E L S U A ~ A KM Blog by Luis Suarez

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Wikis, Blogs and Other Points of Failure – Fear Not

Talking about the new style on Knowledge Management, I thought that people would be interested in reading this particular news article: Wikis, Blogs and Other Points of Failure by Joshua Greenbaum on how both wikis and weblogs may not be the best of knowledge sharing and collaborative tools in the enterprise for some of the problems he identifies as lack of subject matters checking further and validating on the sources of information. I must say that after reading the article I just couldn’t help smiling about where the controversy or that failure comes from. According to Joshua:

[…] self-publishing — which is really what wikis and blogs are all about — is extremely hazardous to corporate health. Some of these hazards are well recognized: Employee blogs are infamous for publicizing corporate secrets and intellectual property.

That is quite an interesting statement because I have yet to see the first enterprise weblog / wiki that falls under that category. We have certainly witnessed some of that with some personal weblogs on the Internet but how many cases out of the millions and millions of weblogs out there? Exactly ! How many business weblogs / wikis are out there without some kind of policy and guidelines put together for people so that they have got some additional help for those cases / situations where they may not be sure? I am not sure about you folks, but I do not know many companies out there that do not have those guidelines that would help people establish some kind of expectation as to what is shareable and what is not. And help facilitate the sharing of that knowledge.

I do know as well though a whole bunch of companies who do have those policies and guidelines and that are now benefiting big time from that relatively new wave of social computing by enabling their employees share what they know (And collaborate) with others in different new collaborative tool suites where they are the ones in control (Self-control) as opposed to others and therefore knowledge gets shared and reused much faster than ever before. Of course, we are going to have situations where information may not be accurate enough and so forth, but that is also happening with subject matter experts anyway, perhaps to a less degree, but it is still happening. However, thinking how different quick updates could correct that information in an almost real-time basis surely must count as an advantage and not as a disadvantage. And if not let’s have a look at how Wikipedia works. There may be inaccurate information over there but very often it is the case where those information sources would be updated within minutes and with the right information.

So why is it that everyone seems to be scared about this new wave of sharing knowledge and collaborating? Why are people so fearful that command and control attitude that has regulated the corporate culture for so many years is suddenly not there any longer and knowledge workers take a much more personal involvement and commitment to provide the information and knowledge they feel would be relevant for the business? Why would that information be inaccurate? Don’t they have some kind of responsibility and reputation to maintain in their own business environment? I mean, we all know how long, and how much effort, it takes to build up your social capital skills and your trust levels, however, it just takes a split second to destroy it for good. Thus I do not believe that knowledge workers would be making their working lives so complicated by spreading inaccurate information. Specially as part of their daily tasks for the jobs they do. Or am I missing something else in here?

On the other hand, have a look into any business that may have implemented weblogs or wikis and you will see how most of them would tell you how much more information gets shared on a daily basis because people feel that they have got a chance to let their voices be heard. They themselves would be converted into the company’s pool of subject matter experts and contribute into that collective wisdom that would help improve tremendously the quality of deliverables that every company would be aiming for.

In the end, blogs and wikis, like e-mail, have a lot of potential for both good and bad. But we tend not to question the source, and therefore the veracity, of information

Yes, indeed, they do have a lot of potential. There is no denying that. But let’s just not confuse that potential with the misuse of some of those collaborative tools. Because we all know that they will get misused, they all do, but in this particular case we would have the communities themselves, that would be making use of those same tools, the ones regulating the accuracy of the information based on the relationships already established through time and effort within the community and, whether we like it or not, that is perhaps a much more effective and efficient way of utilising those tools: leave it up to the people (i.e. The communities) to decide what they would want to question or not. I bet that in most cases they would be making the right choice. Like it has been happening all along thus far for all those companies that have already started using any of those technologies.

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  1. People are fearful because the rise of well moderated community information spells the end of the “expert” a tenuous designation if ever there was one. Greenbaum is mourning the end of expert-driven facts. But the point is that traditional forms of media were less about facts and more about power and wealth. If you could own a press, or a paper or a radio station, you could pick the experts and give them a space to work. Traditional media set up this pattern in the first place.

    Blogs wikis and everything else simply extends this argument to its logical conclusion. If “expertise” so sanctioned has to do with showing up in print, then what does the likes of Greenbaum expect?

    The biggest mistake that Greenbaum makes however is confusing “writer” with “expert.” The fact is that blogs and wikis create space for learners who put ideas out for consideration, challenge and improvement. I find blogs published by “experts” to be as tiresome as Greenbaum’s writing. It comes pre-canned with no opening into conversation. The rest of us (who “get it”) throw stuff on our sites as much to say “what do you guys think of this” as we do to solidify some kind of reputation.

    Anyway, Greenbaum chooses to publish in a non-interactive medium and so we discuss and converse about his ideas over here. Who knows – if his “publication” had comments he might learn something. But he’d have to be open to that first.

    Blessed are the learners, for they shall inherit the wisdom of the world.

  2. Thanks a lot, folks, for the feedback comments and for dropping by! Welcome to elsua!

    Having commented already in Euan’s blog post I just cannot but agree completely with you, Chris, on your commentary. Even further I think I would expand a quote I really enjoyed:

    The fact is that blogs and wikis create space for learners who put ideas out for consideration, challenge and improvement so much so that in the end they themselves become experts in those areas they have challenged themselves to learn some more.

    Indeed, I certainly agree with you that it is far more engaging, and therefore much more rewarding, to engage in conversations where you feel you could actually contribute with your own voice and expertise than to listen to someone one way but without being able to participate further yourself. That one way collaboration may have worked in the past (To some extent) but giving the current business environment it is no longer sustainable on its own. The key is to be able to challenge yourself to leave your own silo(s) and engage further in the discussions taking place out there and continue collaborating with one another through that continued learning process.

    Failure to do so will bring you back into your own silo, and at which point the learning process will just be a lot slower, if not non-existent. By the way, I really like your closing remark ! What a great quote !

    Blessed are the learners, for they shall inherit the wisdom of the world

    (I just couldn’t help it)

  3. Pingback: The Obvious?

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