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Content in Context – Social Software and Knowledge Exchange

Guest post by Sarah L. Nichols, Director of KM at the ClimateWorks Foundation

Enterprise social software platforms such as Inmagic Presto, ThoughtFarmer, and Socialtext facilitate knowledge exchange through staff/subject specialist blogs, Twitter-like functionality and wikis that offer content-in-context. This means that documents, multimedia files and links to both internal and external information exist alongside collaboration spaces built around projects, events or working groups.  Delivering content in this way both implies and applies a structure, using a framework that makes sense to end users engaged with these projects or groups.

I believe that next generation knowledge management is knowledge exchange, which I define as “the collaborative creation and dissemination of information and insights critical to the achievement of organizational imperatives.”  Enterprise social software is a perfect tool for this collaboration.  It offers not only the many advantages of structure, but fosters peer to peer learning, and allows for the “serendipity factor” that lets us find information we didn’t even know we needed, and which can be tremendously valuable.

Social software also allows us to deliver highly relevant content within the context of projects.  When you work in wiki spaces and use signaling or instant messaging among working group members, it’s no longer necessary to know exactly what you want before you can find it…targeted content is right there.  You don’t have to guess which data repositories may contain the information you need, because structure based on projects, events or groups guides you to it.

Clearly much of the information that can be served through social software like Inmagic Presto is housed in data repositories and either catalogued or organized using metadata, tagging and various other forms of classification.  It’s also searchable via the powerful engines offered by and ILS or knowledge management application. The content-in-context framework certainly doesn’t replace that, but such granularity and sophisticated search algorithms aren’t always necessary within what is essentially a small community – a project, event or group.  When I was a child, my family lived in the village of Hitcham in England.  Our house was built in 1502 by a retired ship’s captain, and it had no street address.  It was simply known as Friday Lane Cottage and everyone knew where it was – no other data, or even a map, required.

If the idea of knowledge exchange intrigues you, then you might want to look into enterprise social software as an adjunct to your existing ILS or portal application.  It enables collaboration that delivers results, making the small communities that exist within any organization collectively smarter while allowing individual contributions to shine, all based on the ability to serve up content-in-context.

Sarah L. Nichols is the Director of Knowledge Management at the ClimateWorks Foundation, and the founder of English Channel Editing

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