Knowledge Management in a Fragmented World

Dave Snowden of Cognitive Edge started a new column in KM World magazine. Borrowing from Dave Weinberger’s Everything is Miscellaneous, he calls it Everything is Fragmented.

“I wanted to build on that by pointing to the shift during the life span of knowledge management from the “chunked” material of case studies and best-practice documents to the unstructured, fragmented and finely granular material that pervades the blogosphere. So when I was asked to contribute this column to KMWorld magazine, it seemed an appropriate title; it allows me to talk about not only trends in technology but also social issues, the scientific use of narrative, and to fire off the odd invective about over-constrained and over-controlled systems.”

Since I started following the Enterprise 2.0 movement, I have shifted my philosophy of knowledge management. I fall pretty close to Dave’s position.

“It’s not natural to chunk up material, to make it context specific; it is natural to share, blend and create fragmented material based on thoughts and reflections as we carry out tasks or engage in social interaction.”

Structured systems of knowledge and precedent are still useful. But, as Dave Weinberger points out in Everything is Miscellaneous, everyone has a different view on what the structure should be. Whatever taxonomy I create or a group decides upon, it will only be meaningful to some of the people some of the time. As the taxonomy gets more and more complex, the less useful it will be.

On many knowledge management projects, people ask for a very structured way of organizing content. Inevitably, they query the system for something that is outside the structure they requested.

The improved power of search, adding metadata and adding user comments have changed the way we should approach knowledge management.

If you are a KM practitioner I am sure you have received a request for matching the Google search. There is only one field to enter information; you just type in a few words. Obviously, the Google page rank algorithm is unique to the web and does not work well inside the enterprise.

We need a way to manipulate the search results inside the enterprise and add more context to our internal nodes of information. Google does this by interpreting links to the nodes of information (webpages). We KM practitioners need some way to replicate this ability to add metadata to our knowledge artifacts. We need to better describe them, attribute authorship, rate them and add notes to them.

That is one of the reasons that I am enthusiastic about products like Vivisimo’s social search. [Using Social Search to Drive Innovation through Collaboration][The Four Types of Search and Vivisimo’s Social Search].

Structured systems of knowledge and precedent are very useful for law firms. As law firms we need to highlight the better forms and precedents for reuse. I believe we need to rethink how they are highlighted, where they are stored and what people can do with them to keep them organized. Organized in a way that is meaningful to each individual.

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