Category Archives: Blogging

On blogging until you drop

According to this newspaper report, blogging professionally is dangerous to your health. As a non-paid blogger who blogs out of interest (and not as frequently as I would like), I don’t seem to have that kind of health issue.

On blogs and CoP’s

Joitske Hulsebosch blogged about the potential of using blogs with communities of practices (Cop’s). Joitske gives four very useful ways in which blogs can support CoP’s but I just want to focus on one of them. Quoting Joitske:

“A weblog with summaries of discussions can be a repository for the community. An example is the weblog Everything you always wanted to know about capacity development . It is a weblog from ICCOcapacity building advisor”.

Using a blog as a repository for summaries of debate and rich content is a great idea. Some threads in a vigorous discussion in a CoP can be lost in the rumble-tumble of debate. Sometimes the debate is at such an intellectual depth that a summary of the salient points would be a nice feature to have to bring the level of discussion into a broader realm of understanding. This latter point was highlighted for me with a sterling debate among three key protagonists on actkm recently – a debate I really enjoyed but at times found difficult to follow (not helped by my part-time tracking of this exchange at one of my contract jobs).

I liked the thinking behind Joitske’s use of blogs to support CoP’s. As a result, I am doing some thinking of my own as to how weaving narrative into the blog summary may be used to create another dimension to understanding rich content.

On tagging, the grey side

My last two posts have been about tagging based on my presentation last week at the conference in Sydney, “Enhancing search and retrieval capabilities and performance”.

I want to look at some of the perceived disadvantages of tagging that I briefly mentioned in my presentation:

  1. Lack of specificity – refers to the fact that an item can have innumerable headings (tags) and there is no fixed agreement as to the most suitable term. A formal taxonomy and classification system have been the traditional ways of asserting specific terms to items.
  2. Ambiguity and inconsistency – because anyone can apply a tag to an item, there will be a multitude of tags that do not clearly and consistently apply to a specific item. Some people may tag something as “locomotive” and another “train”. The same person may use “locomotive” now but three weeks previously used the term “train”. And train may in fact not refer to a locomotive at all (with or without carriages or wagons) but to a wedding dress, a series of thoughts, or to an adult education class.
  3. Lack of structure – The traditional relationship between broad and specific terms (the parent-child tree structure that historically organised information into “like things”) is not there in a tagging system. Weinberger refers to a tagging system as one that looks at the leaves on a tree rather than just the branches.
  4. Problems with stemming or truncation – words like plurals, or words with a s or z in them.
  5. Ceding control of search terminology to the “inexperienced” – using the correct terms is an important exercise not to be trifled with by amateurs and the inexperienced professional.

It is true that there will be imprecision in tag terms and inconsistency in the application of tags to items that look to be the same things. It is also true that the same individual may use different tags over time to describe essentially the same thing. And tagging might thus be perceived as a mess, needing an experienced taxonomist and library professional to make sense for us. People in the information business who like order and structure have a long historical paradigm to work from.

Yet all is not lost. Tagging will become self-refining, gradually highlighting preferred terms (perhaps through a tag cloud) or via suggested or similar headings. Collaborative tagging and folksonomies will help shape a form of group consensus leading to a meaningful sense of order. And technologies will improve to cater for some of the weaknesses of current tagging systems. One example is Raw Sugar.

Overall, tagging will continue to grow simply because digital information will grow at time-warp-like speed. The sheer scale of the digital world, and the cost of ordering that digital information, will not easily permit formal and timely classification. Just imagine trying to keep up with all the blogs in the world, let alone the individual blog posts from each of them. 

Tagging will become more important and self-fulfilling due to both the technology and the demographic changes in society, responsive to the digital world and the need to make sense in it for individuals and their peers. The changing nature of information, and the new consumers and producers of that information, means that change is inevitable.

Interestingly, a recent article highlighted the changing nature of reading – the development of an information browsing culture among the digital natives. The impact of the digital world should not be underestimated.

In looking at tagging so far, perhaps one could say we are in a period of transition from the structure and hierarchy of giving order to physical information (like books, journal articles and celluloid film) to one where digital information allows for innumerable access points, innumerable tags and descriptors, and seemingly available from anywhere.

[Of interest, check out this podcast from Beth Jefferson on transforming public libraries' online catalogues into environments for social discovery of resources that are catalogued not only by librarians, but also by patrons. A salient quote on social cataloguing - collaborative tagging if you like: "the metadata people create by cataloguing content is what enables social search and discovery". Beth Jefferson wants to enhance social search and discovery across North American public libraries through collaborative cataloguing, whether by evaluative comment or by description. Tagging and thesauri may indeed coexist.]

So the question remains – is the traditional way of ordering information and establishing a single authority for fixed terms appropriate in the modern digital world? And practically speaking, what is the right balance between order and miscellany in any given context?

I will feature one more blog post on the tagging issue looking at how the enterprise (the firm, not the fictional space ship), might take to the tagging phenomenon. Stay tuned…

On the positive side of tagging

In the light of what I discussed yesterday with respect to my conference presentation on Tuesday, I want to move on to tagging. Tagging is essentially unstructured metadata that is assigned by the content creator and the readers/users of the content, the latter called collaborative tagging. The user-generated classification that emerges is called a folksonomy.

Examples of digital content using tags include de.licio.us, Flickr, LibraryThing, Technorati, and Youtube. Even the web-based news services are using tags, like the ABC in Australia.

In addition to the tags themselves and the act of tagging content, a collection of tags into a group showing relative emphasis or popularity is called a tag cloud.

There are a number of benefits from using tagging and they can be broadly summarised as the following:

  1. terms meaningful to the content creator and/or readers (and not just those terms allowed by a single classification authority)
  2. establishes relationships between content and the people connected to the content (both content creators and readers)
  3. is inexpensive to undertake, especially in relation to traditional cataloguing and thesauris construction
  4. scales exceptionally well, thereby suiting the miscellany of digital space
  5. aggregates especially well, thereby harnessing the so-called wisdom of crowds
  6. permits multiple access points to information instead of just bibliographic data
  7. permits discovery of a range of other items tagged by other content creators and readers
  8. overcomes the lack of currency when using traditional fixed forms of metadata (like the established classification systems)
  9. is highly participatory in that people freely choose the relevant tags they regard as appropriate to their own content and to the content of others
  10. as more applications make tagging available, and as the new digital generations increasingly enter the workforce, tagging will become the established norm in the digital information environment (we can see how blogs may offer such an opportunity)

Point 10 is especially important. There is already some evidence of tagging popularity from a Pew Internet Report showing that nearly one-third of US internet users tagged content. As tagging becomes more familiar and mainstream, new opportunities will open up to enhance the popularity of tagging – what I have called “the tagging locomotive”.

I’ll stop here (but with another post to come) with some recommended readings:

Everything is miscellaneous by David Weinberger

Ontology is overrated by Clay Shirky

Folksonomies: power to the people by Emanuele Quintarelli

Blog inside the enterprise

I have come across reluctance by senior management in the past to consider blogs as a suitable communication medium for engaging readers and encouraging dialogue. I have also heard that “it’s all too hard”.

Check out Naomi Wolf’s Amazon.com blog. This is as simple as it gets and all focused around a single theme. And that theme supports Wolf’s recently published book, The end of America: letter of warning to a young patriot. The blog could be improved, of course, with better content and more linkages. However, the gist of it demonstrates simplicity itself.

Could this be done in a similar fashion in the enterprise? You bet – with the right attitude and some well founded enthusiasm.

Imagine a company that publishes research reports on different industry topics for staff, and external clients and prospects. Imagine putting up a very simple blog to support the research report and any discussions around it. Imagine starting a conversation, creating a dialogue with clients, and working through further discussion and analysis from the original report. Imagine that both the author and readers are better informed and more engaged with each other. Imagine how much more impact that research report would have with readers – the clients and prospects you want to impress.

Imagine…

On Jeremiah’s weekly digest on social networking

Today I want to highlight Jeremiah’s weekly digest on social networking. I find it a valuable and quick read about the social networking space. Jeremiah Owyang is on my blog roll but his weekly digest is too good to hide behind that!

On knowledge management’s crisis of confidence

I read a lot of blogs on knowledge management. I also read articles and I try to read books (although I am doing so at a much slower rate these days). I attend knowledge management conferences and discuss issues with attendees. I talk knowledge management at forums and with friends and colleagues.

What I find is that there is a seeming lack of confidence about “knowledge management” and why it is important. It seems to me that there is much to discuss, plenty of good KM work being done, numerous relevant multidisciplinary approaches, and plenty of opportunities for KM initiatives across organisational boundaries to enhance personal and organisational effectiveness. Yet it is all undone because we can’t define KM in a single sentence, and knowledge management is not “recognised” as a “discipline” unto itself.

In other words, knowledge management is complex and multidimensional, and there is no “authority” to give knowledge management the seriousness it deserves. 

So it is interesting to read yet again – actKM has had a long discussion about what constitutes KM – that there is still conjecture as to what knowledge management is, whether it can become a “discipline”, and whether knowledge management is really something separate from everyday work practices within an organisation.

Some relevant blog posts on the topic have come from Annette and Matt, James Dellow, Gladur, David Gurteen, Lucas McDonnell, Dave Snowden, and Jack Vinson. There are many, many more out there in blogland.

I almost forgot to add the notorious (?) Tom Wilson article: The nonsense of knowledge management in which knowledge management is derided as being just a mere fad – a fad that shows no sign of abating despite it’s lack of clarity.

My definition of knowledge management from my 2003 journal article said this:

“Knowledge management is a collective term for the facilitation of improvements to an organisation’s capabilities, efficiencies and competitive advantage through the better use of its individual and collective knowledge and information resources”.

I still think of knowledge management the same way today in terms of facilitation. And facilitation can be technical by providing tools and it can be behavioural, in terms of embedding work processes that enhance positive knowledge and organisational outcomes.

In fact, knowledge management is likely to continue its amorphous definitional context for the very reason that more and more knowledge management practices are becoming embedded within ordinary day-to-day work.

And this is a good thing…….