How blogs are changing the Intranet and the way we find information

Russ Kratowicz writes that it's just as easy to find a blog with content you endorse as it is to find one that sometimes causes you severe psychological discomfort - even damage.

By Russ Kratowicz, P.E., CMRP, executive editor

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Do you remember the first time you connected a modem to your 8088 processor and tied into some bulletin board system? Later, you might have gained access to Usenet, a topic covered in this column in November 1997. Well, the latest and greatest in mass communication is the blog. It’s a system by which people with an opinion or news, plus time on their hands, can put their thoughts out there to elicit a reaction from opinionated people, who are invited to critique and respond. Then, those responses appear below the original posting, thus starting a thread of communication that unfolds right there on your monitor. Based on empirical evidence, highly opinionated people seem to favor blogs that focus on politics and on all things high-tech.

If nothing else, the world of blogs clearly shows that whatever your particular combination of views and beliefs might be, they aren’t universally accepted. It’s just as easy to find a blog with content you endorse as it is to find one that sometimes causes you severe psychological discomfort - even damage.

As you read on, remember that the blogs cited here represent the bloggers’opinions and not necessarily those of the staff at Plant Services magazine. With that disclaimer out of the way, join me as I wade into that digital morass we call the Web in search of practical, zero-cost, noncommercial, registration-free resources that might get you thinking in a new way. Remember, we search the Web so you don't have to.

Blogging 101

The best researchers perform a literature search to get a general lay of the land and perhaps learn something from those who’ve already attempted to cover the same territory before going ahead with their own projects. A good introduction to the bloggy world is appropriate here. Our literature search turned up a generally reliable Web site, http://computer.howstuffworks.com/blog.htm, which contains Marshall Brain’s “How Blogs Work,” a concise tutorial that can serve as a user’s guide for most any blog you might wish to visit. It shows what you’re expected to do if you find yourself involved in this facet of the online world. It explains the fundamental differences between a blog and a traditional Web site. If you catch blog fever, you’ll not be content merely reading something posted by strangers. Brain’s piece also shows you how easy it is to establish a brand-new blog and publish your own words of wisdom for the assembled masses out there. If you go this route, let me know. We’ve got a few readers who might want to hear about your efforts.

Developing best practices

This citation is an example of a blog that might be of use in the industrial arena, perhaps in your plant. The content in this blog collection seems to be dedicated to the proposition that forklift accidents occur primarily because of human error. The author, who goes by the pseudonym of “health care trainer,” has been uploading several postings each month on an irregular basis since December 2005. Each posting is relatively short and could be used as the basis of an in-house training program for your material-handling crew. If you’re interested in such things, roll your mouse to http://forklift-safety-training.blogspot.com and aim for “Archives,” which you’ll find just below the “Previous posts” section. Clicking on one of the dates takes you to the several posts made during that month. I didn’t see any feedback or comments from readers, so I conclude that the postings are entirely correct as they stand, nobody reads them or they can’t be located online very easily. I suspect it’s the latter because there doesn’t seem to be a way to access this blogger’s output from the home page, www.blogspot.com. It appears here because a quirky Web search I ran uncovered its existence.

Another example of a blog that has a connection to the world of maintenance is found at http://wordpress.com/tag/industrial-maintenance. Of the more than a dozen posts found there, focus on the noncommercial bits by someone named Bill (the others are a bit too commercial for the purposes of this column). Bill talks about NEMA ratings, control panels and motors in a terse, jargon-free manner. In addition to letting you post a response to each of his information bites, there’s a link you can use to get more information. Those links all track back to Jim Gaylord, president of Rantro Industrial Controls Ltd., in Mallorytown, Ontario.

Blogs are anywhere

Another facet of the maintenance arena that should be of interest to the plant professional is automation. And who should know more about instrumentation and controls than ISA - The Instrumentation, Systems and Automation Society. In the interest of full disclosure, Walt Boyes, one of the editors here at magazine central, writes a blog for that organization. So, I thought we ought to see what he has to say. You can get to his material by programming that mouse to zero in on www.isa.org, when it should then scroll down on the left and click “Publishing” found under “Products & Services.” Then, click on “Automation Blog Central” just below that when the new page opens. In addition to Walt’s musings, you might want to read the “Social Commentary” blogs that lie behind the link to “JimPinto.com Weblogs.” He put his opinion out there and people responded by posting their comments. It’s an outcome that isn’t necessarily enjoyed by the many who invest a lot of time in composing and posting blogs. But, a blogger who can trigger an emotional connection with a reader is more likely to hear back from the millions of Web surfers out there. While you’re at ISA Blog Central, take a look at Campbell’s “On the Edge” and Welander’s “Pillar to Post.” Both are worth exploring because they have something to say that can resonate outside the automation world.

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