Tuesday, February 01, 2005

Personal Information vs Group Information vs Organisational Information

Not a particularly scintillating title, I know, but I'm just trying to ponder the different information clouds, their interaction and utility from a knowledge management perspective. What sparked this line of thought was a) more thinking about "folksonomies" (or as Peter Merholz points out - collective categorizations/group taggings, as they are flat not taxonomical - i.e. define the relationships between elements) and b) remembering a comment on KM from James Robertson, where he (sensibly, I think) suggested avoiding the use of "knowledge sharing" as a business aim (instead pointing out that all "sharing" should be tied to a specific business task or activity that the audience is already aware of and engaged in). You'll have to excuse me, as this is likely to be a stream-of-consciousness posting rather than anything particularly structured...

Getting back to real basics, what appears to be key in KM is certainly not the individual as an individual, but tying the individual into groups and groups into organisational objectives, because, let's face it, KM is about making businesses work better. These three key areas: the individual, the group (informal or formal) and the "organization" (just another group, but one that acts as a definite entity) each have information or knowledge clouds which he/she/they need to create, manage and develop over time. As an organization is made up of groups, and these groups are made up of individuals, the activities of these specific groups, and the interactions between them (social networkers of the world unite) - the movement of activity, understanding and knowledge from each end of this line to the other is of key importance. I know this is all stating the obvious, but it is very important to keep this in mind with all KM-type activity: connectivity is key.

This all fits back into folksonomy via Peter M's post on self-centredness in group tagging:
"One of the key emerging trends we're seeing with things like del.icio.us and
Flickr is the merging of personal information architecture and
public/shared/group/emergent information architecture. And one of the things
we're seeing in the *use* of these systems is self-centeredness -- how else do
you explain the prevalence of "me" on Flickr?".

I find this a particularly important quote given a comment from John Udell that Google has proven that relevance is a collective issue. I tend to disagree, what delicious shows (as does frustration with returned search results) is that relevance is both a collective and a personal issue. To paraphrase the famous saying:
one man's meat is another man's poison (is everybody's dead animal)".

Delicious allows for a kind of personal reputation management (links I find useful) which has the added advantage of - via a large user base - revealing a collective categorisation of assets. Where this might fit into corporate KM initiatives might be in tying individual categorisation systems into the group and organisational classification structure - I posted about this a few days ago with Enterprise Distributed Categorisation. Surely this type of categorisation tool can be used to:
  • help the individual in categorising and retrieving his/her artefacts;
  • allow the individual to share his or her categorisation with others (via an rss feed e.g. .../username/tag/rss) ;
  • aid the organisation in rapidly developing a classification (based on clustering of terms etc.) for the retrieval of organisational artefacts;
  • allow the individual to link his/her tags to the classification via a mapping from the "folksonomy" to a controlled vocabulary;
  • allow for a path for new terms to be suggested for the classification (continued log analysis of popular terms)
The nice thing about this is that it ties usage to both business goals and personal goals (in fact, they are both allied: personal KM is important to the business too) without necessarily imposing the business classification on the individual or the individual on the business. Likewise, as it is motivated by enlightened self-interest first, and collective interest second, it is less likely to become moribund owing to lack of usage - the burden of metadata is high, at least, perhaps, this approach may lighten the burden.

Search, for instance, could be optimised for both an individual's tags (personal relevance - a nice move down the line of trusted search) and the organisational classification (general/social relevance). This seems to be such an obvious benefit that I am convinced some bright spark out there must already have implemented this - any takers?

[NB: On a secondary note, the development of useful "social" meaning from self-motivated action is also evident in the New Scientist article, "Google's Search for Meaning", where searches on the Google index are used to define distances of meanings between concepts in order to develop an ontology - very cunning.]


Mark Ranford said...

You asked for any other ideas/examples... please have a look at what Im tring to do for a simple zero cost pilot KM project. Its basically trying to use delicious as the classification engine for perspectives of the teams shared data repurposed through bloglines readers.

My blog for the project is at www.bloglines.com/blog/ranford

My personal blog is at

I would really appreciate your feedback and suggestions on it also. or anyone else.. if you can tag your ideas/suggestions RISTEK KM Suggestions, we can pull them into the project directly.. Many thanks

Anonymous said...

“We cannot live for ourselves alone. Our lives are connected by a thousand invisible threads, and along these sympathetic fibers, our actions run as causes and return to us as results.”
- Herman Melville

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