Jon Udell’s early take on services like Flickr and del.icio.us in his article titled Collaborative knowledge Gardening focussed on the success of user driven metadata tagging. There are a quite a few interesting ideas in this article which could be of interest to organizations trying to build a knowledge ecosystem and sustain it.
Jon says :”Conventional wisdom holds that people will never assign metadata tags to content. It just isn’t on the path of least resistance, the story goes, and those few who do step off the path succeed only in creating unwieldy taxonomies. (Do you file the revised XML Schema specification under xml/specifications or specifications/xml? We can never agree, and many good minds are sacrificed in the vain attempt.) Yet somehow, users of Flickr and del.icio.us do routinely tag content, and those tags open new dimensions of navigation and search. It’s worth pondering how and why this works. ”
Understanding the motivations of users who tag content may lead us to answers to some of the generic challenges that KM practioners face like how to get people to contribute/participate in communities within the organization? I guess part of the answer lies in the same article: “Feedback is immediate. As soon as you assign a tag to an item, you see the cluster of items carrying the same tag. If that’s not what you expected, you’re given incentive to change the tag or add another. If your items aren’t confidential and online-only access is sufficient, this can be a great way to manage personal information. But the real power emerges when you expand the scope to include all items, from all users, that match your tag. Again, that view might not be what you expected. In that case, you can adapt to the group norm, keep your tag in a bid to influence the group norm, or both. ”
Scale together with immediate feedback(relevance to the task at hand) give mass collaboration systems such as Wikipedia,Flickr etc., their “self-healing” and “self- organizing” properties.
Jon goes on to say that: “The success of Flickr and del.icio.us won’t necessarily translate to the intranet. You can import the global-hive mind, but you can’t export the local-hive mind. That asymmetry defines the challenge we face as enterprise knowledge gardeners. ” Understanding what causes this asymmetry is the key. Apart from scale the other key hurdle is that organizations are not inherently horizontal when it comes to knowledge flows whereas communities on the internet are predominently horizontal ground-up. This structural difference seems to be at the heart of the problem. Communities Of Practice as a key enabler of KM programs could help attack this problem by creating these horizontal connections among peers. This is probably why it takes a lot of work to get “top-down/sponsored” communities going within organizations.