Blogs have been a great way to have an online conversation. The blogger puts his words in a post and readers put their responses as comments. In a public forum, where most blogs live, that’s great for energizing this discourse.

But what if you wanted to have the same level of interaction, and organization of topics, but without the world eavesdropping? Until recently, there weren’t many options. If you wanted the convenience of using a blog to discuss a project for work -- comparable to a roundtable brainstorming session but captured online and easily accessible -- there was little choice but to put it online. Not exactly a closed-door meeting.

Build it or buy it 

Initially, companies wanting a project blog (plog), and wanting it to be private, would have to build it themselves. However, in February of 2004, one company, 37 Signals  a Web application design firm, garnered some notice for developing and selling its own project management tool, Basecamp. A plog-like function is a part of it. (The company calls that the “messages” section.) Basecamp’s users now number in the hundreds of thousands.

“We started Basecamp because we needed it for ourselves for our client work,” says Jason Fried, founder and CEO of 37signals, of Chicago. He describes his company’s plog very simply as a password protected message board on which people can post comments. (In his case talk is cheap: the most inexpensive plan is $12 a month.)

Richard Bird, president of brand identity design firm R. Bird, of New York, is addicted to Basecamp’s efficiency. “It tracks our conversations and keeps them all in one place so our people and our clients can be in one place,” he says. “That’s the opposite of e-mail in which everyone has an individual channel of communication that isn’t shared. E-mail is the enemy of collaboration.”

Reducing clutter

Echoes Paul Larson, president of Creative Arc, a Minneapolis-based Web design firm, “It reduces the clutter of inboxes - which helps everyone.” There are no more giant e-mail attachments to deal with, for one thing.

“People know how to read a message and post a comment so usability is very high,” says Bird. Unlike with more complicated tools, like project management applications, which people may find off-putting to use, this tool actually gets used, which makes it, well, more efficient.