Project Management Institute

Community collaboration

BY DAVID ESSEX

MORE TEAMS ARE HEADING TO THE WEB—USING BLOGS TO HASH OUT PROJECT IDEAS AND POST UPDATES.

For project teams looking for a quick-and-dirty collaboration tool, blogs just might do the trick.

Although only “owners” can publish content on a blog, guests and members can leave comments related to specific posts. When new material is posted, most blogs will alert members and offer simple security mechanisms—usually a username and password—that let the owner control who can contribute to or view certain content. Owners can also upload and link to files within posts to make project spreadsheets, text documents, PowerPoint presentations and videos readily accessible to team members.

Wikis—software tools that allow users to create, edit and link web pages—are another popular choice. But while wikis are conducive for collaboration on the wording of documents, their democratic nature can sometimes lead to drawn-out disagreements among participants. Blogs, in comparison, are typically better for posting drafts of final documents for review, or soliciting ideas for a new project or solution. And although blogs aren't nearly as egalitarian as wikis, some do allow group contributions.

To see how useful blogs can be in project collaboration, I tried out three of the most popular tools out there.

BLOGGER

This slick, simple service from the creators of Google is best known as a free social-networking tool for consumers. Yet it also works well as a project blog if your team only needs to post and comment on text documents.

Blogger does cater to teams in some areas, making it easy to add people as blog administrators so they can edit all posts, add and remove members, and modify the blog's properties. It also allows owners to insert links to Google's free online word processor and spreadsheet for further collaboration.

Owners can also color-code each member's posts or add unique borders and fonts to allow for quick user identification on screen. The drawback, which Blogger shares with its two competitors, is that this reformatting requires knowledge of HTML code—the proprietary tags behind the page. That means accessing these features requires web programming skills.

I found it easy to invite new members as well as send the actual content of new posts to members' e-mails, with the option of abbreviating the full text. Blogger also had the best support system, which can be critical when you're learning how to customize a blog.

TYPEPAD PRO

SixApart's hosted offering tries to set itself apart from the pack with some business-class controls unavailable in Blogger and less accessible in WordPress. That includes help tickets the company claims will get a personal response within a few hours.

Like its two competitors, TypePad supposedly can import and export blogs to and from other popular platforms, but I couldn't get this feature to work in any of the products.

TypePad and its rivals all do successfully interface with mobile devices, however. BlackBerrys, personal digital assistants, iPhones and smart phones that can send e-mail allow users to read and post material when they're on the go.

One of TypePad's especially helpful features allows users to create and post content to the blog directly from everyday software such as Microsoft Word 2007. The company says it expects third-party developers to offer project-management templates in the future.

Users can also augment TypePad with “widgets,” small programs from other websites that you can add to your blog with a few clicks. These extend the blog's functions with pod-casts, guestbooks and more. WordPress has drag-and-drop widgets, and Blogger calls them add-ons, but requires you to paste in HTML code to install them.

WORDPRESS

With large-print instructions and easy-to-read blog pages, this deceptively simple tool by Automattic Inc. has you up and blogging in seconds. Yet WordPress features are highly customizable, making its most project-oriented features dependent on HTML coding skills. I agree with Automattic's assessment that WordPress' mix of simplicity and complexity allows people with any skill set to start publishing quickly—but its tools for editing posts are still trickier than I would like.

WordPress bests its competition by letting any contributor categorize and tag posts as they write them. This makes the resulting pages easier to navigate and more likely to be found by search engines. WordPress also seems more adept at setting up group and multiple blogs. Its online help is more extensive than the others', but again, it has a more technical bent.

The company also offers an open-source version project managers can customize from top to bottom and use to develop new applications.

THE VERDICT

My overall pick is TypePad, because it best combines an elegant ease of use with the strongest assortment of features. It's more difficult to navigate than Blogger, but much more powerful and still less technically complex than WordPress. Still, all three provide quick, low-risk routes to web collaboration. PM

David E. Essex is an Antrim, New Hampshire, USA-based journalist specializing in IT.

Blogs are typically better than wikis for posting drafts of documents for final review, or soliciting ideas for a new project solution.

QUICK FACTS

BLOGGER

Requires: Standard web browser
Price: Free

At-a-Glance Review (5*s is best)
Ease of Use: *****
Feature Richness: **
Project Management Support: *
Value: ***

www.blogger.com

TYPEPAD PRO

Requires: Standard web browser
Price: $14.95 per month (unlimited blogs); $149.50 per year

At-a-Glance Review (5*s is best)
Ease of Use: ****
Feature Richness: ****
Project Management Support: **
Value: ***

www.typepad.com

WORDPRESS

Requires: Standard web browser
Price: Free

At-a-Glance Review (5*s is best)
Ease of Use: ***
Feature Richness: ****
Project Management
Support: ***
Value:****

www.wordpress.org

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI.

PM NETWORK JANUARY 2008 WWW.PMI.ORG
JANUARY 2008 PM NETWORK

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