In a recent post, I described Social Networking Enablement as the natural evolution of Knowledge Management:

Knowledge Management
Social Network Enablement
Knowledge Creation Strategy
Submit what you know
Publish your filing cabinet
Knowledge Use Strategy
Re-use: Find & tailor appropriate knowledge from central repositories
Qualify & Proxy: Use individuals’ knowledge to qualify them as appropriate experts to converse with, and as a surrogate for that individual when they are not available for conversation
Where Knowledge Resides
Large, centralized repositories
Decentralized, personal weblogs (mostly)
Key Knowledge Tools
Search engines, Community of Practice and collaboration tools
Expertise finder, Weblog auto-publishing tool, Social software (described below)
Critical Connection

As the table above suggests, the key technical elements of Social Networking Enablement (SNE) are business weblogs (the repositories of personal knowledge) and social software (the tools that connect people and mine their knowledge). Following is a high-level specification for commercial development of such software. In organizations with structured work processes (manufacturers, banks etc.) these elements would supplement centralized, filtered knowledge repositories of best practices, policies and methodologies etc. In organizations with primarily unstructured work processes (consultants, engineers etc.) these elements could largely supplant centralized, filtered knowledge repositories and the tools that access them.

Business Weblogs

  • The process of posting to the weblog should be transparent to the user. Whenever a user saves or saves as or sends & saves a document or message, a pop-up would ask whether the document or message can be made available to other users. 
  • When the user answers this question ‘yes’, the blog software would publish the document or message in HTML, appropriately converting MS Office documents and embedded graphics to HTML without the Microsoft code bloat that their software currently produces in HTML conversion.
  • The blog software would automatically abstract and categorize the document or message, using the enterprise’s taxonomy, and would also allow the user to categorize (up to three levels deep) and annotate the document or message according to his/her own style and preferences.
  • Users would be able to restrict access and subscription to their entire blog, categories and individual posts, though default would be unlimited access.
  • The user and reader would have several options for viewing a weblog by category, by title, by subject, or by date. The view options would allow date filtering (e.g. show posts only between date x and y) and would allow more sophisticated sorting of display order (e.g. show all posts in category x, between date x and y, alphabetically by subject or title).
  • A special category of posts, called Permanent Files (analogous to Userland’s ‘stories’) including resumes, personal competency summaries and reference documents, would be established, and would appear in the blog sidebar.
  • Also in the sidebar would be a table of the blog categories, a search bar, a ‘change weblog view’ tool, and an organized ‘blogroll’ of the user’s links, directories and subscriptions.
  • Users would therefore never have to use HTML, blog macros or other technical weblog features to manage their blog.

Social Software Tool #1: Expertise Finder

  • This social software would identify people with expertise in a subject specified by the inquirer. The identification process would use decision rules weighing the frequency of appearance of the subject in users’ weblog posts, especially in the Permanent File, category names, subject titles and abstracts.
  • This software would create a map that would show all people both inside and outside the organization identified as having expertise in that subject, as well as group and enterprise-wide databases with significant content on that subject, and the links between them. The links would be identified from the Links, Directories and Subscriptions sections of users’ blogs, plus other indicators of connection (frequency and mutuality of e-mails etc.)
  • The expertise map would show up to three ‘degrees of separation’ from the inquirer to the identified experts in the subject in question. Other experts ‘disconnected’ from the inquirer would be shown in a table beside the map. For each expert, all contact information would be shown: phone number, e-mail and IM address, blog URL etc.

Social Software Tool #2: Research Bibliography & Canvassing Tool

  • This tool would be used to locate, extract and synthesize available knowledge on a specific subject. It would use the Expertise Finder to identify which weblogs and databases to investigate, and then create a hotlinked index of the sources and the posts on the subject, with an abstract of each post, and information on the length, currency, and original authorship of each post, and the popularity (measured by number of hits, subscriptions and blogroll frequency) of the post and/or the author’s work in general.

Social Software Tool #3: Knowledge Creation Assessment & Biography Tool

  • This tool would assess the production volume and popularity (measured by number of hits, subscriptions and blogroll frequency) of each category of each user’s weblog, compared to his or her peers, for performance appraisal purposes. An expertise ‘biography’ for each person in the enterprise could be automatically produced from this information.

Social Software Tool #4: Knowledge Traffic Management Tool

  • This tool would identify areas of knowledge sharing ‘congestion’ (people who are receiving an unmanageable number of requests for information, or not responding to requests on a timely basis), topics that are suddenly ‘hot’, and the adequacy of the enterprise’s knowledge about those topics, people who are excessively isolated from others (few connections or exchanges), de facto experts and thought leaders who should be recognized (or, if they are outside the enterprise, perhaps hired), etc.

Social Software Tool #5: Debrief Tool

  • This tool would allow users to capture in a shared database intelligence, best practices, lessons learned, and stories, extracted from meetings with customers and colleagues, post-project reviews etc. In many cases this is collective knowledge that is the exception to the rule that 90% of the valuable knowledge in organizations, at least those with unstructured work processes, is personal and contextual.
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  1. Great stuff, Dave, and very close to my heart right now… I know there are strategies being pushed by a lot of companies around collaboration as a platform comprised of the services you describe here, and a lot of the functionality is already present in current or very-soon-upcoming releases from IBM, Microsoft, Oracle, and others. I don’t know if it will be a “blogs-in-the-enterprise” model, but, just as a benchmark, Microsoft already has upwards of 16,000 internal PERSONAL sites running on its software.

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    That’s interesting, Rob. Have they solved the MS-Office-to-HTML code bloat problem there? What interests me in talking to large enterprises is that they’ve invested so much energy in ‘traditional’ KM processes, studies etc. that throwing it all away for a decentralized, personal model has them aghast. Meanwhile, smaller enterprises that can afford to start from scratch really like this, especially the fact that it could allow knowledge-sharing to transcend organizational boundaries much more than intranets permit.

  3. josh says:

    Dreamweaver has a "Clean up Word HTML" feature that has worked reasonably well for me. Whether or not a developer creating such a tool as you describe could employ that solution would be between Macromedia and the developer I suppose.

  4. mrG says:

    I fully expect MsWord will also do as OpenOffice is doing to fold XMLRPC/SOAP into the office software such that it’s possible to post directly to your weblog in a way far more transparent than the existing FP or FTP interfaces.And you’re right: Part of making it accessible to real people to post is making it start from the tools they already know instead of forcing them to fight webforms.For that matter, why is the webform such a crippled edit box in the first place? Here again, I’m not the only one with the idea, as I learn this week that MsOffice will be drawing MSIE into the O/S to provide just such services, letting the browser do what it does best and the office tools do what they do best. Curiously (or sadly) the Linux/Unix world is not following this classically unix tools approach and is still obsessed with building monolithic solutions — true, Konqueror can be used in KDE, but really only in KDE and we can’t get Konqueror-level desktop integration out of Mozilla or Opera or edit Konqueror forms with OpenOffice (whcih tries inside itself to badly reinvent the browser as if people don’t already have one!).

  5. mrG says:

    It’s worth a note to recall how Silicon Graphics Indy/Indigo computers came shipped with a mini-webserver in each desktop and used a multi-tiered set of access rules to enable this same kind of social sharing among any objects dropped into your personal public_html folder. Worth maybe a second note to point out that the dream of P2P companies like OpenCola was to leverage the geography in your social sharing, because most accesses will tend to happen close to each other in time and close to each other topologically, so by using “web-raid” (see onionnetworks.com) you can have this level of incessant trade within the enterprise without freaking the network admins.

  6. Dave, your posts should be published in my business magazine. The only problem is, most of the local business people wouldn’t have the slightest idea of what you’re talking about.And isn’t that one of our post-modern problems? How do real business visionaries like you communicate your message to the average small business owner?I guess it’s my job as a business magazine editor to figure that out. If I dumb down your stuff to where it’s accessible to my readership, does it lose its value?I interview 50-60 business people each month for my magazine. They need to know the things that you are talking about. But not one in ten has the education or sophistication to understand it.I’m not trying to demean my readership here. I’m just facing reality.

  7. mrG says:

    Post-modern may be more apt that you’d think: Instead of articulating what we know or what we’ve found, maybe we should instead be articulating how we got here, and why we left the status quo

  8. Dave Pollard says:

    Josh: Thanks for the reference. Textism (see my blogroll) has one of these too.Gary: Now that sounds like an answer. I think most businesspeople really think of Word as their text editor anyway. As long as MS gets rid of the gunk that only works on IE and takes up twice as much memory. And as bad as some of the blog editing boxes are, the blog commenting boxes are even worse. I’ll have to chase some of your links to get your point on incessant trade. I’ll comment on your pomo remark back at your blog, tomorrow I hope when I have time to consider it properly (meanwhile I love the image of the beleaguered businessman).Chris: I spent most of my career helping entrepreneurs succeed, and I have great respect for their sense of priorities and their skepticism of technology. I think the way to communicate social software to them is to describe how the Expertise Finder would work. That’s an application they could relate to, and might be prepared to wade into the explanation of technology a bit to gauge how close it is to reality.To all: Ironically the evening after I posted this I got an invitation addressed to my company to pay $18000 for a facilitated session to develop a customized Expertise Finder. More indication that the time is coming soon for this stuff: the consultants all move in when they sense something will soon become a commodity (and hence very inexpensive) and want to leverage their leading-edge knowledge before it loses its value.

  9. Ralph Senst, the VP of IBM Global Services, lays out a fascinating vision for the “Dynamic Workplace” here:http://www.uwtv.org/programs/displayevent.asp?rid=1798Much of what you talk about above is laid out in clear, business-value terms. I found this piece invaluable for my work in building an alternative vision.

  10. Dave Pollard says:

    Rob: I didn’t realize that UW offered this full video programming — quite impressive. I was less impressed with Senst. I’ve given the same presentation with the same optimistic jargon and Drucker quotes, and I’m afraid it’s crap. People don’t change behaviours fast enough to accommodate these new technologies, and they will never allow the intranet to gain significant traction as an information source in its own right. If the small business can’t afford IBM face-to-face, they’ll choose a cheaper consultant face-to-face over IBM in a can. Our extranet, which is award-winning but which serves as a supplement and selling point for our services, and is free to our customers, is further evidence of this (we tried to sell it, but no one would pay for it). That’s why I like SNE: It doesn’t try to capture knowledge, but instead aims to capture and facilitate connections to people.

  11. Danny says:

    Great set of use cases, but something appears as a bit of vague handwaving here – “blogs and social software”, i.e. the tools to do this stuff are already appearing in a consistent and highly interoperable form, using Semantic Web technologies (starting with RSS 1.0 and other RDF vocabularies, see the list at the link below). The k-log in the form of blogs + search engine may be very useful, but it only scratches the surface of what is possible if you remember the ‘software’ part of ‘social software’.http://www.w3.org/2001/sw/Europe/reports/open_demonstrators/hp-applications-survey.html#ClaiMaker/Scholonto

  12. Danny says:

    PS. Oops, I linked to the middle of the document (the bibliography management bit reminded me of ClaiMaker). Use the scroll, Luke. I also forgot to mention HTML Tidy, which in its many and varied forms is excellent for cleaning up HTML (and outputting XML if you like) :http://www.w3.org/People/Raggett/tidy/

  13. Dave Pollard says:

    Danny: You’re probably right, but I confess I’m somewhat on the other side of the vast technologist/business divide. The article was meant mainly for business execs, to whom I’m presenting with some regularity these days, to show them what’s possible. The challenge is that the business execs are intrigued but dubious that what I describe is possible, while the technologists know it’s possible, even easy, but don’t speak the business language or understand how the mainstream of business users operate and hence how to sell the enormous power of social software to them. I’m trying to translate here, to bridge the gap.

  14. Jon Husband says:

    You idea transfer craftsperson, you.

  15. Marc says:

    Take a look at this site collecting “Gated Online Community” Networking links and infohttp://www.gatedonlinecommunities.com

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