UK Web Focus

Innovation and best practices for the Web

Guidelines for Professional Blogs Hosted In the Cloud

Posted by Brian Kelly (UK Web Focus) on 6 October 2010

Characteristics of My ‘Must Read’ Blogs

I recently highlighted five of my ‘must read’ blogs – and pointed out a characteristic they shared was that they were all hosted in The Cloud (on WordPress.com, Typepad.com and Blogspot.com). These blogs are all well-established and have continued to be active since they were launched, between two and five years ago.

The context of that post was a paper on “Approaches To Archiving Professional Blogs Hosted In The Cloud” which myself and Marieke Guy had written and Marieke presented at the iPres 2010 conference last week. In the paper we described the policy statement provided on both of our blogs which clarifies the scope of the blogs together with a statement of what would happen to the content if either of us were to leave our host institution. In my case the policy states that:

  • A copy of the contents of the blog will be made available to UKOLN (my host organisation) if I leave UKOLN. Note that this may not include the full content if there are complications concerning their party content (e.g. guest blog posts, embedded objects, etc.), technical difficulties in exporting data, etc.)
  • Since the blog reflects personal views I reserve the rights to continue providing the blog if I leave UKOLN. If this happens I will remove any UKOLN branding from the blog.

The other characteristics shared by the blogs are that they are written by academics, researchers or developers working in higher education. The higher education sector has traditionally provided flexibility for academics and researchers in the ways in which they go about their professional activities and this culture has been seen in the way in which a variety of Social Web technologies have been used.

Challenges Faced By Those Working In Service Departments

Those working in support departments (such as IT service departments, Libraries and University Administration) do not always have such flexibility and there may be internal pressures to make use of institutionally-provided services. Now it might be argued that the early adopters have, in many cases, been proved right and the institution should be looking to install services, such as blogs, in-house – and perhaps those who have been providing blogs in The Cloud should migrate thee blogs to the security of the institutional environment. After all WordPress.com, for example, have recently announced an offsite redirect service, which enables an WordPress.com blog author “to redirect yourblogname.wordpress.com (as well as all of your permalinks) to [a] new domain name” – which could be hosted within the institution.

I think should a move could be a mistake: the blogs I have mention are well-established, have developed an appropriate writing style and have well-established communities of readers and commenters.

I would also go further and suggest that such early adopters have not only demonstrated the benefits of, in this example, blogging (and I could also mention professional use of Twitter which is another shared characteristic of the above mentioned bloggers) but are also using a solution which minimises the support needed within the institution. The use of Cloud Services for hosting professional blogs can therefore be regarded as a desirable strategy for coping with cuts across the sector.

But what about the concerns of managers, especially those working in support departments for whom such loss of control would be a concern? And what of those working in other public sector organisations, such as those working in public libraries?

I feel the major concerns are now related to the content – is it appropriate and will the content be sustainable? Concerns regarding the sustainability of the companies hosting WordPress, Typepad and Blogspot are no longer regarded as critical concerns since it is the institutions themselves (Universities and public libraries) whose continued existence is now being threatened.

Examples of Guidelines

There are some examples of guidelines which aim to reassure those who may have concerns in letting members of staff publish without any formal editorial controls which others may find useful. Aline Hayes, Assistant Director of SLS/ Director of Information & Systems Technology at Sheffield Hallam University provides an example of a blogging policy for her blog (which is hosted in-house) based on this blog’s policy which addresses these points. This policy also addresses use of Twitter, making it clear that “The content of any Twitter feed relates to a mix of work and personal matters” and “I reserve the right to treat the Twitter id Aline_Hayes as mine and not the property of Sheffield Hallam University. In the event that I change role, or leave the University, I will change those specific aspects of my Twitter account that refer to either my role or the University (specifically, the Bio section) but will not remove historical posts from Twitter. I may choose to continue to use that specific Twitter account including for any future work purposes.“.

The JISC Involve blogging guidelines also provide useful advice on writing style.

  • You’re personally responsible When writing a work blog on the JISC Involve platform, readers will assume you are expressing the views of JISC. If you are writing a personal blog on a different platform (i.e. Blogger) and you are writing about work-related matters, it would be prudent to clearly state the following disclaimer in your blog post:

These are my personal views and not necessarily the views of JISC

  • Style Editorially, blog writing is more chatty and informal. Your blog post sets up a conversation, offering opinions and leaving loose threads open for comments and further discussion.

A Policy Framework

But I feel there is a need for a policy framework, which can be applied in a diverse range of situations. And I know I’m not alone in this – as I learnt from a post on Travel Bloggers Pledge – Towards a New Ethics in Travel Writing Amy Thibodeau is looking to start a movement  for travel bloggers. She pledges to:

  1. To disclose the source of any freebies or payments I receive in return for reviews.
  2. To express my honest opinion about all products, services and experiences on my website.
  3. To clearly label any advertorial content on my website so that it’s clear to my readers what is and is not advertising.
  4. To always aim to be transparent with my readers.
  5. To build my brand and online business without doing evil, underhanded things.

Would it be possible to develop a policy framework for those working in the public sector which would ensure that bloggers take a similar ethical approach to the content they publish whilst also addressing the concerns of their managers.

What might such a blogging framework cover? My suggestion for those providing professional blogs which are used to support work activities would be to ensure that the following areas are addressed:

  • Scope: The topics to be covered in the blog.
  • Style: The writing style – if the blog will be chatty, conversations and perhaps even controversial it would be advisable to be up-front about this.
  • Contributors: Is the blog provided by an individual or a team.
  • Sustainability: A statement on what will happen if the blog ceases to be used.
  • Ownership: Clarification of the ownership of the contents of the blog

These suggestions reflect the policies described in the two examples provided above and the policy for this blog.

Now although well-established bloggers may feel uncomfortable with the notion of a blogging policy I would hope that such an approach will be welcomed by those who would like to make use of blogs but who feel that the departmental culture is not conducive to such approaches.

Another question would be “who could develop a blogging policy framework which would be seen to be authoritative?” I recently came across the CILIP members blog landscape and wondered whether CILIP would be in a position to develop guidelines for use by their members? Could use of the ‘CILIP blogger’ logo provide an indication that the blogger has published a policy which respects the needs of both the blogger and the blogger’s institution?


Twitter conversation from Topsy: [View]

3 Responses to “Guidelines for Professional Blogs Hosted In the Cloud”

  1. The full disclosure thing is interesting. I recently wrote a full disclosure page but am not entirely happy with it. It felt really difficult to both put down as much as seemed relevant without either feeling like some things were being overly emphasised or that others were being hidden in amongst a whole pile of other things.

  2. Some really good points there Brian – and something that I think we’re likely to have to address for our workblog over on WordPress in the next year. Our library is looking to revise its website over to the new institutional standard which includes a (IMHO) not especially brilliant blogging platform. I wouldn’t be surprised if we find ourselves with a “instruction” to migrate our blog over to that to bring in “in house and under control”. When we set the blog up three years ago (on the QT given senior management not being that cock-a-hoop over wild and free Web 2 engagements at the time) we actually discussed what our exit strategy would be at the time, but I’m not sure quite how robust this’ll be when the question is finally asked…

  3. Just to note that there is a bit of blurring of boundaries going on between institution and cloud, for instance “Full Google Accounts” gives you Blogger as part of your Google Apps domain. More at:

    http://www.google.com/support/accounts/bin/static.py?page=guide.cs&guide=29934&topic=29936

    Sadly this doesn’t presently support Single Sign-On via SAML, which I suspect rules it out for most EDU folk right now.

    Cheers,

    Martin

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