Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Wrap-up – Mark Schenk

What worked well?

Andrew Boyd and the "wow" factor of augmented reality

Matt Moore's maps of the KM nation.

Experimentation – the willingness to try something without a safety net.


What Would Be Even Better?

Attend both days – really felt like I missed out after listening to the discussion this afternoon.

People, Passion and Place – Siwan Lovett

Started by acknowledging the Ngunnawal and other traditional indigenous peoples of Canberra. Talking about in NRM, the sector favoured the rational knowledge-base, but most of the knowledge is generated in an emotional context. We gain knowledge through art, music, poetry, etc. A poem on the effect of climate change in a specific place speaks to people more directly than a report from the IPCC.

5 p's: profit, proof, people, place, promise

Activity undertaken: people didn't write much about salt and land degradation, but asking for photos gave a better result.

The role of place is also important. It is a key part to a person's sense of identity. Criticising a property in NRM is also attacking this sense of identity. Identity is a part of communicating about place, too.

Promise, which is more connected to being engaged, than what your engagement is. Thinking about your legacy – what you leave behind beyond the technical.

Managing the user experience for Gov 2.0 – Andrew Boyd

Gov 2.0 isn't just publishing legislation to the Internet. NZ learnt that lesson with an exercise that closed after 8 days, as mentioned on the Gov 2.0 blog. Matt highlighted was that only some of the initiatives were a fail, for example, "Safe as" (http://www.safe.org.nz/ , I think).

Andrew touched on the difference between useable (can be used in the context for which it is designed/provided) and useful (actual provides some benefit).

Looking to the future, how do you open government services to be delivered on a 128x128 screen (ie, most common mobile screen format). He then moved into augmented reality, for example wikitude.

Broke 2020 down to pretty sure, maybe, and not too sure. Gov 2.0 will be integrated into everyday life, community organisations will be more pervasive and effective through online collaboration. Privacy, security and confidentiality will be far less important issues. Personal information (medical, financial, education) will be managed as a joint ownership between citizen and government.

Hypothetical - What happened to KM – Nerida Hart facilitating

In 2050, Dave Snowden is largely unknown. Mark S is something I can't spell, but starts with "cryo". I think it's the intermediate step between now and Futurama's heads in jars. Frank Connolly's role sounds icky. "Professor Moore" is a clone of Professor Lessig, representing the Creative Commons religious movement? "Miss M" sounds like ... no, wait for a minute. Sarah makes the new new again. "Miss M" is something I'm not sure I could publish in a place open to public scrutiny!

Abject-oriented - Matt Moore

Started with tables creating maps for the nation of "KM". My thinking was an island chain in the pacific "Ring of Fire". New, fertile earth, beset by natural disasters outside of the nation's control. Newly formed volcanic peaks, rules for what happens when a lava flow claims your golf ball. Small tribes living in partial isolation, under threat of colonisation from the large, powerful management nations of Finance and Management, maligned by the newly powerful IT nation. Picture Vanuatu with a lot more nerds.

Matt then asked everyone to describe other nations that interact with the KM nation. As you can tell from above, I (and others) skipped ahead and started defining that. I also think there is a strong relationship between the nation's of Strategy and Learning, although these more established consist of populations that are ignorant of KM to a greater or lesser degree, as the population of KM is of them.

Think I got slapped down for my suggestion that nothing is outside of KM as a discipline. Tough. Its not a nice answer, but it is right, and artificially constraining the domain because not doing is too hard is only damaging in the long run. Sorry, Matt.

actKM 09 - The Role of Thinking in KM – Frank Connolly

First a run down of impressions from yesterday's presenters. Interested in addressing Patrick's concern of getting out of the KM rut.

Focused on the DeBono approach to thinking. Listed a few tools that assist in thinking, then ran a quick exercise on the PMI (Pluses, Minuses, Interesting) tool. "Consider moving next actKM Conference to Sydney". Helps "pull out the threads" of your thinking, and recognising assumptions.

Applying DeBono's Six Thinking Hats in a facilitated session often relies on participants not being aware that they are using it. Tools don't necessarily remove barriers (nor should they). They do create an opportunity to have everyone working on the same page, though.


Friday, August 28, 2009

Temporal Characteristics of Knowledge?

Phew ... . Haven't been in here in a while. Excuse me while I clean up a little.


I've been having and/or listening to a few discussions lately that use the phrase "all data is spatial". Don't like it - its probably 80-90% true, but not "all". Data like "the number of times I yawn in a day" may have relevant spatial components, or it may not.

What all data is, though, is temporal. All data is a snapshot in time. It may or may not change, but the only way to tell is to regather at a different time, and compare. In fact, almost all the utility of spatial data comes from its temporal component - real-time spatial data has to always be now. Non-real-time data needs the context of when it was created. There's a lot of other important characteristics, too, but time is the key one.

It got me thinking, though. I know we all hate (or should hate) the DIK(W) pyramid. But what little validity it has comes from the fact that there is a connection between the DIK elements. It a non-linear, non-hierarchical relationship, but it is there.

So I wonder, if all data is temporal, is the same true of information?

Probably. I can't think of any exceptions, but that doesn't mean there aren't any. You can have timeless information (fire burns), but its only proper information when fire IS BURNING something. I'm willing to be called on this, though.

But knowledge?

Hmmm, that's a tricky one. If you take the (albeit incredibly simplistic) view that knowledge is information in action or applied, then I suppose it has temporal qualities. But the knowledge that "fire burns paper" - is that temporal? I don't think it is - the temporal context of that knowledge isn't really relevant. You could argue that the time that knowledge was gained an/or used gives it a temporal quality. But because knowledge has a non-linear forward use element (it may or may not be useful at some point in the future), does that remove some of the temporal element?

I honestly don't know. I'm a big believer that that if something feels right, it is until proven otherwise (and "feels" is different to "believe", because believing has a sense of conviction behind it). And the idea that while all data is temporal, not all knowledge is, just feels right.

Still, I could be wrong (which is why it feels right, but I don't necessarily believe it). Any thoughts?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

There, there, SharePoint - you're not the only one whose intent doesn't match its use: look at wikipedia

Ah, Wikipedia. Without you, I would never have known that new Doctor Who Executive producer Steven Moffat also created Press Gang (which surely should make him eligible for a Nobel Prize of some sort). Or that the Large Hadron Collider could very well produce a black hole, but one that is unlikely to be a problem beyond the natural life-span of the planet anyway. Or how many Roma people may or may not have died as part of the Nazi Final Solution. Of course, I still might not know these things, but just think I know them.

I was recently in a "discussion" (I made an assertion, I got a reply, and since the replier was someone who has to have the last word, I decided to make his first and his last the same - and he still needed to have the last word against himself!) about some of the pitfalls regarding Wikipedia. Most notably, the rules. The oh so, so, SO many rules. Why is that important? Because it’s a huge turn-off. Anyone who works in the community space probably knows that a great way to skew badly an online community is to bury them in a mountain of rules to follow. Of course, you don't have to enforce them consistently, and you can ignore them, except for when you can't. So, provide all that up front, and then remind everyone that anyone can participate, so that anyone who does is everyone. Now, can anyone point to an occasion where that approach has been a success.

So why does Wikipedia need all these rules? Well, because it’s an encyclopaedia. Except it isn't. Well, I say it isn't, but it is. Well I say it is, but it isn't. Well,...

I don't do a lot of editing on Wikipedia. I see many "facts", a lot of "original research", a lot of "non-NPOV", and I let it all go (just about). Why? Why not? There's a small, mean part of me (I call him Bernard) that says that anyone foolish enough to believe what Wikipedia says at any one time deserves what they get. Its a snobby, elitist, "I'm a librarian and you're an idiot" part of me that I can't get rid of, and probably don't want to. Why? Because, as long as I hold that attitude, I (hopefully) won't accept what's written as fact without thinking about it.

The thing is, I love Wikipedia. I use it EVERY day, for any number of reasons and purposes. Much of it work related (I'd say half the time, because it'd be close, but that scares me). But my favourite thing is TV episode capsules. Family Guy, Dollhouse, Australia’s Next Top Model (Leigh Sales says its OK to watch, thank goodness), you name it. I have this addiction to consult Wikipedia about an episode as I watch it, like an asynchronous commentary track. It really is an addiction, too. I keep telling myself "just wait til the episode is over", never do, because then the next show starts, and I have to look it up before I forget.

How can I use something religiously that I hold in such contempt? Well, possibly I rationalise it by saying that I only believe Wikipedia fully when it ins't something important. I remember one time I did try to do something significant. I couldn't tell you why this one wrong entry set me off, other than the fact that I was in between jobs and wanted to do something useful. I ended up in revert war with a lawyer who was convinced that I was wrong. I had to agree he had the legal expertise to say that, except, I wasn't, because the government authority responsible for the process I was editing - think about the most important democratic process in Australia - said I was right. I quoted directly from their publication, and it was reverted. I quoted directly from their publication and added a passage about the implication, and it was reverted. Some kind soul eventually took pity on me and made an edit to say what I had been trying to say, but make it sound like the opposite was true in a special case - which as far as I know has occurred once ever, and only because the law was changed to make it happen. I would now say that the page is technically correct, but presented in such a way as to give readers the wrong impression if they aren't well versed in the Australian version of that process. Oh well, the stupid people can believe what they like.

Now, this post rambles a lot, which is important. Because that's what Wikipedia is like: a long, rambling, partially coherent conversation. It’s not authoritative, because it’s ephemeral, with a few exceptions. It’s useful, but only as an addition to well-informed research. It’s a noble idea, but its goals are incompatible with its nature. It’s not evil, but only because it’s not good either. I'm not saying don't support it, or don't use it. Just use it with caution. Know what wikipedia is, and what it isn't, and use it accordingly.

Thursday, July 23, 2009

What type of collaboration are we working on today, Brain?

I'm going to ramble a bit today, I think, so I'm going to front-load the pot with my conclusion, and try to work backwards - kind of like journos - especially modern ones, where facts and opinions occupy the same space (uh, oh - rambling already).

So, to me there are 3 "domains" - bigger than types, smaller than dimensions - of collaboration.

Firstly, there's business-focused/ project-based collaboration, which is all about collaborating to achieve a business objective or objectives. This kind of collaboration is small, lean, and targeted - it exists for a defined period, it works to a definite outcome, and is command driven - whoever is responsible for the objective, runs the show. Its a collaboration community in that everyone has to work together to succeed, whether they want to or not. At a basic level, schools are this - the school is the uniting factor, and there's collaboration because there's no choice - you can't just cherry pick the elements from several schools to suit yourself. Families, too, especially those events where you have to put up with relatives who - were they complete strangers - you'd run 5kms to avoid. A large organisation is similar, though there is more choice involved, since there is a uniting interest, presumably, since people actually choose to work there.

In domain B, there's a community of common interest. These are centred on a topic, field, discipline, or whatever, and are essentially a meeting of like minds. School classes, business units, community groups, and even small to medium organisations tend to operate like this. You may not like everyone in the community - in fact, you may actively dislike any or all members of it - but it is a community of people with the same interest, so there is a common factor that isn't imposed - you choose your interests.

And III, you've got a community of one. This is the community you build yourself, where you're the uniting factor. The community may only exist for you - there's no commonality but the one you provide, and in fact members may not even know that the "community" exists. These are your friends, family members you actively seek to spend time with, the colleagues at work you actually seek out to talk to.

I've been giving these domains a lot of thought lately. In particular because I'm working in building these communities in the workplace. And I'm struggling, mostly because people don't always recognise that these domains are distinct. A community built on a common interest grown organically - there's a few key members who kick things off, and initially just talk amongst themselves. The community can grow or disperse, depending on how much external interest and value it generates. But you can't apply this approach to a project-based community - it has a purpose, and a deadline, and someone is accountable for it - that person has to provide the drive to build that community, and can't abrogate that responsibility. If you delegate the role of leadership, you send a clear message that you don't really care or believe in the collaboration, and allow people to opt out. Its very difficult to deliver on a project objective within a specific time frame if participation is optional - there's no incentive to prioritise the collaboration effort over anything else within that time frame.

Similarly, you can't dictate participation in a community of interest, even in the most extreme circumstances. An invaded country can't count on its citizens to all join the resistance against the invaders - people respond differently depending on circumstance, situation, fellow members, and many, MANY other variables. A community of interest grows organically over time, and may live or die. You can provide the right environment to grow one, but sometimes no matter what you do, it may not take. And that's OK - a garden requires things to die to support new life.

(I'm showing my preference for the organic metaphor here, because I really, REALLY hate mechanical, technical approaches to collaboration - its condescending, stupid, and dangerous to talk and/or think of people like machines. Let the machines collaborate however they like - I for one, welcome our new metal overlords, and would like to remind them of how useful techno-friendly humans can be).

And those communities of one? Try and dictate to people who they can be friends with, see how far it gets you. I had a manager actually try that with me, and it will forever remain a BIG black mark against them, despite any other virtues they have - and they had a few. You can constrain friendships - a little - but its very risky territory, for reasons far greater than the obvious ones of creating alienated, hostile staff. Innovation comes from those friendships, more than anyplace else, and basically you need staff more than they need you. The insular, crackpot people hiding in the corner not talking to anyone are not the staff you want to keep.

These communities all interact, of course, so you need to treat each appropriately. If you're building a project-based community, YOU need to BUILD it. You can't pass the responsibility on. This is unenviable, since it will definitely mean extra work, with no extra time. But you're the boss, so dictate and exemplify the behaviour - lead by example and enforce your team following you. If you're building a community of common interest, however, absolutely DO NOT do this. Look for help, delegate responsibility, pass the buck often. Be a participant, but don't go nuts - it looks bad when you're name is the only appearing in any discussion (though this can sometimes work if you're willing to come across as earnest and desperate - I'm never to proud to beg for participation, and it usually works!). You can also build it using you're community one - get your friends and trusted colleagues to help.

I'm still trying to figure some of this out - in particular, does a community follow a project, or is the project a component of the community? Its probably a bit of both, but its a judgement call. It'd be nice if more projects were allowed to shine some light on why and how they failed.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Dead Space - the worst of 2 office designs

You know, over the bit over a decade than constitutes my working life, I've had some pretty terrible workspaces. When I worked in a call centre contracted to Treasury in Canberra, I eventually shared my desk designed for 1 with 3 other people, which was pretty cramped. At FaHCSIA, I had to work in a windowless area, with a "desk" that was 2 planks of wood nailed one over the other to form an L, and had to share that space with a public photocopier (photocopying (and ocassional shelving) was my job, at the time for 2 four hour shifts a week). At GIO, my desk was reclaimed from - and still used as - the storage space for obsolute servers - one of which was reclaimed as my desktop, and was actually pretty sweet (try using a purpose built server configuration for desktop work - they go like greased lightning).

But honestly, none of them come close to the craphole of a workspace that greeted me this morning.

The NSW Government Chief Information Office, in their infinite wisdom, decided that the floorspace needed to be used more efficiently to double the capacity of the floor. The result of their redesign can be seen above and below. If your having trouble with the perspective, I'll give you some rough measures. Each desk is approximately 2.1m wide, by 1m deep. Roughly 1.1m of that width is taken up by the full-tower desktop PC, the remaining 1.1m is given to shelving and the phone. I'm guessing this is theoretically your "work" area for going over documents, writing things down, having phone conversations, etc. Except of course, there's no partitioning between the desks, so in order to use that space, you're going to have to invade your neighbour's space. I have the dubious advantage of a window seat, which gives me the privelege of having the morning sun unblockably directed into my eye as I type this.

Now, I am very much in favour of open plan designs, and have seen them and worked in them quite effectively. Deloitte had a not bad design. The Institute of Chartered Accountants had a great open plan which applied to everyone from the CEO down. Of course, they almost immediately (within 6 months, IIRC) began coming up with ways to bugger it up and converting meeting rooms to cubicles, but the original design was good (and to be fair, they were re-thinking the idea pretty quick after the staff revolted - I actually listed the suggestion to do it as cause for my resigning). But to be effective, open planning needs to be a little creative with the space.

Effective use of natural light, foliage, breakout spaces, quiet areas and social areas are necessary though to build the kind of collaborative workspaces that modern organisations require. The open plan is far superior to the sea of cublicles design that typifies the workspaces where you just want to maximise the use of space.

This design, however, seems to actually be done with the intent of combining the 2 worst elements of these 2 approaches - the lack of privacy of open plan, with the bleak uniformity of the
sea of cubicles - I hear that this means the air conditioning works better in this design, though. Result? Just about the most uncreative, uncollaborative work design you can get. You create an environment where people are driven to horde privacy and avoid collaboration at all costs. All discussions are done in meeting rooms, because there are no breakout areas. People will only talk to each other when they absolutely have to, because you have no choice but to hear everyone else's conversation's all the time, which results in everyone doing their best to NOT listen to anyone else.

The worst thing is that this kind of design can work, in certain spaces. Generally, its in small areas where space is tight, and you have single team hot-housed (bull-pen style). You can artificially create the effect by introducing large partitions, plants, breakout areas and such, and packing tiny cubicle sets in between them. But you need to think about how you want people to work, and then come up with a design that promotes this effectively. If you don't then you see even simple things go wrong, such as having desk surfaces that are too reflective for a basic optical mouse to function correctly (guess what I've just discovered while writing this).

I honestly thought these type of workspaces finally died out in the early nineties, when organisations began thinking about their people as more than just another resource to be managed, but a source of innovation and value generation. Not coincidentally, this is about the same time knowledge management was "born", co-developing with the intellectual capital movement in valuing people differently to money and furniture. Apparently, I was wrong.

But, it seems that the NSW Government (or at least the Department of Commerce) is bravely - some (such as me) may say stupidly and with great contempt for their people - re-introducing the concept. So, hats off to them. They obviously feel that they can get by with fewer staff and less creativity. Maybe that's why everyone is fleeing the state.

The gap near that white box is less than 1m - fire hazard?

Friday, July 3, 2009

Public Servants as Private Citizens - the game has changed

A twitter friend sent me to this blog recently, on the blogger's thoughts about the new Government 2.0 Taskforce. I agree with it in principle, but I suspect that a Whole of Government policy on social media is equal parts vitally needed and doomed to failure.

In part, this is because government and public servants need to re-look at an element of their relationship that has now changed fundamentally - talking about their work. Traditionally, public servants could talk write about their work, and publish their diaries in later years if the information was sensational enough (think Spycatcher (and how stupid am I - I didn't know that his lawyer was one Malcolm Turnball - how ironic is THAT given "Utegate")). Alternatively, though could blow off their mouth at the local watering hole, in the comforting, dim awareness that the people they shouldn't be telling these things to would be just as likely to drunkenly forget what was said as the speaker. Or, you could leak to the press, and maybe or maybe not get a result. The end result was generally the same though: most people didn't care what a public servant said in private as it was generally unheard of for them to say anything interesting enough to listen to. There wasn't an audience, and traditional "codes of conduct" reflected that.

Now, though, public servants twitter. They facebook, the LinkIn, they participate in the great social media revolution. And other people can listen. Sure most of it, inside and outside the public service, is utter dross. My twitter feed and facebook profile have followed me in and out of the public service on several occasions, with little-to-no change in the amount of drivel I dish out. But if someone's listening hard enough, there's probably enough in there to get some gleaning of the kind of work I'm doing, the kind of tools I'm using, and consequently, the kind of investment decisions that are being made in government. I don't think its a secret, but I couldn't say for certain.

Even worse, I occasionally crowdsource answers when I hit problems I can't solve "inside". Should I be doing that? I honestly don't know. On balance, I remember the adage of my old project management lecturer ("Its easier to ask for forgiveness than permission"), and figure if anyone is that keen to stop me talking, they can tell me. Assuming anyone else in my area is listening (they're not).

So, what can I talk about, and what can't I talk about. Well, in a broad sense, I know I can't go blathering about tender processes or contract negotiations or staffing or any of that obvious stuff. But what about what I'm working on right this second (well, aside from my blog, obviously - I mean that I'm setting up a new SharePoint TeamSite (grrr!))? What about going out to lunch with a couple of colleagues? What about being pissed off about the outcomes of a meeting? What about complaining about the computers being upgraded? The office being refurbished? The new team driving me nuts?

What if I'm slowly building a narrative that - when done in ephemeral pronouncements at a weekend lunch or a local piss-up is OK because everything is said and forgotten - but when done in the "permanence" of the Internets, can give huge clues about things that otherwise wouldn't be known. What if I'm being researched by those mysterious followers that pop up on my twitter feed? I honestly have no idea, and much, MUCH worse, I don't know who to ask. By asking these questions, I'm getting the horrible feeling that I'm being the expert I'm looking for (please don't ask me for advice - I only give bad advice).

Those are just some questions off the top of my head. They may add up to nothing important at all, but what if...? And its that "what if" that may change the very nature of how public servants talk about what they do. I don't think a broad policy is going to capture all of that - I don't think it can. But this is probably something that shouldn't be done on the fly - its not simply a matter of updating the current policies and codes under which public servants conduct themselves, but requires pretty much starting from sratch. Creating an entirely new framework for managing public servants as private citizens, and an environment where the overlap between the two is growing ever larger and more confused.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

KM: Art or Science?

Have been watching the actKM forum build up some momentum on the issue of the "science of KM" - which has since moved on to the "traditional approaches of KM". Joe Firestone has been contributing quite a bit to the discussion. His contributions are always really well thought out and articulated, but for some reason, after a few paragraphs, my eyes cross, I lose track of the thinking, and end up having to read the whole thing 2 or 3 times and still feel I'm missing something. I'm as certain as I can be that the problem is mine, and I've been trying to figure out why. Its especially important to me since, in principle, I think I should agree wtih most of what he says - I'm always especially impressed with someone that works to get a PhD, and still asks people to call them by their name. It should be mandatory, and so anyone who does it by choice is someone I think I should listen to.

I think I finally cracked some of my resistance on Sunday morning in the midst of a codeine/ paracetemol/ pseudoephedrine-induced cognitive enhancement (the cold is winning, sadly). I've always found Joe's approach to KM as what I would call "mechanistic" - it looks at knowledge as a discrete, identifiable artefact or object. This artefact can be applied, enhanced, combined with others or otherwise manipulated to form a new object. This means that "knowledge" and its use should be something that can be experimented on - in its own right - as something that has demonstrable and repeatable properties, and the results of the experimentation subject to critical evaluation. My understanding is that this realtes to critical rationalism, but since reading stuff on it induces some kind fugue on me, I can't say for certain.

I call this approach mechanistic in that the idea Joe present's of "knowledge processing" seems to be a component in an overall system (which I guess to be the "Open Enterprise" he advocates, though I can't say for sure, because I can't read it, as much as I want to) that, as defined, is highly analogous to a mechanical system: apply "processed knowledge" to "decision" to produce "outcome X". And I think its this approach that shuts my brain down - I just don't see knowledge in that way. To my mind, it removes - or at least greatly reduces - the complexity of inspiration. Those small epiphanies that we experience when a series of thoughts brewing together in your mind suddenly congeal for no apparent reason into a totally new way of doing things.

One of my favourite epiphanies is one I heard being discussed on the radio once: the epiphany of predictive text. When it was first introduced, I hated predicative text - I could never get the right word, it suggested all sorts of rubbish, and it took far longer than just writing the thing out in more keypresses. Then one day, bang! It just all clicked, and now I curse anything that uses the keypad arrangement for text and doesn't predict anything. I like this epiphany, because a lot of people share it. And it symbolises to me that "knowledge creation" is an organic process. There was no new input, no new way of doing text, no new phone, it just all of a sudden, for no apparent reason, all clicked into place.

On a side note, that's my second most useful epiphany. My most useful epiphany, which may be more germane to this topic, is when, on the brink of failing an exam in software engineering, I suddenly "got" what the lecturer and tutor had been carrying on about for months. I remember the question was on creating a set of Java algorithms to manage dates, including accounting for leap years. That one question was worth nearly half of the total exam value, and for the first 2 hours of the 3 hour exam, it remained almost completely unanswered, because I had no idea how to do it. Once I'd bluffed my way through every other question, I had the option of hanging around for an hour randomly scribbling bits of incoherent answer, or leaving. I chose the former. I used up the next half-hour scribbling here and there on my notepaper, then suddenly, the answer appeared fully formed in my mind. In that last 25 minutes, I came closer to understanding the arcane art of software engineering than I have before or since, and wrote the perfect code for performing the required function.

Since then, I've failed 2 further attempts at more advanced software engineering, before dropping half my double-degree and deciding I'd much rather be "just" a librarian with a bit of tech knowledge. But the experience of having my mind fire up in a novel, unique, and unrepeatable way for just 30 minutes left me with the firm conviction that knowledge isn't something that can be managed in that mechanical input/output way. It defies that view in any way that makes working in KM meaningful.

Of course, this all means that my views on knowledge are difficult to pin down in a way that can be readily refuted or defended. Much like art, I "just know" what is "good" KM and "bad" KM. Which aside from some broad, fairly useless generalities around "sharepoint isn't good KM" but "sharepoint + people might be", doesn't help much in a conversation about KM initiatives and goals. Aside from being able to tell which environments I do want to work in vs which ones I don't. And that's damned useful to me.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Sharepoint: The wiki that isn't

Earlier this week, I tweeted that I figured out what bugged me about the wiki in sharepoint: its not a wiki. This brought me a few (quite polite) please explains from the sharepoint community. I quickly highlighted a couple, but since 160 characters isn't really enough for detailed feedback, I thought I'd write a few of the observations down.

1. Creating a new page

Seriously, how hard is it in SP? Every other wiki I've used has a button, command, or other method to create a new page straight off the bat. Not so here. The simplest method - forward linking - is mentioned but not explained on the opening page - you have to follow to the "How to use this wiki" page to find out what this is. Even then, to use this method, you have to edit one of the initial help pages to add a forward link to it. Most first time users (myself included) would hesitate to edit the help pages as the first activity in a new wiki. What if you screw up and delete the help? So thumbs down here.

The other method - the one I would say is the most needed - would be to click on the button/link/widget that says "New page" or "New" or some variation therein. That was my first action - or at least my first attempt at action. because, I couldn't find the new button anywhere - and felt pretty stupid in the process. It turned out I wasn't so stupid, the option to create a blank page from scratch doesn't exist when you enter the wiki. You've got to go to a list view of pages within the wiki - and you've got to know how to get to this view, because there's no magic label that says "List all pages in the wiki and create new ones". Instead, that option is listed under the somewhat obscure title "View all site content". If you're not familiar with the idea that your sharepoint wiki is a seperate (sub)site - and I wasn't - then it wouldn't occur to you that this is your magic button.

Now its perfectly reasonable to argue that this would be addressed in training users on how to use sharepoint, and quite true. But if you want to launch a new wiki to new users geographically dispersed in a hurry (which wikis more often than not are), then this isn't really helpful.

No other wiki I've ever used makes it so hard to get started, and certainly I'm not aware of any other wiki that requires user training for everyone before using it. I'm trying to offer the wiki as a sandbox for new users, but it comes across more as 5000 piece airplane model kit - you have to know quite a bit before you can even start. Or you could just use any other wiki on the market.

So, big fail there.

2. Formatting

Another big feature of most other wikis is the ability to apply heading formats consistently and easily. Most of the wikis I've used, for example, let you create a level 1 heading by preceding it with an exclamation mark. 2 exclamations marks is a level 2 heading. Not only doesn't sharepoint recognise this, but it doesn't provide headings at all! You can either:
  1. Apply ordinary formatting (bold, increase font size, etc.)
  2. Edit the HTML and use heading tags
Option 1 provides no consistency, which for a community edited resource is pretty poor - things are going to look ugly and inconsistent pretty quickly. Option 2 just looks ugly when I've tried it, and I think editing the HTML source is probably a bad idea for casual or novice users, and probably anyone else.

So the inability to provide a consistent look and feel for headings is another fail.

Now, there are a number of other flaws, but they're less to do with SharePoint's wiki in comparison to others, and more to do with its wiki implementation in general - such as the way tables are rendered at creation, and not being able to insert an image from your SP library - so I won't cover those off (yet).

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Huh? What is a "technocognibrarian"?

Hello. A pleasure to meet you. Welcome to my new blog - techno.cogni.brarian. Why call it that? Easy. Because:

  1. I'm a geek. I love gadgets and new technology. But I'm not obsessed with them, so my budget is safe.
  2. I work in the knowledge management field. I've long been interested in trying to make better use of people and what they know in an organisation. Too much management science and associated management fads tend to view people as just another cog, and not really recognising their intrinsic value. I love being involved in activities that try to increase the value of people beyond the monetary, in a way that is recognisable and not taken for granted. And the significant part of all this is minds and brains - the cognitive functions - which is where this value comes from.
  3. I'm a librarian. According to my degree, anyway. I strangely love libraries the way I love the local butcher and greengrocer - a part of life that is disappearing, partly through their own incompetence at promoting their value, and partly because we're moving closer and closer to the world of ACME, where a single company does the lot - Coke makes your drinks, Woolies sells your groceries, Borders sells your books, Baker's delight sells your bread, etc.
So there we are: "techno-" for geek, "cogni-" for minds, "-brarian" for librarian - techno.cogni.brarian. The dots are just a bit of Web2.0 wank. Feel free to make fun of them.