Updated: 8/10/2006; 7:02:03 PM.


on personal productivity in knowledge-intensive environments, weblog research, knowledge management, PhD, serendipity and lack of work-life balance...
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  Monday, July 24, 2006

  From email to blogs: challenges of changing the channel

Another turn on 'E-mail is where knowledge goes to die' and that blogs could solve the problem, but it's not easy to 'sell' to managers (Andy, thanks for the pointer). And a very good comment by Tony Karrer:

Iíve seen a few other places that advocate this, BUT, how do you address the fact that email is relatively more of a push technology. In other words, in todayís corporate world, someone is more likely to read an email than an update to a web page.

Given my own blogging experiences I believe that this issue has to be taken seriously. There are a couple of reasons for that:

First, email serves many functions. Next to being a tool for communication, it could work reminder for to-dos, organiser of work and even turn into habitat at work (for those who want more - look at email management research and studies that touch email as part of personal information management research).

Suggesting that (part of) email communication should be replaced by blogging without taking into account those functions is likely to break existing personal information management practices of people. This could result in decreased personal productivity next to increased organisational productivity with questionable net gain.

Second, before we discuss increased organisational productivity as a result of (part of) personal email archives available on intranet we need to make sure that those bits will actually be found and used by others. And this is not that easy...

With email you have to deal with mainly with your own inbox. It's already much of an email overload, since next to those really important 'to do' emails you are likely to have 'FYI' emails on things that might be interesting, 'corporate spam' (saw the term recently, don't remember where) that you may not need at all, but someone in a company thinks that you need, personal emails and lots of other things. Or, using distinctions in my previous post, it includes things that don't fit that are often difficult to process.

Now just imagine that next to your own mailbox you have access to mailboxes of others. The amount of things that don't fit increases dramatically. The good side of it that it's a source of unexpected insights, it's searchable, it's archived company-wide forever. The bad thing is that we are not equipped to deal with it.

Now to my personal example. When I started blogging I loved it. Reading others brought all those unexpected insights and relationships that improved my work dramatically. However, it also brought heavy information overload that I wasn't prepared to deal with. Having many (more than I could ever imagine) bits of potentially useful insights with no immediate way to process them made me feeling stressed and lost. I am a bit better now, but it's still not working well and I still envy Ton who not only wrote about need for new information processing strategies, but also figured out how those could work for himself (check his posts on filtering, tools and routines).

So, I'd suggest that before evangelising blogs as an alternative to email we should figure out how people in a company are going to process increased amounts of available and potentially useful information when it comes out from hidden email archives. Otherwise we risk of moving a big chunk of information from email that at least read to a company-wide intranet that many people learnt to ignore (unless that important document is announced by an email from CEO).

  Things that don't fit

Some time back I wrote about knowledge which is not part of existing workflows. Now I'm struggling with finding more fine-grained distinctions.

First, a few of related categories:

  • Stephen Covey's classification of tasks into an urgent/important matrix: important things do not have to be time-sensitive in a short-term (=it's important to do something about one's professional development, but it's not necessary to work on it today).
  • Hot / warm / cold information in personal information management studies (I remember seeing it in Documents at Hand: Learning from Paper to Improve Digital Technologies, but can't check right now if the authors referred to another source regarding it). It indicates the degree of need for a piece of information (e.g. document) in relation to a task performed right now.
  • Filing and piling strategies (e.g. here) in respect to organising/archiving pieces of information, where piling often means "I may want to access it later, but don't know where exactly I should put it".

Now, the dimensions regarding knowledge/information that I consider important:

  • Relevancy: it's relevant - I don't know - irrelevant
  • Time-sensitivity: I need it  now - as soon as possible - when I do so and so - one day soon - one day
  • Ability to categorise: it's belongs to a task/project - theme - "I feel it's important, but I don't know where it belongs"

Hmm, I thought that by writing it down things will become more clear, but it doesn't work that way :))). Another try, now in a matrix:



May be relevant


Things that fit

I need them and I know what do to with them

Things that don't fit

If I only knew if/why I need them I would know what to do with them

Don't know

Things that don't fit

I need them, but I don't know what to do with them

Things that don't fit (OR I don't know things*)

I don't want to let them go because they may be relevant, but I have no idea what to do with them

*This comes from a frequent expression of my husband, who would often suggest to buy "I don't know juice" or  to eat in "I don't know restaurant" when I'm sure that I want something, but not sure what and how...

The reason I want to bring it in is simple:

  • it's things that don't fit that make knowledge work so complicated and so full of unexpected discoveries
  • we often don't have good tools to deal with things that don't fit, either because those require definite judgement on how far those are relevant and/or ability to process them in a useful way

Examples of things that do not fit:

  • coffee-table rumour from a colleague about management decision that affects the project I work in
  • an article which is interesting, but I don't have a place to cite it right now
  • all those enterprise 2.0 blog posts that pop-up in my RSS reader
  • an article about new English language standards for the pilots of international flights that gives examples of plane incidents that happened due to lack of shared understanding

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© Copyright 2002-2006 Lilia Efimova.

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