HP quietly begins Web log experiment

HP has become the latest IT vendor to dip its toes in the wild world of Web logging, or blogging.

Over the last few weeks, a handful of developers in the company's software development group have quietly begun publishing their regular musings on such technical issues as service-oriented architectures and Extensible Markup Language (XML). But the company is now showing signs of following competitors like Microsoft and Sun Microsystems and opening up its blogging efforts to a wider range of company employees.

HP's blog experiment was launched November 8, as a way to better communicate with the technical community, vice-president of marketing for HP's management software organisation, David Gee, said.

"We wanted to foster communication with particular audiences," he said. "In this case, it's with the developers and the managers in the technical space."

The company rolled out the blogs in a very low-profile fashion, Gee said.

"We buried it in the developer section by design because we want to get our feet wet," he said.

Within the next few months, however, Gee expects employees working on a number of different areas to get involved in blogging.

"I think the compiler guys, the operating system [OS] guys, and the Linux guys within HP will use this medium much more aggressively," he said.

HP comes late to the corporate blogging game. Microsoft began publishing employee blogs on its Microsoft Developer Network (MSDN) website in January, and Sun followed suit a few months later with the launch of a website where any Sun employee can create a public-facing Web log. In April, IBM opened up part of its DeveloperWorks website to a small number of technical bloggers.

Blogging had become a way of reaching audiences that may be unreachable with conventional marketing techniques, president of Wohl Associates, Amy Wohl, said.

"This is all about getting to an audience who ordinarily wouldn't read anything that you put out there," she said. "They don't read marketing material."

Sometimes that audience is reached by making statements that would not normally appear on corporate websites.

IBM engineer, Bill Higgins, for example, recently dissected some widely publicised comments by Microsoft's Steve Ballmer, accusing the software giant's chief executive officer of making "specious" arguments against open source "to bolster Microsoft and spread [fear, uncertainty and doubt] about Open Source".

HP and Sun are both experimenting with blogs that target less technical audiences as well.

Sun's vice-president of global communications and marketing, Andy Lark, regularly posts his observations on media issues. And the blog of Sun President and chief operating officer, Jonathan Schwartz, the most prominent of Sun's blog sites, has become a must-read for members of the press and analyst community looking for Schwartz's views on industry events.

Competitors have also taken notice.

Schwartz's September 16 comments on the "death" of HP's Unix operating system, HP-UX, elicited a September 28 letter from HP's legal department calling on Sun to retract Schwartz's comments.

Sun's lawyers responded with a letter of their own, arguing that the contents of Scwhartz's blog were merely his opinion. HP is also toying with the idea of executive blogs.

Last week, HP Linux vice-president, Martin Fink, launched a blog of his own, not on the HP.com website, but on the Linuxcio.com domain instead. The first post on Fink's blog was a critique of Sun's Solaris operating system strategy, something much more controversial than the highly technical musings on the HP.com blogs.

Still, HP's Gee said the company might move Fink's blog over to the HP.com website.

HP executives Nora Denzel, senior vice-president of the company's software unit, and Gilles Bouchard, the company's chief information officer and executive vice-president of global operations, might also begin blogs, he said.

While corporate blogs may eventually expand beyond their technical audience and become useful ways of addressing partners and customers, analyst Wohl did not recommend that other companies follow Schwartz's example and send their senior executives into the fray. This was a bad idea because the frankness needed for effective blogging mightultimately be in conflict with the legal restrictions on statements from executives at publicly-traded companies, she said.

"I sometimes think that [Schwartz] goes a little bit too far," she said. "When you're talking about your feelings about the computer industry, which your company happens to do business in, then I think it's very difficult for you to claim, 'that was only my personal point of view'."

HP's blogs can be found at http://devresource.hp.com/blogs/index.jsp.

IBM's DeveloperWorks blogs are located at: http://www-106.ibm.com/developerworks/blogs/

Microsoft's blogs can be found at: http://www.microsoft.com/communities/blogs/PortalHome.mspx

Sun's blogs can be found at: http://blogs.sun.com/roller/

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