Just recently Toby Ward, over at Intranet Blog, created a weblog post that I found particularly interesting since I have been facing some of the different issues put together by him on how knowledge workers actually get to search for information on their companies’ Intranets, and the Internet in general, and although I may not have a final solution for it I certainly think it would actually be the first few steps on the right direction. The weblog post is titled Searching Kills Employee Productivity and in it he gets to comment on a Center for Media Research survey: Hot Topics: 2001 vs. 2005: Research Study Reveals Dramatic Changes Among Information Consumers. Overall Toby gets to share some thought-provoking information details about how as time has gone through knowledge workers spend more and more time searching for information in order to do their jobs. Lots of people seem to believe that this wasted time is almost, in all cases, due to the search engines themselves not being able to keep up with the information accumulated but Toby has got an interesting point where he indicates that it may actually be the seekers of information the ones who may be doing things wrong all along.
I just couldn’t help but agree with him about this, even though I still do not think that it is totally an issue from the knowledge workers perspective alone. I feel it is still a little bit of a combination of two different factors: the tools, i.e. the search engines, and the knowledge workers themselves. That obsession to be able to build up the best search engine to crawl as much information as possible is something that perhaps puts us in a position where we may be far too much dependent on the tools themselves as opposed to something else. Knowledge workers, obviously, end up becoming too dependent as well on those search engines and as such they would tend to get sloppy on what I feel is also another key aspect that from my perspective would certainly help people save plenty of time when searching through their Intranets for information.
And that is the capability of adapting search engines to search and locate not only that piece of knowledge or information but also the people behind that piece of information. Indeed, the experts. Certainly by having a search engine that combines both searched results of information and experts we will actually be able to fix the too much time spent issue that the survey is highlighting from the perspective where the seekers would have access not only to the information they may be looking for, but also easy access to the experts behind those knowledge sources. So, in short, those search engines would allow you to get the best of both worlds in a seamless way and in a very short time.
Take, for instance, the example of Fringe Contacts, IBM’s people portal interface, where you would be able to search not only for the information you may be asking for, through the usage of keywords or tags, but also you would be able to search for those experts who have been tagged with those keywords. As such, under the same user interface, you would be able to have access to both the Intellectual Capital and the experts behind it. And with a single click a whole bunch of other resources available to you that would be related to the people you may find in those results.
Thus as you can see we may seem to have become a bit sloppier in the way we handle information and search for it, but we do have the solution to this problem as well, which is bringing some more balance between the sources of information and the experts behind them. Looking for that balanced approach for an Intranet search is something that every business should strive for, because at the end of the end, and in most cases, you may be able to learn more from the experts than the information they themselves may have spreaded around already. Like Dave Snowden would say "We always know more than we can tell and we will always tell more than we can write down". It will be up to us, whether we would want to spend hours and hours and hours finding the right information or just focus where we should be focusing: on finding those experts that will take us to the information.
Tags: Search Engines, Search 2.0, Knowledge Worker, Intranet Search, Intranet, Knowledge Sharing, Knowledge Management, KM, Content Management, Expertise Location, Expertise Locators, Fringe Contacts, IBM.