In my first post on the changing habits of information consumers and the changing role of information professionals as part of the knowledge supply chain, I shared examples of increasing complexity, underpinned by technology and changes in personal preference. In this post, let’s take a look at the third paradigm (KM 3.0) and see what it means for the sustainability and relevance of knowledge managers and special librarians.
Paradigm Three: Connected Content
Two 21st century trends that are dramatically impacting the knowledge supply chain have emerged:
- user generated content
- social networks
Let’s first look at these in the personal sphere, where they are very well developed. With the advent of YouTube and sites such as Repairclinic.com, people are accessing user generated content as much as (if not more than) publisher or top-down curated content.
When my electronic garage door malfunctions, I am able to search based on the symptoms (e.g., “the opener motor just clicks and neither the door nor the opener belt move”). The content I then review is not from the manufacturer, but from other homeowners, and it is usually from some sort of user driven forum (e.g., repairclinic.com). I am then also shown links to various YouTube videos showing me how to replace the logic board in my garage door opener.
In addition, for many people (especially younger people) news and other content is now often delivered via the activity streams of social networks we use (such as Facebook or LinkedIn). People learn about job opportunities, industry trends, and even strife in Syria from posts of friends - not by reading the New York Times. News is “pushed” to them; they do not go to a central repository to access curated content.
As a related aside, this is why:
- newspapers are going out of business
- “build it and they will come” no longer works.
It’s now much more about the network than the content, because the network builds and delivers the content.
Knowledge managers now find these personal information consumption trends mirrored inside their organizations, with the emergence of Enterprise Social Networks (ESNs) such as Yammer, Jive, etc. Staff now “follow” respected colleagues and industry experts to create an activity stream with knowledge delivered to their desktop or mobile device 24/7/365. When users need information, they find it easier to engage their coworkers, rather than go to some website and search for it.
So yet again, knowledge managers and information professionals are asking themselves “How do I stay relevant in an age when my virtual content collection seems to be fading in importance to my users?”
The key is not to give up on the centrally curated repository as the source of truth, but to acknowledge two key things:
- it’s not all the truth there is - lots of truth is in the heads of co-workers, for example
- users want to receive relevant information; they do not want to search for it
In their personal lives, people have concluded they really don’t miss out on much by not reading a paper every morning; they get the important stuff from friends and colleagues via their activity streams.
It’s clear, then, that knowledge managers and information professionals must leverage existing ESNs, becoming active participants and even drivers: ESNs need moderators and community managers. (For example, George W. Bush’s legacy has been debated on Wikipedia via page edits so many times that the page is now locked down and edits are reviewed and approved by a moderator.)
ESNs live and die by the value of the activity streams they create and deliver. With access to abundant and high quality industry news and information, can you create an industry news activity stream? Can you watch for “most read” posts? Can you tune newsfeeds to better serve users? Or create specialized streams for different audiences? If so, you will become a key part of the ESN ecosystem and the new knowledge supply chain.
Lots of questions are generated in the ESN and this is a great opportunity for participation and ownership. Answering questions such as “What’s our market share in Europe?” or “Does anyone have a market size estimate for Nigeria?” and providing links to relevant information in the central repository will enhance your stature as a content guru, and build trust and awareness of the importance and relevance of your team and your content repository.
ESNs are growing in importance and prevalence. To quote The Firesign Theatre, “The future’s not here yet, man,” but it actually is in many places, and to varying degrees (to paraphrase William Gibson). Knowledge managers and other information professionals need to adapt to this new reality, and embrace rather than ignore this growing knowledge sharing venue and tool.
Does your organization have an ESN? What’s your experience?