Archive for the ‘tagging’ Category

I recently did a trial run with an online distance learning university. The other auditioners were the other prospective teachers in the program — each with their own expertise and curriculum for teaching it.

We all needed to post an introductory lecture and discussion question to the school’s web server. The other instructors would then field the question and three days of required threadings would ensue.

I found the response to my own web investigations course materials instructive. The feedback was useful not so much for its originality as a confirmation that the same excuse for poor information management practices is a dead-ringer for the reluctance I face on a daily basis as a knowledge planner for a management consulting firm.

Here’s the responding thread:

“The problem we have with that is out staff just between too many tasks to remember all the options. “

It’s true that the multitude of search options can be a little intimidating to a tech-savvy workforce and absolutely petrifying to the average Googler with no support (both technical and managerial). The trick is to let each student seek out their natural fulfillment. They’ve already agreed to wonder outside their comfort zones in signing up for the course. It’s my job to get them to drive the search car to where they want to be — not to confuse them under the “search hood.”

Each new tool and method needs to be about problem-solving with the problem being something they’ve experienced firsthand many times prior to taking the web investigations course. One way to keep their receptive heads open to so much new material is to get them tagging their important discoveries on del.icio.us. I find that by not expecting them to memorize particular sites it frees them up to retain more of the course material, and more importantly, problem-solve more effectively.

Just as important to what’s retained is what’s left out I stop short of assigning any books or texts in a course that cuts a very diverse technology profile: some are never offline — some are challenged to send an email attachment. I teach to the problem and then introduce filtering approaches (syntax) and the word choices and ordering (semantics).

The search section concludes with each student creating their own CSE (“Custom Search Engine”) using the Google Coop tools. It complements the framework of Ocean-Lake-Pond — that the size of your data set is just as important as the query you formulate.

Talk about an overlooked search lesson.

Yesterday I attended Laurie Damianos’s discussion at the Boston KM Forum (“Tag Me — Social Bookmarking in the Enterprise”). I had the good fortune of meeting Laurie first at last spring’s Enterprise Search Summit.

I found that my number of questions for Laurie has increased since our last interview for the Provider Base piece set to go in the Nov/Dec Searcher. That increase is not because Laurie dodges good questions. It is inspired by the topic — the richness of the subject itself.

To her credit as a speaker Laurie led an attentive and engaging group whose inputs were both numerous and broadly distributed. Here are some of the more engrossing threads of our dynamic session:

Life in Email —

The immediate remedy at Mitre began as the antidote to a ton of email sitting on some restricted fileserver archive. Increasing access points to content was the business case. A persuasive case was made that there was an over-reliance on 1:1 communication (email) whose knowledge might prove useful to others. Interestingly the Mitre approach includes bookmarking email message based on embedded links in the message.

Anatomy of a Tag —

Do the users make up their own terms? Apparently they have the choice between a pre-formed set of suggested tags or their own. The form includes the original bookmarker and others who’ve bookmarked their entries. Laurie refers to the comment feature as “a reverse blog.”

Links to Nowhere —

Pointers need owners or the link goes stale. The broken link icon shows benefits of a link scan process that tests for 404 errors. Each owner is notified of the bookmarks they develop which they can choose to ignore, fix, or delete. Hovering over a padlock tells the user how to pick the lock (i.e. what password to use or group to contact). Users can mouse over faces and get lots of detail at a glance. When they leave the company the residual bookmarks are placed in separate account — they can be copied for 90 days or let expire.

Social Tags (Supply) and Search Terms (Demand) —

The terms that bubble to the top of the results pages are not repesented in Mitre’s subject taxonomy. According to Laurie the taxonomy is growing … slowly. The search term is creating equivalencies between search terms and tags. Governance rules are in place to maintain the folksonomy so it is not altered by an intermediary. Laurie’s team allows the differences to remain, not trying to normalize different forms of the same expression.

Expert Finders —

Administrators and gatekeepers had all the topic-related documents so they’ve been falsely deemed as experts. The same fiction occurs when a top-tagger is confused with being an expert in the subject they’re tagging. There’s no gaming of the system because there’s no built-in incentive to compete head-on or outrank the next prolific tagger.

Social Bookmark Reporting —

There’s a seven day window of the most recent popular tags. This breaks the dominance of librarian taggers as most prolific contributors. Tagging activity shows how users are related by interest area. Users can view bookmarks by department. Different sorting options including tags, bookmarks, bookmarks by department. Laurie noted some surprisingly bad taggers even as the firm’s KM enablers or “knowledge stewards.” Lynda Moulton noted that it takes mindset to do it consistently and effectively. People are getting it.

Tagging by the Numbers —

The system holds…

* 21,000 bookmarks
* 99,000 tags with 12.5K unique to the system (– doesn’t account for spelling and punctuation discrepancies)
* Average number of tags have doubled from 2.7 to 5.4
* The past three years the average is that bookmarks are 83% external

Performance Benchmarks —

According to Caterina Fake of Flickr 9-15% of population are contributors in social communities. This equates to 85-90% of users as lurkers. Fourteen percent of user population contributes at Mitre among those with access. Half of employees use the system.

Next Steps for Tagging —

Laurie mentioned an organization called LCC (“Language Computer Corporation”) that examines semantic construction of document to relate tags to each other by generating “did-you-mean-this prompts” to the content provider. It also make recommendations to other users: “you need to talk to this person.” It’s based on common interests they’re sharing beyond the recognition that their interests are shared.

Other Tagging Resources —

FURL caches the bookmarked resources. Users request feature but can’t provide it internally because of copyright restrictions. Scuttle is easy to deploy and extend. Twine is another solution with an interesting social component. ConnectBeam and DogEar were also mentioned as self-contained tagging platforms.

As the first post on the SIKM talk suggests knowledge planners are the de facto arbitrators between what the user base is seeking and what the provider base contributes towards the fulfillment of those requirements. However it is also true (at least in an outfit of under 1,000 headcounts like mine) that we’re really talking about the same individual. There is a built-in reciprocity in any system when its inputs and outputs are shared by its members on both sides of the exchange.

In an organization where utilization is king, centralization is non-existent, and administrative overheads get the hairy eyeball, Knowledge planners need to leverage this awareness for all its worth! Add to that the fact there are no formal reward structures in terms of recognition or bonus compensation as providers and the “feel good” pay-it-forward benefits of becoming a faithful KM contributor start to pale in comparison to just keeping one’s head above water.

So how do you plan for knowledge in a firm where any task not immediately billable is at best on when-I-get-to-it status and in the scarcity mentality of recession cycles placed on life support — if supported at all? The operationalizing of KM requires a parallel be drawn between the firm’s business opportunities or pipeline with the IP it generates for pursuing those opportunities — READ: document pipeline. Thinking about a new business presentation? Don’t even hold that thought without consulting KM first!

How do we hardwire this reflex into the firm’s go-to-market activities?

How does the urge to check KM become less of a “to-do” and more of a “got-it-done” determination topping your best-in-class impulses?

There are several knowledge flows that weave well into project workstreams and feed new business initiatives. These are the case summaries that tell the story of past client engagements. From a process flow perspective their filings are as closely tracked as any uploads or new site requests. That’s because each submission also contains the definitive deliverables — those final presentations that represent significant IP generated within past projects — hence the document pipeline needed to keep KM as current as the projects themselves.

What does this process look like to colleagues?

Well from a top-down perspective the directors get regular compliance reports — sorted by director. From the bottom-up view junior level consultants get the training they need to host their own team-only workspaces for creating and storing in-process materials. They get comfortable with the tools and the knowledge planner prepares them for the eventuality that they will elevate the significant deliverables when their project closes — Surprise, surprise — it’s from the ground up that the IP capture effort is conducted by the less seasoned consulting staff.

The result is that even overtaxed, distracted nonbelieving thought leaders still see their best work staged in KM. Even without recognition programs, billable KM work, and a strong penchant for non-involvement we see a system where over two-thirds of all employees log in at least once a month and half at least once a week. Not bad for a firm that collectively experiences twice a month paychecks, once a month staff meetings, and precious little else.


Last week I attended the ESS show at the New York Hilton. I think the most salient smoke screen to hit my radar was the game-changing notion that a successful search deployment (and there are more than a few to be found) shifts the stakes from a user to provider-centric view of enterprise content. But the first few steps are tentative. This is not so much a groundswell as a groundbreaker — and once it catches fire, a deal-breaker too: Want to improve user experience? Increase provider participation.

The distinctions that once colored content producers and contributions continue to bleed together. If I offer an opinion about how well an instruction helps me do my job am I a passive consumer or an engaged community member? If I download a bunch of presentations and preview several others am I identified as a content collector? Does my mounting collection signify a degree of influence that the author has over my efforts to absorb, master, and ultimately leverage this material? No matter what the motivation, no matter what the conclusion … what we do with content will one day eclipse the content itself.

My favorite new feature on display at the show was a passive approach to meta content, a.k.a. content about content. A vendor named BA-Insight has devised an ingenius way to capture the secret life of documents. These secrets reveal what sway the ideas conveyed by our peers have over us. In the publishing world this is a simple units sold formula. Behind the corporate firewall this is called a Wiki that gets updated almost as often as a freshly proposed solution is minted as a new product innovation, business model, or marketing approach. No matter what the end game it’s a provider’s market and the easier it is to reach it, shape it, and build on it, arguably the better the outcome.

So how did this play out at the vendor booth? BA-Insight’s Longitude product collects all kinds of passive feedback — downloads, previews, tagging, and other recordable sessions events take the opt-in approach to a whole new level of discretion. Essentially the record button is pegged to the user ID, rendering the idea of an active observer to that of the actions taken by that same user. This approach to meta-content is completely passive, preserving an untampered search session. That means no gaming, back-scratching, user surveys, or votes to cast (the equivalent of internal pop-ups). This is user feedback of the purest, organic degree. Perhaps the purity is why the team from Accenture that provided the case study has so far shied away from this feature?

The other nice-to-haves are alluring to any professional services shop that belches, respirates, and wheezes in PowerPoint. For instance Longitude’s preview pane decouples bloated ZIP folders (the last refuge of a knowledge provider with no time or incentive to upload their stuff. Not only can you cut and paste right out of preview but you also see the pockets of relevance by page number, adhering to your keywords.

All the whizbangetry was blown away however by Kevin Dana’s elegant and sparing AJAX customization that registers a keyword lookup on Accenture’s back-end index. This search suggestion feature would come in handy for any enterprise where the user base is not graded on keyword creativity but their ability to reshape existing outputs in the form they’ve been tasked to regenerate. Creative? Well maybe on someone else’s clock and with someone else’s IP!

The search sugestion feature comes to mind when considering Tuesday morning’s panel led by Jean Graef on social search where a discussion about user inputs into enterprise search quickly led to a familiar tradition-bound versus web 2.0 fight on who was better equipped to carry the findability mantle into the next round of version-dot-placeholder. MITRE’s Laurie Damianos says that much of the collective intelligence (and foundational content) added in her enterprise comes from employees’ pre-existing Del.icio.us tags. MITRE has built and fielded a social bookmarking prototype, creating public profiles from RSS feeds for internal indexing. Damianos says the effort has led to a referral system, promoting common tags and using recommendations for similar labels. She also raised the often overlooked question of content lifecycle management and the link root brought on by broken links and outdated page references. The team currently enforces freshness by purging all tags that go inactive after 90 days.

I thought the real panel-stumper was put to the next roundtable on BI Tools hosted by Steve Arnold. Graf Mouen of ABC News asked what Arnold, Northern Light’s David Seuss, ISYS’s Derek Murphy and SAP’s Alexander Maedche saw in terms of their accounts investing the needed resources in something more critical than tagging feeds, search tools, preview panes, and text analytics — that resource is on the firm’s own domain experts. All deployments regardless of technology, vendor, cost, and implementation smarts can only go so far without their participation. The sober answer of “not much” belied the unnatural state of seeing Seuss and Arnold in actual agreement.

The Boston KM Forum convened at Bentley College this past week with a blend of academics, practitioners, vendors, and evangelists appending the big 2.0 to their own take on the topicalities of what David Brooks is calling the Bad Memory Century. In The Great Forgetting Brooks pits the memory-haves against the memory-have-nots for control of total … well incomplete recall. Faulty wiring challenges our recollections of whether we’ve: (1) intentionally deleted KM 1.0 or (2) reigned in an excessive 2.0 that discards all remembrances of where 1.0 was heading when 2.0 took over.

Bentley CS Professor Mark Frydenberg asked us the main difference between the two releases. I don’t know whether it was more telling that no one answered his question because it was too obvious — or really that hard to answer? He said the 1.0 was about getting to content and 2.0 was about getting to people. Hard to refute? I guess.

But to me the greater divide harkens back to The Machine is Us(ing) replay that began his discussion. Is it really about how we use technology? If we reverse roles with our social 2.0 toys could we really prove they were helping us get where we wanted 2.0 to take us? Did we even have a destination in mind?

Don’t get me wrong. I can see how a LinkedIn profile or even a Facebook page could make the difference between landing a contract and receding into the dead contractor pile. But is eavesdropping on the recent bookmarkings of a Del.icio.us tagger a course of action? Is observing a bunch of Beltway commentators yammering on and then blogging about it a call to action? More to the point: has our technology convinced us that the gossiping of speculations and observances are substitutions for taking a risk or bringing an idea to life?

If I vote for a news story on Digg about George Soros and reflexivity do I expect an uptick of interest across the blogosphere in perception measurement? There’s a difference between an action item and a thought bubble. And when I last cracked the window most realities looked at the experiential world through the lens of direct engagement, not high def screens, taking leave of one’s chair, not our other senses.

If I choose not to answer Frydenberg’s 2.0 quiz out loud but look for unverbalized responses on Twitter does that enrich those fleeting moments before the Great Forgetting reasserts itself? If you’re performing on stage living in the moment can be a redemptive, even sacred part of a luscious experience. But in a 2.0 state, life is no longer the contact sport we were raised to play. It is a fantasy league.

Maybe that’s the 2.0 world that our children will look back on when the dawning of their 21st Century begins to fade? Living in our heads. An entire to-do list mapped out in a series of keystrokes. For digital immigrants like me short-term memory is trapped in the immediacy — dare I say the tyranny — of now. To indulge this temptation any further would be to grade the notes passed in class with the same deliberation we once reserved for term papers.