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Google validates social knowledge networks

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I was recently using Google Maps to search for a restaurant my friends and I wanted to have dinner at. Once found, I got distracted. And, like 99.9% of people who have used Google Maps or Google Earth, I wanted to see what my house looked like from 30,000 km.

So, I punched in my address, and Google whizzed me to my house. Except it wasn’t my house. It was my neighbor’s -- three doors up! Pretty close, to be sure, but not completely accurate.

Then I noticed Google allows me to provide feedback. In fact, it lets me change the search results to what I knew were accurate (my house, not my neighbor’s). This ensures the next time people search for my address, they will find my house, and no one else's.

How useful! The community is providing its wisdom to make search results more accurate and relevant. Sound familiar?

Providing input on content -- in our case, the map -- is precisely how a social knowledge network works. The vetted information is the street names and locations. I didn't have the ability to change that information -- nor should I be allowed to.

Where I could provide input was around that content, also known as socialization. By changing the search results, I made the content richer, more accurate, and more relevant. In this situation, the "wisdom of the community" is essential because I have knowledge of the exact location of my house.

Similarly, in organizations, social knowledge networks allow vetted information -- such as documents, images, videos, presentations, RSS feeds, and so on -- to be enhanced by comments, ratings, and other feedback from the community. And it all happens in same the place, which is the knowledge management framework.

Of course, feedback from the community must be monitored for accuracy. This is where the notion of a "social volume knob" becomes important. Depending on the company, the community that is allowed to provide feedback can run the gamut from a small, hand-picked group of individuals, to a broader set of experts.

In either case, this type of interaction adds tremendous value to the content, making it much more accurate and relevant.

Ideas for increasing participation in social media

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One concern I hear from business leaders is how to make social media and Web 2.0 work in their organizations. The leadership sees the value, but they realize they need to effect cultural change to get employees to start commenting, rating, tagging, etc.

Our customers are a perfect example. It's crucial for them to know how to use social media technologies because Presto revolves around them. These technologies help organizations understand how Presto works, and how to use the software in the company.

It can be challenging, however, to sell the idea to people who might be used to reading RSS feeds and blogs, but have never actually created content themselves.

I've been talking to our Presto customers to understand how they're spreading the social media gospel and encouraging people to participate in social media technologies. I've gathered some of their ideas, and incorporated a few of my own into the following list.

However, these apply to more than just Presto users. They're useful ideas for helping any company move forward into this new social technology era.

This is just a start, and we'll have more coming. And of course, your ideas are welcomed!

Leverage the evangelists. This is key for any company, especially those with few employees participating in social media. Your organization's evangelists must lead the charge. By sharing their excitement and knowledge of social media, they develop the same qualities in the rest of the organization.

Increase accessibility. Make social media technologies accessible by providing links to the log in pages from your organization's intranet. This keeps the technologies right in front of peoples' eyes, making it easier to participate in them.

Try new apps. While many social media apps have similar uses, they all have slightly different interfaces and features. For example, Flickr and Photobucket are both photo-sharing sites, but have different capabilities. To get on board with social media, people often just have to find what apps they like best. Encourage people to try new apps and discover what works for them.

Share your findings. Similarly, encourage people to share their findings, likes, and dislikes with the company. They can send links to the company, and include in the e-mail a brief note of what the site does, how it could help people in their work, and any pros or cons they've found.

Reward systems. An oldie, but a goodie. Incentives can go a long way to spark employee participation from a cold start. Try offering users who provide the most feedback or rate the most materials they research a gift certificate to local store or restaurant.

As you encourage social media participation in your organization, it's important to remember we are followers by nature. The more people see others using social media, the more they will adopt it themselves.

Internet Librarian, make way!

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With SLA behind us, it's time to turn our focus to our next major industry conference, Internet Librarian. Our sales team will be there to exhibit our product lineup in beautiful Monterey, Calif., from Oct. 20-22.

Internet Librarian is for information professionals who are using and developing Internet, intranet, and Web-based technologies. This year's conference is called Beyond 2.0: User-Focused Tools and Practices. It'll focus on how new Web 2.0 tools, social media, and other Web services are improving the way librarians manage information and interact with clients and one another.

As we ramp up for the show, we'll keep readers in the loop on what we're doing to prepare -- including all of the inevitable craziness that comes with it! ;)

Social knowledge networks, in pictures

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As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. Here's how we think the truism works in our industry:


This particular graph was inspired by a recent Indexed post on Web 2.0. I would like to thank and acknowledge Indexed author Jessica Hagy for her innovative and insightful use of simple graphics to describe everyday life.

I also believe this graph extends the recent post by our own John Callan, clarifying the difference between a social network and a social knowledge network.

As John put it, "In a social knowledge network, connections and discussions are made around the content, such as one or more documents, drawings, images, etc. In this way, the content becomes the enabler, the catalyst, to connect people and help them get their job done more efficiently." Go John!

The social network vs. the social knowledge network

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After I posted about how social knowledge networks apply to engineering earlier this week, I was thinking I should go back into the post and italicize or highlight the word "knowledge" in this sentence:
After our engineer has tapped her personal social network, she taps the company's social knowledge network.
I really want to emphasize that our notion of a social knowledge network is quite different from social networking. Our strategy is based on enhancing content by connecting people, not merely on connecting people.

In a social knowledge network, connections and discussions are made around the content, such as one or more documents, drawings, images, etc. In this way, the content becomes the enabler, the catalyst, to connect people and help them get their job done more efficiently.

Once these connections are made, the content becomes more relevant, and social intelligence (or what we like to call "the wisdom of the community") is captured. That's light years away from merely connecting people.

Social networking is an important trend, with clear benefits for business and personal networking. In contrast,the social knowledge network is an emerging trend, with exceptional benefits for capturing and exploiting corporate knowledge by leveraging the wisdom of the corporate community.

Engineering the social knowledge network vision

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I spent a few hours last week with a research firm we are looking to partner with. They asked me to explain, in straightforward terms, what it means to have a social knowledge network, and what value it would have for a typical organization. I gave them a short story colored by my background as an engineer.

Picture an engineer in a large company. Her boss asks her to design a component in a new product the company is building. She has only two weeks to come up with a conceptual design of the component's mechanical structure.

Step one: Before jumping in and designing this from scratch, the first thing our engineer does is to go through her memory banks to see if she designed something similar to this in the past. No success.

Step two: She begins to tap her social network; trusted colleagues with whom she’s worked on many projects in the past. She talks to them on the phone, walks to their cubes, meets some for lunch, etc. Still, she finds nobody has designed a component like this before.

Step three: She wades into the myriad company databases, content management systems, and even raw file folders on servers. She spends a great deal of time sifting through search results for documents, drawings, images, and anything else that might have keywords in it associated with the component she has to build.

Step four: It's days later. Our engineer has found hundreds of pieces of information. But her quest has only started. Now she must validate each piece of data by checking its relevancy. This will eat up still more time, as she performs cross-references, corroborates data, discusses her findings with colleagues, and so on.

It's not a stretch to say she could spend 75 percent of her total project time just looking for pertinent information and validating it. That leaves her with 25 percent of the project time to focus on her core competency: designing reliable and safe components.

Now consider the same scenario with a social knowledge network in the mix. It starts adding value right after step two (and in many cases, after step one). After our engineer has tapped her personal social network, she taps the company's social knowledge network.

The social knowledge network contains information that is vetted and approved (perhaps it's been vetted by her company's standards board, for example). And the information is relevant. That's because the community of experts within her company -- and perhaps even beyond her own office or country -- have added their input, value, expertise, and intelligence. This makes our engineer confident that the information she turned up is relevant to helping her complete the project.

Instead of being limited to her trusted inner circle, our engineer can access the collected wisdom of her entire organization, and possibly beyond. Better still, because it's not a one-way flow of information (i.e., data in, data out), she can reach out to the associated experts who provided the knowledge, and gain additional insight into their thoughts.

It's a powerful concept that leads to more efficient knowledge workers and, by extension, more efficient companies.

Congrats are in order for Ann Stringfield

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Our blog isn't just about us. In fact, it's largely not about us. It's about what we see in the market, and where we see it's heading. It's about what our partners are doing, what our customers are doing, the challenges they face, and the role our technologies play.

On that note, I'd like to share with you a tidbit of news from one of our partners, InfoCrofters. They're an authorized reseller, trainer, and consultant for our software. One of their developers, Ann Stringfield, recently received the Meritorious Achievement Award from the North Carolina Chapter of the Special Libraries Association (NC/SLA).

She was honored for "notable and enduring contributions" to the organization and the special libraries industry. Ann's list of contributions is lengthy, including stints as chapter president, second VP, and several other roles. You can read more about her achievements and check out pics from the ceremony on InfoCrofters' Web site.

Congratulations, Ann!

Buckets of fun: Segmenting knowledge management markets

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As a new marketing hire at Inmagic, I’ve spent the last couple of months doing what most marketers do when they join a new company. I’ve read analyst reports and blog postings through and through, trying to find and understand the sweet spot: that "ideal" segment we fit into.

We do this to proclaim to the world we are identifiable, accepted, and bucketed. We do this so people easily understand who our competitors are and who they are not. The problem is, it's often very difficult to place yourself into a pre-defined bucket, and doing so can cause all manner of angst!

It can make you feel like the playing chip in Plinko on "The Price is Right." You drop the chip into a maze of pegs, where it bounces crazily around, until it randomly falls into a slot. Once in the slot, it doesn't move. It's "happy."

Trying to place your company and its products into a segment or bucket is similar, as you eagerly search for the right slot to drop into. So, by my estimation, into what bucket do we fall? Well, we definitely fall into the knowledge management bucket. But that's a BIG bucket that no one company, product, or service can fill.

We need to find a bucket within the KM bucket. Looking more closely, we have the document management bucket. The enterprise content management bucket. Or is that the same as the knowledge management bucket? And is it large or small?

Then there's the Web content management bucket. But is that the same as or different from enterprise content management?


You get the picture! (All this talk of buckets make me wish I was at the beach!) The task is inherently difficult because, often, for many vendors, the value they give customers simply can't be bucketed.

In fact, many large, well-known vendors started out without putting their offering in a bucket, and went on to define their own segment. So how do you proceed?

At the end of the day, for any sales professional, what matters is that you are clearly communicating the value you bring to your customers, in their own language. Customers don’t care what bucket you're in. They care about finding ways to solve their business problems, and advance their business agenda.

So as I look at Inmagic and our Social Knowledge Network strategy, I am less concerned about understanding the bucket or segment or three-letter acronym that we neatly place ourselves into. I am more concerned about communicating the value that we bring to an organization struggling to address real business information problems.

Problems such reducing waste in fruitless searches for information, complying with regulatory standards, capturing and reusing their critical intellectual property, eliminating information silos, capturing (indeed, leveraging) the wisdom of corporate communities, and so on.

That's one bucket we can all take to the bank -- and the beach.

Amazon grows by adding, not integrating

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Amazon.com recently acquired AbeBooks, which they announced in a press release on the company's Web site. AbeBooks offers a wide range of books to buy and sell. It also has several social technologies to connect its audience of avid book lovers, including community forums, book clubs, wikis, blogs, and more.

Interestingly, this acquisition makes Amazon a major stakeholder in LibraryThing, of which AbeBooks owns 40 percent. LibraryThing is a Web 2.0 site that lets you catalog your books online, and connect with other people who like what you read.

But it presents somewhat of a competition to Shelfari, another social networking site for book lovers funded by Amazon.

According to the press announcement, it appears AbeBooks will remain a stand-alone operation and continue to maintain its site independent of Amazon. While it's yet to be determined whether LibraryThing will be integrated into Amazon.com, or into Shelfari for that matter, it seems Amazon is heading down the "silo" path.

Amazon is maintaining its inventory ("repository") of books and other items separate from that of AbeBooks. With that, Amazon is keeping its social technologies and community separate from AbeBooks'.

But perhaps it isn't Amazon's goal to integrate operations. Rather, it might simply be to gobble up smaller online book communities, and continue to realize its motto: "Earth's largest bookstore." Indeed.

SEC blesses social media as a communications channel

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ZDNet covered a story about how the Securities and Exchange Commission voted to allow public companies to use their Web sites and corporate blogs as a medium to disclose information to investors, and meet Regulation FD’s public disclosure requirements.

You'll find my thoughts on the topic in the Talkback section, following the article (see mcassettari12; that's me). Really interesting development, and certainly worth following by anyone tracking the emergence of social knowledge networks.

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