Too Many Blogs Spoil the Party

All the hype around blogs in the enterprise obscures some nagging questions about the reliability of blogging services. Some of the biggest blog providers have had trouble dealing with scale, raising red flags about downtime and responsiveness for corporate IT managers who are considering high-volume blog projects.

Performance issues are common at Google Inc.’s free blogging service, Blogger. Perhaps more telling, a higher-end pay service called TypePad, from San Francisco-based vendor Six Apart Ltd., suffered persistent slowdowns in the second half of last year. Says Barak Berkowitz, the company’s chief executive: “The issues are estimating growth, and the ratios of growth. One thing that caught us off guard as we planned capacity is that we thought the ratio of readers to writers would be constant. But readers grow at a significantly greater pace than writers.”

Part of the problem is that Six Apart’s service depends on older Web technologies. In part to remedy that, the company bought the popular (900 million page views per month) LiveJournal diary system in early 2005. For most companies, internal use of blogs won’t generate those levels of traffic, but as more companies look for ways to connect with users outside the firewall, the number of possible users goes up into the red zone. MSNBC, for example, outsourced to Six Apart the blogs it set up for viewers to cover Hurricane Katrina, which experienced extremely high traffic.

“As blogging becomes a critical communications tool that stands side by side with e-mail and phones and cell phones for internal and external use, how you protect yourself from success becomes an issue,” says Berko-witz, noting that the problems multiply as the blogs go beyond text to include such media as video and podcasts. He hopes to have a stable, centrally managed blogging system available to CIOs by early spring of this year.

The problems with blogging at scale go far beyond Six Apart. “The new thing about the nebulous ‘Web 2.0’ concept is user-created content, adding a more social aspect to software and making Web apps more responsive and desktop-like,” says Dave Johnson, a Sun Microsystems Inc. developer who created the application used to power more than 1,000 internal blogs at the Santa Clara, Calif., company. “But a CIO can’t let developers go hog wild on the Javascript/Ajax stuff. It’s still too hard to write maintainable, cross-browser code, so use that stuff very carefully.”

Microsoft developer Dare Obasanjo recently wrote at his weblog, “Scalability issues are probably the most difficult to anticipate and mitigate when building a Web application. When we first shipped MSN Spaces [Microsoft’s free blogging software] last year, I assumed we’d be lucky if we became as big as LiveJournal.

I never expected that we’d grow to be three times as big and three times as active within a year. We’ve had our growing pains and it’s definitely been surprising at times finding out which parts of the service are getting the most use. . . . The fact is that everyone has scalability issues.”

Another issue of scale is the sheer volume of data made available by the new Web tools. Cliff Bell, CIO of Phoenix Technologies Ltd., is just beginning to use RSS feeds to push information though his company. “The question is: What do they need to know now? What’s not spam? Is it any deal over $250,000 that an EVP needs to know about? There is a big challenge in figuring out what people need to see.”

Story Guide:

Web 2.0 Reality Check

  • Supercharging the IT-Business Relationship
  • Making the Web Play Well With Others
  • Too Many Blogs Spoil the Party
  • What the Hell Does Web 2.0 Mean, Anyway?
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