Social Media and Knowledge Management

Run for the hills! I just dragged the on again, off again, term of the year, Knowledge Management (KM). For those of you newer to the space, KM has made an appearance every few years and then been torn apart by end-users as the latest KM solution failed to live-up to its promise.

Well, KM is back, but under a disguise. Enterprise 2.0, using the Social Media on Web 2.0 in the business world, enables Knowledge Management. When I took my adventure through Chuck’s Journey, it was like a light bulb clicking on in my head. All of this Social Media tech solves some of the key issues that have plagued KM systems.

Knowledge Management and Philosopher’s Stone

KM is a wonderful dream. The goal, simply put, it to capture the knowledge of the people of your organization and turn it into a organizational asset. Consultants and organizations have been pursuing this for years. Like many claims made by people to turn lead into gold over the years, KM has continued to elude the world at large.

Back in 2001, I presented at Momentum 2001 a basic concept: take a portal, throw the content on an ECM platform behind the scenes, and get some solid Enterprise Search. I didn’t claim that we had true KM with this approach, but it was a solid step. We had a single interface with all content in a centralized, searchable repository. Search was federated and could return results from many systems at once.

There were weaknesses to the solution. Search wasn’t intelligent enough. It still isn’t. Anyone who says otherwise is selling you something.

Context was also poor. On my screen, users could see email, Siebel information, and their latest pieces of content in separate portlets. To group information by context, and not by source, users had to search and hope for the best. It was purely pull. Push wasn’t possible without taking several systems down and investing more resources than was available at the time.

The largest issue was how to gather knowledge. It is one thing to have design documents, proposals, and manuals in a system. How do you capture the thoughts behind the creation of that content? How can you enable people to add nuggets of information without having to author a document? Portlets could be created to capture ideas, but the collaboration wasn’t there.

Enter Web 2.0

Mashups, Wikis, Blogs, and Discussion Threads. Threads are old-hat, but everything else is pure Web 2.0.

  • Mashups are Context! Enterprise systems are getting to the point where this can be done. With SOA standards simplifying the aggregation of data, I can now realistically anticipate have separate portlets for Clients A, B, and C with information spanning all my corporate applications. I can’t tell you how excited I was when I learned what mash-ups were a while back. It was my old Infodata white board come to life.
  • Wikis provide a way for people to all contribute to building a body of knowledge. FAQs, hot-to guides, and lessons learned are great uses for wikis.
  • Blogs allow people to quickly share information and experiences in a way that can lead to revelations in others. If someone learns a neat trick, they can write it up on a blog so that it is now searchable for the next person.

The problem we were trying to solve in 2001 was how to take knowledge and turn it into content, capturing it for all. With Enterprise 2.0, the resulting content enables the creation of knowledge. This can enable knowledge to grow in the organization exponentially once you get enough participation.

Too Much of a Good Thing?

The new problem is the need to filter and search all of the new content and information. This isn’t so much a new problem as it is the evolution of one of the three key weaknesses, weak search.

During my Momentum presentation, I basically told the audience that I would never be able to give them a true KM system because search would not be ready. I did promise them that my kids would sell it to them. I may be a little off on that prediction as I think it may be ready before my oldest kid finishes college. The point was valid though. It wasn’t here, yet. It still isn’t.

I said it then, and Chuck is saying it now, It’s a Journey. The light at the end of the tunnel just got a lot brighter though.

7 thoughts on “Social Media and Knowledge Management

  1. I’ve decided that Knowledge Management is the unicorn of content management. Everybody says they know what one looks like. It’s kinda like some familiar other animals. Its rumored to have mystical powers. The fact remains, nobody has actually ever seen one in the wild.

    My latest theory is that its such a difficult topic because ultimately you can’t manage knowledge in a system. Knowledge is a combination of information, context AND the understanding of its application by a living breathing person. Without the person, its just content.


  2. I knew I’d read this article one day.
    I agree that these tools have the capacity to bring KM a lot closer. I also agree with the other comment. Knowledge can only exist in someone’s head and and KM systems can only support that process.
    The weak point is the same as in all systems, people have to want to use it and want to use it well. In the case of KM though the challenge is just a whole lot bigger.


  3. Hi Pie

    I agree with Ed above, and with my favourite KM ‘guru’ Dave Snowden (google for ‘Cognitive Edge’) – ‘knowledge’ is what humans use to transform data into information, thus Dave’s contention is that good ‘information management’ systems are in fact as good as we are going to get, because ‘knowledge’ is all tacit – its in our heads (just don’t even think about getting Dave started on Nonaka’s SECI model……..).

    So, web 2.0 / enteprise 2.0 tools aid in the creation of a good information management environment, making KM 2.0 a reality – as long as we dont expect too much from it ! Personally I think social bookmarking and social tagging can also help to make up some of the search deficits.


  4. I agree the knowledge exists in the head. However, we need better was to get it from one head into another.

    Jed, no such thing as KM 2.0. As far as I’m concerned, we are either on KM 1.0 as it has never delivered or on something more like 4.0. I’m leaning towards 1.0.


  5. eh eh eh eh 🙂 OK, I’ll give you that one, consistent with Daves opinion too, so we are just really getting KM 1.0 (but as I dont really believe in ‘knowledge’ management how about InfoMngt 4..2.1 ? )


  6. Hi Pie

    Would you not say that faceted navigation holds the secret to making search work?

    As cited by Peter Morville here – – companies like Endeca have made a lot of money for a lot of Fortune 100 B2C companies by merely organising their data so that it can be found by diverse search methods.

    We’re about to deploy a bespoke system for our companies’ knowledge and I’d be really interested to hear your updated viewpoint on this.



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