Thursday Jun 12, 2008

Role of Information Management in Social Media


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. 

Monday May 19, 2008

Defining knowledge management

In the previous entry, we looked at the resurgence of interest in knowledge management (KM) and how social networking tools such as wikis and blogs are driving this resurgence. In this entry, we'll start to dive into the stickier questions, such as: What is knowledge? What do we include as 'knowledge' to be managed? What's the difference between knowledge management (KM), information management (IM), and content management (CM) - especially when so many folks are using these (or at least thinking about these) interchangeably?

First, let's settle on some definitions of what we're talking about. The Ark Group published a recent report that defines KM as 'a discipline and technology enabling people to share their knowledge through agreed-upon processes for identifying, capturing, storing, retrieving, creating and evaluating an organisation’s information assets'.

Fair enough. Depending upon the context (and whom I'm trying to sell the concept to), I would emphasize different parts of this statement. Here, I would emphasize 'an organisation's information assets'. Broadly defined, this could encompass ANYTHING that could possibly be considered 'information' within an organisation: internally-generated information, any information the organisation has purchased, intellectual property, any little piece of information that might come from anyone's head. For our purposes here, let's stick with internally-generated information: information that has been created by the organization. This is still a huge universe of information - but at least we're not including all the information created outside of the walls of the organisation.

Outsell, an outstanding firm which covers the information industry and trends in the industry, sees KM as a component of IM (and acknowledges that IM and KM are often used interchangably in discussion and in the literature). Forrester, a top IT market research firm, addresses the area as Information & Knowledge Management (I&KM), which seems to cover everything pretty well.

Digital Libraries & Research (DL&R) provides IM services for Sun. For DL&R, some of these functions include managing and facilitating access to external content (hey! That's content management or CM), creating and managing web sites, providing information training, and providing research and information consulting services.

OK, so we've got our terminology sorted to some extent. Now let's go back to KM. Where DL&R doesn't have much current investment is in the KM realm, if we're talking strictly about internal information. We do have a high knowledge of internal information at Sun. We don't currently take a formal role in providing high-level strategy and management of that information.

Theoretically, we could dive head-long into the KM realm, spread our arms wide, and declare, 'Yes! We are ready to take over KM at Sun! Whatever that means!'

But what would that mean? You talk to some people and they bring up things like expert databases. Others talk about intellectual property. Others mention content management, or records management, or business intelligence, or information architecture or taxonomy or tagging or oral histories or...

You get the picture. What is it exactly that we're talking about, when we talk about KM?

The good news is that, when you talk about KM in the organisation, the scope is ultimately defined by the organisation. Inevitably, I believe that the introduction of social networking tools in your organisation will open up the discussion around KM at some point.

Why is this a good thing? You, as the information specialist, can play a role in influencing and defining (or redefining) what that scope is. The opportunity may be there for you to take a role in connecting with your stakeholders and asking them what they think KM is and what they would include in a KM strategy in your organisation. Are we talking about capturing every single piece of information captured on a wiki? Is there a pressing need to find experts in the company? Is there an opportunity to solve a long-term problem with a new social networking tool? Even better - is there a particular group, project, or set of information that is just crying out for your help?

The best business case for driving KM in your organisation could be a well-timed, smaller-scope project that can illustrate the benefits of good knowledge management. You never know what visibility - and resources - could result from applying your skill sets to a key collection of internal information.

So - start the conversation. Show your expertise. Most importantly, engage your stakeholders. Information - reliable, authoritative, spot-on information - isn't always getting easier to find, it's getting harder. For you information specialists and librarians out there who already do KM, this is nothing new to you. For those of you looking at this topic again, this may be a time of great opportunity for you to influence your organisation. Undoubtedly you'll hear more from us as we pursue this further within Sun.

Next entry, we'll look at little bit into some of the challenges that are already arising with these tools, and what additional challenges may be ahead.

Monday May 12, 2008

Re-examining knowledge management

Knowledge management - KM - is experiencing a resurgence of interest here at Sun, at least a resurgence of buzz. We had this interest and buzz back in the late 90s and early 2000s, but most of that buzz died away over a few years.

But now, KM seems to be back! Why is that?

Much of KM the first time around was about capturing 'tacit' knowledge - the knowledge that essentially never gets published. The processes and information floating around in peoples' heads. In the enterprise, that meant capturing the company knowledge and making it available.

Part of what's driving the KM discussion this time is all the social networking tools available today. Blogs, wikis, networking tools like LinkedIn and Facebook and more are now actually capturing that tacit knowledge. Today, people and groups have ways to easily record their output and to record all that stuff floating around in their heads. In many instances, it's easier to find people now more than ever, so you can quickly find and connect with experts. Communities and networks spring up around anything and everything. All this is exactly what KM was trying to accomplish the first time around - but it was usually too hard to participate back then. Social media tools have become an important part of KM and are driving interest in KM again.

But - social media tools both enhance and complicate the KM picture. Yes, they are capturing a lot of this knowledge. But at the same time, they're adding yet another layer of information to the already enormous information universe. True, the technology to find information is getting better, our ability to store information is getting greater, and the computing power to search larger and larger pools of information is continually growing. But as the universe of information grows larger, the opportunities and challenges of finding the information one is seeking grow larger as well.

Over the next few entries, I'll be exploring topics such as:

  • What is knowledge? What do we include as 'knowledge'?

  • What's the difference between knowledge management (KM), information management (IM), content management (CM) - especially when so many folks are using these (or at least thinking about these) interchangeably?

  • How does one determine authority in a social setting? What's right? What's accurate?

  • If everyone has just the information they want, how do you get important information to everyone? How do you get everyone on the same page?

  • What does one year, three years, five years from now look like for information, KM and IM?
We don't have any ready answers for these questions. But we'll be sharing with you a little about what we're thinking around these areas, and what some possible next steps might look like.

Scott Brown, Sr. Information Specialist

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Sharing stories of information management, collaboration, integration, sharing, and social enterprise applications for corporate information services.

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