Knowledge and authority

Earlier this year I attended an event sponsored by the Rocky Mountain Chapter of SLA. The speaker was Karl Fisch, who created the "Did You Know?" video, something you've probably seen, at least in part. Karl used the video and the statistics contained within it to help his faculty understand what students are going to need to be successful in the 21st century.

In any case, at the presentation, Karl mentioned that he was floored when he recently saw a newspaper piece that cited Wikipedia as a source.

For anyone familiar with Wikipedia, this should floor you, too, since you know that anyone can potentially add anything - anonymously - to Wikipedia.

This is an issue of basic information literacy, something most librarians are quite familiar with. (Thomson Reuters has a good page on the basics of determining web site authority.) Social networking adds a new spin on it. So, for this example, how do you determine authority in Wikipedia - where there is no identified author or authority?

Well, essentially, you don't. Wikipedia can be a great starting point for getting oriented quickly to a topic. Would I ever quote it directly? Probably not. When we're doing training in this area, we point people to the links off of the Wikipedia entry - that's where you're going to find the sites where you can dig into authority.

Let's take, for example, Digital Divide. Wikipedia is actually quite good on this; the page has sections on origins of the term, digital divide and education, global digital divide and overcoming the digital divide. Now, a couple of things. Take the statement, "European Union study from 2005 conduc(t)ed in 14 European countries and focused on the issue of digital divide found that within the EU, the digital divide is primarily a matter of age and education."


Digital divide wikipedia


Would you take that as a quote and put it in a presentation? Well, you could, but probably best to try to chase this back to the source. This piece of the Wikipedia entry is good, because it footnotes the EU study and provides a link to the source study.

EU example
Note, though, when I viewed this entry, that link to the EU study is broken. To do my due diligence, I should do a Google (or Eurostat) search, and then I'll find the newsletter source. Now, is this a reliable and credible source? You bet.

The other great thing about a good Wikipedia entry that helps you with finding authoritative information is an "External links" section. Here's where you can really start to pursue your information search. Again, be sure to use caution - just because a link is included here doesn't mean it's necessarily credible. And, there may be additional authoritative resources not included that you should seek out. Use these external links and citations to continue your search.

External

So what does this little tangent have to do with KM, IM and CM? We hope to illustrate simply that the issues and challenges around KM, IM and CM become more complicated with social networking tools, primarily because they blur the boundaries around knowledge and information. Is a Wikipedia entry a "valid" piece of information? What if you have a wiki page behind your firewall, that has only been created by your organization - is that  a more "valid" piece of knowledge? Does the value and validity of the content of a wiki change depending upon its context?

How do social networking tools, and the information contained therein, affect your view of your corporate knowledge?

How will we ever deal with all of this?

Before we plunge into despair, let's look at some other challenges posed by social networking tools...

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