May 26

Conflict, Gender and Identity in Online Communities

I’ve long been fascinated by the way that different online communities each have their distinct ‘personalities’ and ways of behaving. Often the community’s identity is heavily imprinted by its founders or leaders, but ACT-KM has interested me because its moderators are almost anonymous, leading contributors come and go, and yet the “personality” of the community is very consistent over time. Nowhere is this most evident in the way that it manages conflicts, often with minimal intervention by moderators. Some time ago I analysed an extended flame that took place in late 2003 between Dave Snowden, Joseph Firestone and Mark McElroy, and I’ve been meaning to write it up properly. Now, thanks to Hong Kong Polytechnic University making me write a module for them, here it is.

Here’s a chart showing the progress of the 2003 flame which suggests some of the main questions in my paper: the relationship between gender and participation behaviours, self-moderation activity, and conflict as an identity building social device. Read the article for more!


May 25

Social Software, Antisocial Behaviour

A bit sorry to see social computing guru Euan Semple storming off (well, wandering off) in a bit of a virtual huff from the ACT-KM community. His posts are always sharp, interesting and insightful.

Euan doesn’t like being moderated, and he doesn’t like having to snip posts (containing the preceding conversation). He sent a one-liner to the list recently and it was bounced back by the moderator, because it was too long – ie contained previous messages.

Now ACT-KM is practising this very deliberately and for well-discussed (on the list and at its conferences) reasons: moderation has become more important to the list as it has got bigger, and started attracting trolls – people who want attention and money, lock onto self-serving topics, rant, get aggressive, promote themselves with what we’ve come to call spamouflage, drown out more serious discussion.

Snipping was openly discussed on the list recently as an aspect of netiquette, because a large number of members get their postings in the form of daily digests – that means whenever anyone doesn’t snip, they get the same stream of messages duplicated umpteen times every time somebody doesn’t snip. It’s hard for them to distinguish new posts from endlessly repeated old ones.

Now here’s the rub for me: neither netiquette nor moderation are what the ideologues are bound to shape it up to be… command and control, restrictive, bureaucratic, old-economy blah-di-blah you know the rest. They are social mechanisms, in this case, socially negotiated, openly discussed (and open to further discussion), in order to preserve a genuine conversation space for genuine people. The social thing to do, in Euan’s case, would be to present his point of view back to the community to which he belongs and say “look, this is really annoying me, is there any way we can look at this again?”. That he simply leaves and blogs about it seems to be the less social behaviour.

Now if Euan had said, “I find ACT-KM boring and I can’t be bothered any more” I could understand it, and there’s a bit of a hint of this in his post. But to suggest it’s a social issue means you have to play by social rules. (Thanks Maish for the reference).

May 23

Communities of Shattered Practice

Miguel Cornejo Castro, a com-prac stalwart, has published this seminal paper over at Knowledgeboard: “Revisiting Communities of Practice: from fishermen guilds to the global village” (you’ll need to register for free to download it).

It’s the best and most sustained critique I’ve seen yet of the “traditional” Wengerian definition of CoPs (heavens, it’s not that old a concept, we’re calling it traditional already!). Specifically, Castro deconstructs two core Wengerian concepts, pointing to the fragmentation of practice and the porosity and fluidity of domains, enabled by technology, and calls for a fresh view of CoPs seeing them less as well-bounded entities, and more as “conversational spaces” in an ecology of resources. A closing, and very significant observation is that online CoPs are increasingly privately owned (even if they are democratically run), simply because the resources and channels to maintain the CoPs are no longer collectively maintained. This resonates strongly with the shock shutdown by Yahoo Groups of the ACT-KM group in January this year.

This is a must read for anyone interested in communities of practice (thanks Eric).

May 23

Of Systems and Secretaries

We just hired our first secretary. It feels wonderful. It’s one of those little rites of passage that one goes through as a growing business – like moving out of the back bedroom into a real office, or buying your first data projector, or hiring your first colleague. But this is a little bit different. She looks wonderful, she sounds wonderful, she’s older than any of us, and she’s going to look after us. She’s going to be our Mary Poppins (her real name is Pauline). Now why don’t I get the same feeling when I subscribe to a contact management service like Accucard, or any of the hundred and one other software tools that were designed to replace Mary Poppins?

May 23

Cynefin Morphs into Cognitive Edge

Dave Snowden has started a “pre-blog” over at Never one to do things the same as the rest of us! For a number of reasons associated with the move from IBM, the former Cynefin network is being rebranded the Cognitive Edge network, and the new website is being formed as we speak. The “pre-blog” is a valuable chance for you to have your say on what you’d like to see in a community that aspires to collaboration, emergent thinking, and content contribution from a bunch of very interesting people around the globe.

May 23

Whose Language is it Anyway?

The TaxoCoP community on Yahoo Groups had a hilarious discussion recently (neatly summarised by Stephanie Lemieux) about vendors hijacking hot terms (like taxonomy, ontology) when they don’t really understand what they mean, and then proceeding to build shelfware around them (shelfware because they’ll be completely unusable and remain on the shelf).

More insidious is the way such hijacking sinks into professional discourse and takes on a whole new invented meaning. Take “ontology”. When I studied philosophy “ontology” was the study of things, being-ness. Now, in IT parlance, it means the description of relationships between things. No harm in that, if only they would add disclaimers and at least show some decent awareness of pre-existing meanings of the term.


May 19

KM and Christmas Don’t Mix

David Gurteen took a recent look at the new Google Trends tool, and noted the dominance of Asia and developing countries in searches for the topic “knowledge management”. I got interested and decided to dig deeper.

The tool will tell you the proportion of searches for a particular search string, relative to the total number of searches from that country/city/language group. So here’s the tidied up results table for comparing knowledge management, information management, records management, document management, content management. (Try the same search yourself by clicking here).



May 17

Pollard’s Nine Capacities for Enterprise 2.0

Just came across this post by Dave Pollard, outlining nine capacities that the internet needs to evolve in Web 2.0. “In order to be truly workable, to be not only a place for fascinating discovery but a place for changing the world, the Web needs to evolve nine capacities that it currently promises but does not really deliver.”

1. The capacity to focus attention on what’s important
2. The capacity to suggest practical action
3. The capacity to enable self-managed networks, exchanges and peer production
4. The capacity to enable self-directed education
5. The capacity to reveal deliberately-hidden truths
6. The capacity to drive and disseminate innovations
7. The capacity to embrace complexity
8. The capacity to provide trust, equitable access and participation in all its offerings
9. The capacity to be simple and intuitive to use

Meant as a manifesto for the web, why shouldn’t this also be a manifesto for the enterprise? And if Web 2.0 does develop tools to enable these capacities, let’s bring them behind the firewall fast! Lord knows the big structured KM systems we buy now are struggling with 1-3, and hopeless at the rest. It’s not the big systems we need, but skills in our IT folks, to become good at assembling simple, flexible and interoperable tools, in support of these nine capacities.

May 15

Introducing the Rumsfeld Ignorance Management Framework

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about Donald Rumsfeld’s contribution to ignorance management. This past week I’ve been working with a client in Rome on ways of improving their sensitivity to their external environment, and I’ve been using what I call the Rumsfeld Ignorance Management Framework. It’s turned out to be pretty useful, so I thought I’d share it here.



May 11

CKO, CIO, Director of Knowledge Management - Will the KM Strategist Please Stand Up?

As a KM consultant, it is heartening to step into an organisation that already has dedicated resources to drive KM. What happens though when you have a CKO, a CIO and a Director of KM all existing in different line functions of that one and same organisation? Who should drive the KM strategy? Who should drive the KM implementation? How do we delineate roles without making them so contained, they compromise effectiveness? Any thoughts?

I have read several articles and reports on the roles of the CKO, CIO and CKO vis a vis CIO. When you have a third entity of a Director, KM, though, things get a teeny bit complicated. It is not that I am averse to having so many drivers in an organisation for a KM/IM cause, but it is not merrier, the more. My experience had led me to see that when one party drives planning and another drives implementation, the picture never turns out as pretty as everyone “originally” imagined. The “original” picture as everyone would soon realise was different to begin with in everybody’s minds. Call me a classicist but I think initiatives work out better when there is a stable driving force from start to finish, from planning to implementation.

The water is this glass is, we get to propose!

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