of specific blogging episodes, or talk about blogging effects discovered over time that eventually become part of explaining why and how a weblog is used in a particular way.

I thought of using Jan't framework, but it seems to exclude the level of personal blogging practices (from what I get his blogging practices are social constructs). So far I tend to us general category weblog uses, but this doesn't make my life easier, since this one needs definition as well (I some hopes for more clarity to come from Uses of blogs, but although it's a great collection I couldn't find any explicit definitions so far).

  Sunday, November 26, 2006

  Challenged hierarchies

A few days ago Riccardo asked:

We all know of cases where an employee has been fired because of her blog... but does anybody know of managers being fired or the hierarchy of an enterprise affected by a negative "peer review" through the comments of an internal blog?

I'm not that sure about the internal blogs, but I have some examples (here) of how external blogs influence the hierarchy inside. For example, one of the stories I've heard during my Microsoft study was from a blogger who was in a conflicting situation with his more experienced colleagues about features of a product, but managed to convince them by showing a discussion on the issue with external readers of his weblog.

Last few days I was thinking a lot about it - thinking about parallels with my own work. Given how our company works (with multiple hierarches in projects that could make you a manager and a lowest-ranking team member of the same person at the same time) it's not a big issue.

However, in doing PhD research it is - the hierarchy is not only well defined, but also embedded into the practices of academic work. For example, many PhDs I know get their own professional network via introductions by their professors. When you are beginner in the field, it's very natural to get to know it (people, themes, events, politics, etc.) via someone more experienced and well established, and your supervisor is a very natural figure for that role.

Blogging changes that - it gives you an alternative way to connect to the professional world. In my case it has all kinds of effects, but right now I'm trying to figure out how to deal with one in particular - deciding what to do when my supervisors and external people in my blogging world have pretty different perspectives on part of my work...

  Friday, November 24, 2006

  Theories/Practices of Blogging in Reconstruction (Vol. 6, No. 4, 2006)

A special issue of Theories/Practices of Blogging edited by Michael Benton and Lauren Elkin is out. Looking forward to reading!

I loved the Blogroll section of the issue with the annotated collection of links to "Why I blog" posts by various bloggers - not only the idea of it (blurring the boundaries of blogging culture as the object of investigation and part of the reality being lived), but also the complexity of what comes from reading the selection. If someone would ask me an advice right now about a study of blogger motivations with something like a survey, I'd point to the collection with a challenge to come up with a set of questions that would describe the variety of it [fighting my own PhD demons here :)]...

I also have mixed feelings about my own contribution to it. From one side, I'm happy that my essay and one of the posts became the part of it. From another, it feels like I could do more - getting together all drafts and bits I wrote on my own blogging research experiences into a proper essay. Over last two years I was starting to work on it on three different occasions (including two attempts for Reconstruction), but somehow wasn't able to get it into something finished for an external reader. May be its time hasn't come yet and I need more time to shape what I want to say there...

And I'm really grateful to one of the editors of the issue, Michael Benton. Not only he introduced me to autoethnography (pretty much as I describe in Two papers), he kept encouraging me through the process of working on things I has been too scared to touch...

More on: blog research papers PhD 

  Thursday, November 23, 2006

  Paper on the Microsoft study is online

Just to let you know that paper on the Microsoft study is online:

Efimova, L. & Grudin, J. (2007). Crossing boundaries: A case study of employee blogging. Proceedings of the Fortieth Hawaii International Conference on System Sciences (HICSS-40). Los Alamitos: IEEE Press.

Between other things it provides some context for personal vs. business dimensions of employee blogging. But don't expect everything to be clear in that respect - I'm currently reworking presentation and analysis to make things more explicit.

On a side note: I wonder how many ways of telling and retelling the story I'll go through before ending up with something for the dissertation. It feels like a big messy forest and with each talk or paper version I'm exploring new ways to lead others through it. Somehow finding 'the main path' consists of making all kinds of little tours for all kinds of audiences...

More on: papers PhD writing 

  Wednesday, November 22, 2006

  Non-linear writing

One day I should look more into learning/thinking styles to understand myself better. As for now I'm just struggling with parallel processing.

Some people are linear writers - they start with introduction and write all the way to the conclusion. I'm not like that: I start somewhere, jump all over the place adding things here and there till the whole thing emerges. My early drafts are never readable since no one else can see the logic in those bits and pieces.

Long time ago I wrote about PhD as jigsaw puzzle. It's still there, not only methodology-wise, but also writing-wise: not only I jump back and forth between parts of the same paper, my brain also jumps wanting to write pieces of dissertation chapters before I have an agreed structure of what should be there.

Blogging helps with getting small pieces out of the way to focus on things I have to focus on, but not sure it will scale for the dissertation... On the other side I probably shouldn't worry - who knows if my brain will get rewired with all the changes to come :)

Back to writing.

More on: PhD writing 

  Open issues for research/thinking on communities

Had a pleasure to talk with Nancy on her work on technologies for communities. Some things are still hanging out in my head, so I guess I just write them here to move on.

Open issues for research/thinking on communities (communities of practice; KM perspective).

Definitions. Ton cites Marc Smith:

... let's shelve the word 'community' and use and study the term collective action instead. There are over 150 definitions of community by social scientists. If we (the social scientists) are not able to decide what it is, maybe everybody else should not be using the word either...

I agree with both that there are no good definitions and I like 'collective action' as a term, but I think it doesn't work if you want to talk about specifics. It could include anything between a loosely coupled network, a community with shared language and practice or a project group with tight deliverables and deadlines. The boundaries between those are fluid, but they (at least in the extremes) are different in many respects (e.g. relational density, levels of trust, shared understanding, goal-orientedness, etc.)

Bottom-up evolution vs. top-down control in supporting communities. See the discussion at Dave Snowden's blog.

Personal vs. social in community tools. Most of the community tools are group-focused (although Nancy is right, it's getting more and more blurred). However, many of us are members of multiple communities and have to deal with different group tool configurations for all of them. Technology-wise I'd love to see more work on something like personal learnining environments (slides with more) for networking and collaboration: a toolset that would allow me to participate in different social spaces without learning yet another interface.

Aggregation of digital traces and social effects of those. Digital traces we leave eventually get aggregated and fed back to the social spaces we participate in or to some members of those (think of a community moderator who has access to stats on your activity in a community). They change knowledge we have about each other and eventually change the dynamics of our relationships and interactions (think of gaming the ratings or effects of metrics to measure community things in a corporate context). This is going to be bigger and scarier (at least for those people like me :), so we need to know more about it.

  Monday, November 20, 2006

  Personal vs. business dimensions of employee blogging: other bloggers

Blogging research thoughts is addictive: instead of waiting forewer to get things published you can get feedback almost instantly. It was a bit scary to post on personal vs. business dimensions of employee blogging last week, but the comments I'm getting are really helpful to move further with it.

Refining the dimensions will take a bit more time, but now a couple of things:

  • Jack Vinson suggested to add a radar chart for the dimensions to support visual thinkers, so there is an updated version of the Excel template for you to play with.
  • I tried to compare the profiles of bloggers who did it for their weblogs in a radar chart (below). Colored lines represent specific bloggers; thick black line is an average. It's interesting to see a lot of variation along most of the dimensions, except initiative to start (starting on personal initiative) and blog uses (mainly work-related) - I'd suspect this would be pretty typical in "my corner of the blogosphere" :)

And, a collection of links to the profiles of other bloggers (will be adding here as soon as I find more): Scott WilsonWytze Koopal, Joel Yuvienco, Jack Vinson, Marting Dugage, Nancy White, Barbara Dieu, Beth Kanter, Breyten Ernsting, Wilfred Rubens, Tore Hoel, Monica Andre, Emma Duke-Williams, Hans Mestrum

There is an updated picture as well (it's changing as I get input from more people):

More on: blogs in business PhD 

  Friday, November 17, 2006

  Personal vs. business dimensions of employee blogging: my weblog

And an illustration for my previous post on Personal vs. business dimensions of employee blogging: how I would position my weblog in respect to those scales (see also notes at Flickr for some specifics).

Personal vs. business dimensions of employee blogging: my weblog

In case you want to try it for your own weblog: use empty image or .xls file. Don't forget to link back or let me know in some other way :)

More on: blogs in research PhD 

  Personal vs. business dimensions of employee blogging

One of the things I'm trying to do is to figure out how to talk about work-related blogging given that this is something in between personal and business interests. A weblog by someone who works for a company (=talking about employee blogging here) could be anything between my personal diary that doesn't have to do anything with my work and it's not really me blogging, but my work.

To position a weblog I'm thinking of using a scale between personal and business (re: personal vs. organisational perspectives ). However, a scale by itself is not enough: in case of blogging about work decision-making is multidimensional.

Below is an attempt to identify the dimensions of choices on personal vs. business scale (a lot of it comes from the Microsoft data, but I tried to generalise based on my own experiences and other sources). Personal and business columns describe the extremes, the middle one includes examples of how different interests could mix.






Initiative - who initiated a weblog

Decided myself

Decided myself, but checked if it's ok at work

Decided myself given positive signals (that blogging is allowed and encouraged) at work

Was prescribed at work

Location on corporate servers

Personal server

Public hosting platforms

Company-affiliated servers (e.g. funded, but not part of an official web-site)

Corporate servers (part of corporate official presence online)

Technology control

Control myself

Company doesn't influence it


Full control by the company (don't know if those blogs exist: I expect that at least some degree of personal customisation should be possible)

Affiliation with company


Explicitly hiding

Implicit - not immediately visible, but not hidden

Disclaimer - I work for company X, but this is my personal opinion

Yes, explicit

Attribution to a company (this is reputation related, but I don't know how to formulate it well)

Things happening as a result of blogging influence mainly myself

Mixed: if something happens other think it's a mixed responsibility of myself and my company

Things happening as a result of blogging influence mainly my company

Access, audience


Selected by the author


Other employees only

Content focus

Mainly non-work matters

Mix of work and non-work

Mainly work-related

Content style

Personal, subjective, confessional

A degree of filtering/editing to fit norms of professional writing

Business, objective

Micro-level content decision making (e.g. what goes into a specific post)


Myself, but listen to others at work

Myself, but have to get permissions from others at work

Defined by work needs

Defined by others at work

Process decision-making (have to be worked out)

I decide when and how to blog


When and how to blog is dictated by business logic and exiting workflows in my company

Blog uses (functions? purposes?)

Not related to work


Only business-related (good for my company) or work-related (good for performing well at work)

Blogging as part of job description


Not explicitly, but brought in as an "extra" during evaluation

Blogging not as a purpose, but one of the (officially) possible instruments to get work done
I can blog if I want, but I don't have to

Yes, my job responsibilities explicitly include blogging

Work time spend blogging



Yes, only blogging at work time

Content ownership

My copyright

I can decide to give it away (e.g. under CC licence)


Both parties accept some rights of another side

Nobody knows for sure - it's too complicated to discuss

Explicitly copyrighted by company

Content access

Me and those I decide to give it (e.g. company can't access it if I leave the job)

Shared: both parties can have their own copy of it

Corporate (I can't access it when I leave the job)

From what I've seen so far most of the tensions around employee blogging are in the middle. A weblog purely on personal end is not likely to be very interesting for a company (I can't think of any business benefits or risks in that case ;). Something purely on business side I wouldn't call a weblog at all (biased by my own definition of a weblog), but in this case benefits and risks are defined by the way a company works.

Some dimensions are interrelated. E.g. if you blog as part of your job you are likely to do it at work time; if your weblog is on a corporate server you don't have full technology control and anyone can easily figure out the affiliation, but a configuration for any specific blogger is likely to be different (an example of my weblog).

Does this whole thing makes sense given your own experiences? Did I miss any important dimensions?

UPDATE In case you want to try it for your own weblog: use empty image or .xls file. Don't forget to link back or let me know in some other way :)

  Tuesday, November 14, 2006

  Changing shapes

My weblog is not that personal. Although being personal (confessional?) style-wise, I don't feel comfortable writing too much about my private life: this is something left to other spaces and other channels (friends-only Flickr photos, secret wedding blog, emails, Skype, f2f...). Still, major changes in my life find some way here, since for me personal and professional are not easily separated.

Some of the personal events are truly life-changing, so it's hard to stay the same person as you have been before once you go through them and your writing can't stay the same. Since I started blogging I has been wondering what would happen with my blogging once I get kids – will I turn into a mommy-blogger? will I start another weblog for it? will I keep that part of my life out of the web?

Changing shapesI still don't know, but I guess I will find out soon. My own shapes are changing, so I guess the shape of this space will change as well. In both cases I know that the change is coming, but I may only guess where it would lead me :)

  Wednesday, November 08, 2006

  Understanding weblog communities through digital traces: a framework, a tool and an example

Anjo Anjewierden and Lilia Efimova. Understanding weblog communities through digital traces: a framework, a tool and an example. In Proceedings International Workshop on Community Informatics (COMINF 2006), pp. 279-289, Montpellier, 2006 (November). Springer, LNCS 4277.

Abstract. Often research on online communities could be compared to archaeology (Jones, 1997): researchers look at patterns in digital traces that members leave to characterise the community they belong to. Relatively easy access to those traces and a growing number of methods and tools to collect and analyse them make such analysis increasingly attractive. However, a researcher is faced with difficult tasks of choosing which digital artefacts and which relations between them should be taken into account, and how the finding should be interpreted to say something meaningful about the community based on the traces of its members.

In this paper we present a framework that allows categorising digital traces of an online community along five dimensions (people, documents, terms, links and time) and then describe a tool that supports the analysis of community traces by combining several of them, illustrating the types of analysis possible using a dataset from a weblog community.

I should blog it a while ago :)

Anyway, the paper is good to get an idea of what we (Anjo, me, Rogier Brussee and Robert de Hoog) have been doing behind the scenes in respect to understanding and visualising patterns in weblog communities.

For more:

Hmm, given how many bits and pieces are already there I should write more on it...

  Monday, November 06, 2006

  On definitions: personal perspective at work

My PhD is a constant struggle with definitions and terms. This time it's about personal perspective at work.

For me (knowledge) work practices are shaped by at least three different contexts: personal (me as a human being), social (my networks and communities) and organisational (a company I work for).

However, when I start talking about personal there are all kinds of misunderstandings, since it could mean both individual and private and I don’t like both terms in relation to my research:

  • Individual means 'not social', while I’d like to focus on 'me' which has both sides.
  • Private (when you talk about it in a work context) is usually perceived as 'not work-related', while I’m interested in 'me' as a whole (the one who goes to work and then goes home :).

I have stressed many times that I'm interested in knowledge work from personal, actor-centric perspective (it's just a matter of focus), however this doesn't mean that I want to exclude social and organizational sides of it. Even more, I'm interested how things in the middle are shaped by the interactions between two (or all three) perspectives.

Of course, the area in the middle is full of problems as well. For example, I was asked recently to separate in my analysis of work practices organizational and personal concerns. With some things it could be done easily: there are things that are imposed on you by the organization (e.g. working hours) and those that come from your being a person with specific preferences (e.g. preferred modes of communication).

However, the most interesting things at work can't be separated so easily:

  • If you do your work faster or better – is it for yourself or for your company?
  • If you come up with a good idea – is it to make more money for the business or because it makes you feeling empowered or just fun?
  • If you manage to sustain a good relationship with a customer after your product breaks – is it in order not to lose the contract or because you actually like the challenge and can't stand making people unhappy?

I think in those cases it's a sliding scale between 'me' and 'my company', where the specific ratio between those two is defined by many factors (e.g. situational choices or longer-term work-life balance practices of an employee). I don't see an easy way to describe all instances of balance of organizational vs. personal interests in relation to that scale and, to be fair, given my focus I don't believe it adds much value. What I'm trying to do instead is to describe the extremes and types of decisions that are made in the middle zone.

But all this thinking doesn't make my PhD life much easier: I'm still trying to figure out how to talk about personal perspective without getting into 'individual' and 'private' and how to talk about all those sliding scales between three perspectives that define how work is actually getting done.

More on: definitions passion PhD 

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This weblog is my learning diary. Sometimes I write about things related to my work, but the views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

Last update: 12/3/2006; 11:09:24 AM.