Cultural evolution and K-logs

Are we ready to take the next step?

Some people are taking the concept of weblogs and applying it to the wider concept of knowledge management. The result is k-logging ("knowledge-logging"). But will it catch on - will your employer dump Lotus Notes databases in favour of browsers and blog-style brain-dumps? [ WriteTheWeb ]

From the story itself, an email interview with John Robb:

John Robb: Within a corporate context, K-Logs make it possible for any employee to add knowledge to an Intranet. It's easy enough to use (start-up in less than five minutes) that it overcomes resistance. Further, K-Logs provide people that use them two immediate benefits: 1) it is a highly visible way to enhance personal brand and 2) it is a great organizing tool that you can share with co-workers (it organizes your most important information over time). There is no other better way to get employee knowledge off the desktop and out of their heads and onto an Intranet where it can be archived, browsed, and searched.

I know. I've been there, done that. When I turned in the first draft of my book, my editor -- Tim O'Reilly -- said, "This is great, but I worry that you expect too much from people." It was true. We technologists like to think that if we can just come up with the right tool, all those wonderful k-logging benefits -- which are quite real, I can say from my own experiences -- will simply flow. But even then, I knew it wasn't just about the tools:

The cultural problem is far more difficult. The methods I'll present in the next few chapters presume that groups really want to collaborate - that is, share documents, move communication from interpersonal to group spaces, pool knowledge. "Our people are our only real asset," corporate executives like to say, and they mean it. They understand that their success depends mainly on what their people know, not just individually but collectively. A Lotus executive once claimed that there is an infinite return on an investment in Lotus Notes. Infinite! That sounds like brash computer-industry hyperbole. In fact it's arguably true when Notes captures organizational knowledge as it was designed to do, and is capable of doing. But mostly that doesn't happen, for lots of reasons. People tend to focus only their own tasks, and associate only within their own workgroups. People don't want to document everything they do. People don't want to think carefully about how they communicate, with whom, for what purposes, with what results. People don't want to share what they know, if they believe that doing so will threaten their own security. [ Practical Internet Groupware]

So why am I suddenly deep into blogspace, hoping once again to achieve what Notes never could, and what my own brand of Internet groupware never could? Because culture evolves. What's more, as Richard Dawkins and Susan Blackmore argue, culture is evolution. Fifteen years ago, most people weren't ready for the kind of collective mind-meld that makes k-logging work. Five years ago, most people still weren't. Today...well, the jury's still out, but the mainstream interest in blogging tells me that maybe, just maybe, we're close to having a critical mass of people who are ready to live transparently, to narrate their experiences in order to better understand them, and to be informed by the narrations of others.

I hope it's going to happen this time around. But whether it does or not, let's be clear about one thing. Although the software needs to have a certain set of properties, software's not the gating factor. People are. There's really no mystery as to why the Web didn't go two-way from the start. If most people wanted it to, it would have. Maybe now they do. I hope so.

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