Wrote an Inverted Blog Engine

50+ Practice Groups, across the entire spectrum of legal services.  It is difficult to write a solution for one group, that is useful or even applicable to the others.  Abstraction is an extremely important tool around here.

Content Managment
A few years back, when we were rebuilding our website, we abstracted the idea of web content down to a very basic level, then made it extensible.  New content types were created by a few simple instructions.  Content mainly contained a title, body, and was associated with various practice groups and lawyers.  Content types like news, press releases, and articles were a slightly different spin on the same formula.  The content manager interface rendered itself, appropriate to which content type was currently in context.  It worked nicely, and was only a little more difficult to write than a static content manager would have been.

'Original Content'
Culturally speaking (and this should go without saying), a mid-sized law firm blogging is a difficult concept to sell.  We are a pretty savvy group when it comes to tech, but some things just need to surface on their own.  We created 'Original Articles' instead: Blog posts with the format & depth of formal articles, that were reviewed and approved, and did not allow comments or syndication.  For the meantime, we were getting content in, which got the ball rolling for blogging.  As lawyers and our Marketing Department posted Original Article items, they associated the content with authors, practice groups, and keywords.

Finally
We started hearing murmers from the law geeks that wanted to blog.  Some associates had personal blogs.  Their friends and colleagues had Twitter feeds and law blogs ("blawgs") of their own.  The Tech Law team led the charge, and we purchased techlawblog.com.  At this point, we were looking at a 3rd party solution, or possibly something custom that was separate from our website.  This route would have led to a few different complications that would have hurt our chances of this being a success:
- New content management per blog (1 post that applies to Intellectual Property, and Tech Law would need to be posted separately in each blog), new app for lawyers to learn & manage
- SEO symbiosis between the blog sites and whdlaw.com would be a missed opportunity.  Inbound links to the blogs should help our main domain.
- Tagging, categorizing content takes work

Inverted
We decided to keep the solution in-house, and build off of what we already had.  We created a 'Blog' content type, wrote in support for comments and a slick approval system so the author can approve from their Blackberry, and a generic page to generate rss feeds depending on the context of our visitor. 

Our lawyers can now write blog posts just like the Original Articles they were already familiar with.  They make their regular practice group and author associations as before, and possibly add some keywords.  As soon as their post is approved, it appears on our main blog stream.  If there is an associated practice group that has never had a post before, it shows up automatically as a new blog in our nav bar.  Feeds can be created and consumed by practice group, author, or even keyword.  In the end, we have all the features of a blog, without any extra work on the lawyers' behalf.

Observations
I am amazed at how few people understand syndication and subscriptions, especially considering that the icon is literally everywhere.  It may be another couple years before people start to see the value in it.

Aggregator is a painful word for such a cool idea... I think I will try using reader more, though I think it sounds too passive.

The law industry is really buying into social tech, especially blogging, Twitter, and LinkedIn.  The community right now feels very much like the developer community did, 5 years ago.  It is refreshing.  Maybe it's just me though, as I am watching the legal sector while these technologies are finally going mainstream.

Print | posted on Monday, January 19, 2009 6:19 PM

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