Books, documents, manuscripts, newspapers and even web pages were created in the past partly because there was no other way for someone with knowledge to share it with someone else in a different time or place who might need it.
Throughout my Information and Knowledge Management career I have sought to manage all of these forms of information in one way or another, but now I realise that in some senses they are all redundant (or one day probably will be).
Even though I like to present myself as a social computing evangelist and general wannabe-geek, I will admit that this most elementary understanding of what is happening to information and knowledge completely passed me by until very recently..
The final wake-up call came recently via Twitter: I had a friend who was standing for election to the local council in Edinburgh and was curious to find out how he had got on. Could I find it in a newspaper, on the BBC website, on Wikipedia? No. So, I simply searched twitter until I found a hashtag that led me to tweeters in the count itself. I proceeded to follow their tweets for a couple of hours to gain what turned out to be a very accurate and comprehensive picture of what had happened in the elections.
This ability to connect directly with the people with the knowledge, as they were acquiring it, blew me away (especially compared with the results of much of my own work which delivers information to people long after things have moved on). What if this were the case for all information? Clearly you can’t connect with people who are no longer here, so there might be a case for ‘managing’ historic information, but the ability to tap into source knowledge and even interact with it, turns much traditional IM ad KM on its head.
Clearly if you are going straight to source, you need to exercise a greater degree of intelligent analysis, given that you now lack traditional filters, but this has always been the case for primary sources of information. In reality, not every tweet in my above example was helpful or accurate, but by reading them as a whole I was able to gain a remarkably accurate picture of events (later confirmed by formal announcements and media reports).
So what does this mean for IM/KM work? Although we’re not quite there yet (and Twitter, for example, has functionality that is too limited to take this idea much further), much collaborative technology is moving towards facilitating this connection between enquirer and source, gradually reducing the steps in between.
Tools like Twitter (or Yammer or Socialcast), enterprise wikis, social networking, file sharing and gps-based people locaters are pushing further and further in this direction. The telephone, of course, did it first and it’s therefore not surprising that it is the modern telephone (or at least the device that now holds it) that is carrying much of these modern tools.
This means that to some degree all these other information technologies will be usurped once people can connect effectively. What happens to traditional Information & Knowledge Managers then?
Hopefully, they too will be put to better use. For me, perhaps that means managing content much less, and training, motivating and leading people much more. Will businesses and other organisations recognise the value of that kind of role? I suspect not many will, or at least not for a long time. But given the inevitability of this movement, I think those of us who work in Knowledge Management especially should step away from our content management comfort zone and push for it much more than we currently are.