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Fear and loathing in Seattle (part 2)

As I explained in my last blog post, there seemed to be a general feeling that the 2008 SLA attendees were either really excited about social media and the transforming role it will play in advancing the world of knowledge management, or threatened by the lack of control implied by these technologies.

I feel this was similar to the dread of disintermediation in the 90s. If the knowledge center (or corporate library) provides an environment where the information professional can play a critical role in selecting, managing, adding value, and publishing critical organizational knowledge, the role of the special library looks like this:

The feeling among some attendees seemed to be that social media would lead to a world where knowledge workers would only talk to other knowledge workers, and the result would be a diminished role for the knowledge center. In essence, some attendees were afraid we would end up here:

I believe the fear that social media can replace a knowledge repository is misplaced. Knowledge workers don't want to access knowledge in an environment where fact and rumor are indistinguishable, and veracity in general is a huge issue. They don't want to dispose of a vetted and verified repository of high-value information.

But knowledge workers do want the help and collaboration of co-workers, which they don't get from today’s knowledge repository. Knowledge workers do want to be able to become “book smart” by accessing information in a vetted knowledge repository, and they do want to become “street smart” by talking and exchanging ideas with co-workers.

What knowledge workers are looking for is the same experience they get at sites such as Amazon, where they find a combination of vetted information about a book (author, publisher, price), and social information (reviews and recommendations for other books).

Because the social information is deeply integrated with the vetted information, the social information augments and enhances the vetted information, making the user smarter. Neither the vetted nor the social information alone would achieve this result.

The world a knowledge worker is looking for is not a virtual water cooler where they can trade gossip and rumors. Rather, it is a virtual honey pot of reliable information from which they can gain knowledge, and simultaneously trade tips and techniques for using this information.

Therefore, they seek a world that looks like this:

This is what we call a Social Knowledge Network. It is a world in which the top-down vetted knowledge is surrounded and enhanced by the wisdom of the community. And one in which special librarians and information professionals play a huge role in creating and maintaining the knowledge repository, which sits at the heart of this vibrant knowledge network.

What I can assure you is that we did not make this vision up. We are receiving requests for proposals (RFPs) every day from information professionals, asking for these capabilities. The RFPs that we receive look the same as they did a year ago, but now a new section has appeared: “what social capabilities do you offer?”

If you believe in this vision, please let me know. If you are having challenges making your organization see this vision, give me a call. I speak to CIOs around the world, and would be happy to talk to yours.

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