Sunday, December 21, 2008

The Dark Side of Web 2.0

I recently attended a good environmental scan / overview presentation about what's happing "out there" in terms of information management, technology, and the internet. As I was listening to the speaker, my mind turned, somewhat uncharacteristically, to a "dark side" perspective. Many speakers / thought leaders extol the virtues/promise/potential about Web 2.0 and social technologies, but perhaps there really is a down side, or at least a few considerations for a more balanced view:

The rise of the opinionated - Emerging technologies gives a voice to all participants (yes, like me). But not every voice is worth hearing. And since these voices are manifested in an explosion of content in a wide variety of types and formats, determining best quality and value is a significant challenge.

The rise of aggregation vs. new and innovative thinking - We first heard about it in the context of students plagiarizing internet content for projects, but now it’s rampant. On the internet, content is so easy to find that there is a tendency to copy and re-use, often without citing sources, rather than create / innovate something new. Granted, re-use saves time and money, but not in all circumstances. Sometimes new and innovative approaches are required to solve problems created by status quo thinking.

The rise of aggregation and fall of awareness / access to original, authoritative sources - The technological capabilities to aggregate content, not to mention the broad re-purposing/re-use of content without attribution, makes it very difficult at times to identify the original, authoritative sources. True, content should be evaluated on its own merit, but often part of that evaluation requires context and source of origin.

Rise of the net evangelist - Over the last few years, the internet and Web 2.0 have been the new "cool thing" to talk about. As a result, there is no shortage of evangelists who are willing and able to take money and talk about the value of Web 2.0 and social technologies in a number of abstract, theoretical ways, or reflect retrospectively/summatively on experiences of organizations who've used some of these technologies to impact their business. Many of these evangelists miss an important point - social technologies are only useful if people use them. Crowd sourcing / wisdom of crowds only works if a crowd is participating. Most of the statistics I've seen around about participation in social technologies (e.g. How Do People Participate in Social Media), and my meagre personal experience online and with in-person groups, point to only a small percentage of any group actual participates. It's a little hard to get wisdom from a crowd when there is now crowd.

Rise (re-glorification) of the speaker not the listener – Early KM initiatives mistakenly focused on the information provider / creator and not the consumer / learner, evidenced in the many stories about unused “knowledge repositories.” Two camps seem to be emerging. I find much (thankfully not all) of the rhetoric around the promise and potential of emerging technologies seems to again focus on the provision / availability of content, and not the individual / group learning and collaboration that takes place, supported by the content. The underlying assumption is that people individually and groups will do the right / logical thing as a matter of course. A bit misguided perhaps?

I certainly agree with those who say that emerging social technologies for joint content authoring, networking, linking, sharing, commenting etc. present opportunities not previously possible in the organizational context. The real challenge from my view is how to deal with the many complexities associated with people – individuals or groups – in examining, choosing, and harnessing the opportunities to integrate social technologies to create productive work environments.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Serendipitious Information Discovery

I was reading a John Tropea's Library Clips blog entry about My recent article on KM Review - When Two Worlds Collide and noticed that he had used a service called Scribd to put a copy of the actual KMReview article directly inline with the blog post. Interesting, I thought. (I'm wondering the value of this type of approach to providing easy access via blogs, wikis etc. to corporate documents in a document management system.)

But, what I wanted to point to is that once on the Scribd site with John's article on my screen, I scrolled through the Related Documents list and uncovered Belonging Networks, a 217 page document that explores the people and technology sides of implementing social networking inside organizations.  Very interesting.

Belonging Networks Corporate Social Networking

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

The National Institute for Mental Health in England's definition of knowledge management:

Knowledge Management (KM) is the cultivation of an environment within which people want to share, learn and collaborate leading to individual, team and organisational improvement.

The first one I've come across with a primarily cultural focus.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

What Traditional Management and Economics Theories Have In Common

In a recent news article titled We Told You So, author Dan Gardner writes about Robert Shiller's books (The Subprime Solution and Irrational Exuberance) and the author's accurate predictions of both the housing crisis and the tech crash. Gardner's article points to Shiller's positioning of two flaws in conventional economics thinking that was a major factor in both economic events (and the Dutch tulip mania of 1637 as it turns out):

  • Flaw number one - the premise that people are always rational, and make rational decisions based on facts and what is in their best interests as opposed to "buy a house at grossly inflated price and expect its value to keep rising."
  • Flaw number two - "efficient markets theory" - prices are always reasonable and correct based on all publically available information, and markets are never wrong.

Gardner also references the emergence of behavioural economics over the last 12 years or so, and coincidentally I just stumbled across a Tom Davenport article titled Voting for Behavioral Economics (And Against My Own Self-Interest) that references same.

I haven't ready any of the above mentioned books yet, but what I find fascinating in the article is the link between what is referenced as conventional economic theory, and traditional management thinking that leading management writers and thinkers like Gary Hamel and Henry Mintzberg are attempting to break away from - that the world, its systems, and people are predictable.

It would appear to be the contrary.

(PS: Mintzberg talks about the current economic situation as a A Crisis of Management not Economics, and states that "... everything was short-term and everybody is under pressure and everybody is meeting their targets for each short-term period and so they were not managing. It is a management problem from beginning to end, and I do not think this is a banking problem or a finance problem. "