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Kumbaya, my friends, Kumbaya

You've probably sung, chanted, hummed, or otherwise butchered this song at least once in your life. But, my fellow crooners, did you know the meaning of your words? Gather round the campfire, folks. It's time to find out, because Kumbaya is the topic of today's Road to Social Knowledge Networks chapter.

The meaning of Kumbaya is disputed. But it's often loosely translated from African dialect as "come by here." The folk song is largely associated with unity and closeness, but is has more recently come to connote a naively optimistic view on life.

Let's apply this to knowledge management. In the state of Kumbaya, organizations have embraced social media technologies. They might be blogging, tweeting, Facebooking, Flickring, YouTubing, Deliciousing, and ing-ing with every other social media tool out there. They think they're taking the right approach to foster knowledge sharing, but are unaware they've, in fact, thrown the baby out with the bathwater.

These organizations have abandoned traditional methods of organizing information, and moved to a purely social media environment. Their thinking is that this model will solve their information management and collaboration problems, which I've touched upon in previous chapters.

To them I say, Whoa, Nelly. Don't get carried away. The results of taking a purely social approach to knowledge management can be disastrous, for a few reasons.

First, due to what I like to call the Wikipedia phenomenon. Wikipedia is 100 percent user-generated information. Some users are experts in their subject matter, and provide accurate and reliable information. Others are amateurs, polluting the repository with inaccurate data and bad links.

That's why Wikipedia's validity can, and often is, questioned. The information has low veracity. But just a moment, you say. Third party research (such as this study by the journal Nature) shows Wikipedia to be about as accurate as Encyclopedia Britannica.

My response is simple. At a recent conference presentation, I asked the audience, "How many of you used Wikipedia?" Everybody raised their hand.

When I asked, "How many of you have brought a Wikipedia article into a business meeting and used it as critical data on which to make a business decision?" No one raised their hand. Sorry Wikipedia fans. Veracity matters.

This leads to another consequence of purely social KM models. I refer to it as "social spam." Just like e-mail spam, social spam is information you don't want. This is the bad information provided by non-experts. These non-experts can end up contradicting the experts and telling them they are wrong.

What's an uninformed knowledge seeker to do? Who do they listen to? Who do they trust? Consider this. A blog gives its authors a megaphone to voice their knowledge and opinions. But opening the blog to the entire organizational community gives every worker a megaphone. You're left with a situation that looks like this:

When building a high-quality knowledge repository, organizations must control who contributes information, and how. Using social tools in an organization requires mediation and management, which is the role of the librarian. Everyone can't have a megaphone.

This is the opposite of what you need, want, or get from using a consumer SM site, or by moving to a purely social KM environment. In this case, Kumbaya isn't so comforting.

Key take-away: Purely social KM models weaken veracity and create chaos. In an enterprise knowledge repository, access to high-quality assets is key, and avoiding chaos is crucial.

Next week, I'll tell you how to achieve this.

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