Role of Information Management in Social Media
By scbrown5 on Jun 12, 2008
So let's run through a few additional considerations as social networking and other 2.0 tools take off. This is not meant to be a comprehensive list, but just some of the effects as more and more people adopt these tools.
“Ultra-customization”: If everyone has just the information they want - through RSS feeds, widgets, page customization, etc. - how do you get important information to everyone? How do you get everyone on the same page?
On a broad basis, this ties into the authority discussion. For organizations, this becomes a real challenge. Many organizations, Sun included, often have a "required" channel on an internal web page that can be customized - so everyone looks at the same thing. But how do you reach someone who doesn't look at that web page, ever - who gets their information primarily through another landing page, RSS feeds, etc.? Interestingly enough, often times the solution is sending an all-company email - reverting back to "old" technology. (Now, whether that actually reaches folks who email inbox is in the thousands of messages is another question.)
The point here is that organizations are already dealing with these kinds of issues. As customization becomes more and more prevelant, creating consistency for business needs is going to become an even more complex issue to address. When one is simply customizing information for one's personal use, this is a non-issue. Within an organization, it becomes a tension between what should I be looking at vs. what do I want to be looking at.
Increasing available knowledge does not mean people are going to use it - otherwise known as information overload. As we all know, there is more and more information being produced, and at an increasing rate. Thanks to tools like wikis, blogs, and social networks, everyone - anyone - now has the ability to create content and make it available on the open Web. This is a great democratizer of the Internet, as it allows everyone a "voice", so to speak.
But do concepts of democracy apply to information? Is all information created equal? Is all information equally useful, or are we littering up the Internet with a bunch of low-level information?
A specific example is what I call “wiki information death”. Wikis have become a very popular tool for creating and sharing content, which is wonderful. To me, it feels very much like the mid- to late-90s, when everyone was creating a web page on the Internet. Remember when you'd come across pages called things like "Bert's page" with horrible flashing graphics? To a large extent, we're seeing that phenomenon again today, with wikis (for groups), blogs (for individuals), and MySpace and Facebook pages (for both). True, most of the time the horrible graphics are gone (with the exception of MySpace).
The bottom line is that folks are putting up a lot of information - and a large percentage of that information is never going to be updated again. The person or group loses interest, there's nothing new to add, it was only an experiment in the first place - for whatever reason(s), this "information" is being put out there and then being essentially abandoned.
Undoubtedly you could derive a sense of what Internet users are thinking at a broad level, through mining all of the information available, useful or not. I'm sure there are many information discoveries to be made there, discoveries that I can't comprehend. But I can't help but think that a lot of "information" is actually just cluttering up the place.
Same content in multiple places. Weren't we just solving this problem with content management systems? With wikis in particular, you have the responsibility of keeping track of - and managing, and updating - your own content in your head. Yes, there is some hierarchy there, but wikis are pretty flat. Additionally, since you potentially have multiple people adding content, how do you prevent duplication?
You see the complications. I'm not arguing that social networking tools don't bring a lot of value - they do. As I've mentioned earlier, these tools are delivering the promise of KM. But they also bring complications that need to be addressed. They affect the answer to the question: What does one year, three years, five years from now look like for information, KM and IM?
Can we foresee and address all the gaps and needs areas we know about? No, not all at once, certainly. So let's look at what's important, right here and now. What can we do today to help address some of these issues?
Maintenance - or maybe I should say, dedication and responsibility. It's really easy to start a blog, wiki, or network. What's hard is putting the time into it: creating entries, blogging regularly, building a community around a wiki, keeping a network alive. In an ideal world, a network doesn't necessarily need a "leader". In reality, the network is made up of the people in that network, and some people will naturally emerge as leaders. Those that have a passion around the topic will help drive it. Be aware of the need to "feed and care for" your social networking tool, and be ready to dedicate the time to maintain it so it remains usable and valuable.
Related to this is managing the information lifecycle - particularly maintenance and the end of the cycle. Librarians have been concerned - and rightly so - with preserving and archiving information since the beginning of libraries. This still is an important function. Often, the "library" is the final destination for information that has become outdated or is no longer needed - until someone really needs it again. That's one of the instances where the library becomes the lifesaver.
But archiving and preservation can't be indiscriminate. With all the potential "information litter" around, it becomes more important than ever to be able to get rid of information.
I can hear a gasp from some of you - "get rid of information???" On the face of things, this goes against our sensibilities. What if you need that information later? Of course, you need to follow your legal guidelines and records retention rules. What I'm suggesting is that we need to be more decisive and active in scoping what information we should keep, and be willing to take action in actually getting rid of information. Of course I'm not talking about getting rid of the Constitution - but think about whether you really need that old project wiki, with all the detail around the meeting notes, etc. Necessary? It might feel like it today. Review your old information regularly and get rid of what's lost its relevance.
Flexibility, and a willingness to let go. An example of this that I absolutely love is Marcy Phelps' Power Networking for Introverts blog. Marcy started this blog in 2007 - and then she ended it in April of this year. Here's an excerpt from her last entry:
I started blogging about networking because it interested me. I built my business by networking, and I learned a lot along the way. But it takes a lot of reading to keep up with a topic in order to write and speak about it - especially one that is not exactly your specialty.
I love this. To me, this exemplifies information creation and sharing at its best. Marcy started because she had a passion around the topic. She stopped because, well, in my view, her passion and life priorities shifted. She left behind a great source of information - but she doesn't feel compelled to keep it going if she can't dedicate the time to it. So she let it go.
Dedication, responsibility, lifecycle management, and letting go - to me, all encapsulated in this blog and in this information practitioner.
Management of information - knowledge management, information management, content management, search,
discovery, social media, metadata - is only going to become more critical moving forward. We'll continue to explore how information management is changing and evolving, and how we can change and evolve along with it.