Updated: 9/20/2005; 6:22:04 PM.


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  Thursday, September 15, 2005

  Public weblogs as a tool for (internal) knowledge management

A lot of discussions that I've been involved into about uses of weblogs in somehow assumed the distinction between intranet and external weblogs regarding it. External weblogs were considered great to connect with other professionals (usually outside of one's organisation) and (potential) customers, while internal weblogs thought of being one of the tools that could replace or complement knowledge sharing and expertise finding tools behind the firewall.

I'm more and more convinced that this view is shortsighted. Next to my own experiences (blogging as a coffee-table dialogue) this is something that came out in my study of Microsoft weblogs. I looked for examples documented in public - this is one from Josh Ledgard (next to serving as an example the discussion itself could be interesting for those thinking about interactions in forum-supported communities):

I recently posted my ideas for cutting off the duplicate questions in online web based forums.  I'm enjoying all the feedback, but I was most impressed when Lee Holmes who took my PM art to the next level and created a functioning prototype to further the feedback process.


Side Note: Not to blog about blogging, but I've never met Lee or had any agreements with anyone that he would do this. Nor would I ever have been able to send mail to the right group of interested people that might be able to spend the time building a prototype. I simply blogged my idea, the idea found the right people, and we've made a bunch of progress that will help ensure the right feature is delivered to our users. 

This brings me back to the discussion on recording and discoverability of knowledge traces in my previous post.

Recording. Writing about an idea in a public weblog makes much more sense than in the one with much smaller audience internally - it's just a matter of critical mass of people who can potentially see it and react to it. In my own case, I'd hardly write anything if this blog would be intranet-only, even knowing that my colleagues could be interested.

In addition there are more reasons to write externally - to get feedback from a broader audience, to provide information to customers, to connect with other professionals outside, to develop own reputation, while in the case of internal weblogs it's mainly about documenting work or sharing ideas within an organisation. Of course, all these doesn't mean that internal blogs do no have any value - they do - but only that in many cases writing externally may be more motivating.

External weblogs may not represent company's confidential knowledge (those who write about it are risking being fired), but they still may have many ideas that could add value if shared internally and they provide good visibility for finding in-house expers.

Discoverability. So, it would be stupid not to use external weblogs for internal knowledge management purposes, but this is not easy if they are treated as an external resource - in this case chances of discovering knowledgeable colleagues and relevant resources are left to chance encounters. I'd think of ways to bring this "external" knowledge back into intranet. For example:

  • including external blogs of company's employees into intranet search
  • syndicating them in the relevant intranet sections (based on topic? person? "all people working in this project blogged yesterday"?)
  • creating a "weblog of the month" column in internal newsletter featuring ideas from external employee blogs
  • facilitating employees finding and subscribing to relevant blogs of their colleagues

At the end why not use knowledge traces that are already there? :)))

  Unexpected knowledge sharing: on recording and discoverability of knowledge traces

[I actually started to write it as a part of the post that will appear next, but thought that it makes sense to separate these two :) ]

In many companies usual communication evolves around joint work and on "need to know" basis. For me some of the greatest challenges of are about tapping into knowledge which is not part of existing workflows: would it be about disconnected groups learning from insights of each other, discovering like-minded others where you wouldn't expect or serendipity that gives birth to innovations.

However, there are obvious problems with knowledge which is not part of existing workflows: we don't know if our ideas have value at all, who would be interested to hear them and what are the good ways to connect. So, the question is - how to motivate people sharing knowledge in this case?

I'm thinking of two complimentary strategies:

Making demand side visible. I strongly believe that knowledge flows are powered by questions and that most of the people are eager to help if they see someone in trouble. So, making questions and problems of others visible helps sharing insights across organisational silos.  Of course asking is more difficult then answering and reinventing is more fun then reusing, but I wouldn't go into details now since wrote a lot about it :) 

Another way would be to motivate recording and discoverability of knowledge traces (if you want more context on knowledge animals and their traces see Survival in the knowledge economy (.pdf) by my colleague Janine Swaak who is unfortunately stopped blogging).

Would it be nice if experiences and ideas of others in your organisation are magically recorded and pop-up in front of you each time you struggle with something where they could be of a help? (Of course in a way dramatically different from MS Office Clippy :)

In this case there are two important things: leaving traces of your knowledge in public and ways for others to discover them. For the time being I'd leave the discoverability issue aside and think about leaving traces.

Our work is increasingly digital, so we leave digital traces anyway. Some of them are already accessible to others (e.g. documents on intranet), others are locked in private collections. Many of those kept locally could be shared with (selected group of) others without much problem, but we need right motivations and tools to do so (think of your bookmarks that probably migrated to del.icio.us).

Some traces could be recorded automatically. For example, I don't mind if articles I ordered or conferences that I registered for will be recorded and available somewhere where my colleagues could easily find it.

If we have enough reasons we can document those that are hard to record automatically. Think of blogging (and my next post is on that as well :)

I probably should write about the privacy issues around all these, but I really would like to finish another post before dinner :)

Also: for another angle on this - Legitimised theft: distributed apprenticeship in weblog networks

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© Copyright 2002-2005 Lilia Efimova.

This weblog is my learning diary. Sometimes I write about things related to my work, but the views expressed here are personal and do not necessarily reflect the views of my employer.

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