Meg delivers an astute analysis of Macromedia's use of weblogs to promote their new MX design tools and strategy. Some other cogent points are raised by PB and Jason. They level the valid criticism that these weblogs would benefit from being hosted on the actual macromedia.com domain, but my experience is that it's very difficult, even with a tacit endorsement of such work, to get a personally-written weblog hosted by an employer, simply because of the legal issues. The majority of their misgivings, however, come from not knowing that sites like John Dowdell's were done by Macromedia employees, or from feeling that they weren't clear enough about their corporate connection. (I know John's stuff a lot better than the other folks, so I'll use him as an example.)
I was struck by this objection because when I first discovered John's MX weblog (he had linked to something I wrote shortly after starting his weblog) I already knew that John worked for Macromedia and was very web savvy and is, in my opinion, their best representative on the Internet.
Why? Because of mailing lists. I am extremely picky about mailing lists, having only ever maintained long-term subscriptions to two lists in the decade or so that I've been compulsively checking email, but the ones that are great are among the best resources available to web professionals. And John frequents the very best mailing list I've ever used, webdesign-L, contributing frequently and usefully. When a question about Flash or Dreamweaver comes up, he's authoritative, knowledgeable and polite without being insistent or sales-y. That's the kind of reputation and respect any company wants for its representatives, and it's one that makes someone distinctly qualified to do a sincere and credible weblog.
The concern, of course, is that companies will astroturf the weblog world with hard-selling flacks whose links and posts would be the online equivalent of a cold-call at dinnertime. But it seems that the people in this first wave of corporate promotional weblogs understand that they have to be part of the community and fit within its mores in order to be successful. And of course they understand this community; They've been part of it for years.
All of this attention and activity confirms an earlier point that I've made several times, of course: the weblogs vs. journalism debate is irrelevant. An immeasurably small percentage of weblogs even attempt to be relevant to the world of journalism. And, more importantly, journalism is a world that a company can't participate in or host on its site in any meaningful way. The only idiom for corporate participation in traditional journalism is as display ads or, worse, advertorials, unless it's a company in the business of providing a media outlet for other companies' press releases. But these product-focused weblogs are genuine weblogs, credible enough to be seem like unsponsored labors of love to even the experts in the field. Naturally, we hope sponsorship is clearly described and announced, but the fact that it's a medium where, dare I say it, companies can enter into the conversation is very exciting.
This kind of participation by a large company in smaller communities focused around weblogs isn't particularly new or unique, of course. Microsoft's typography group has been doing it for years. The heartening part is that, if this initital push towards MX-focused weblogs succeeds, other companies that try to use this medium for promotion will learn the lesson that they have to contribute to the community in order to benefit from it. That can only bode well for all of us.