Snake-Oil for the New Millennium

30 March 2008

The Knowledge Management Scam

Red Shoes & Walking Bags, by moriza, with Creative Commons licenceIt’s been a busy week for the information overlords. No, I don’t mean Bill Gates or whoever it is keeping the Internet’s main servers chugging along, although they’ve probably been busy too. Who I actually mean are the snake-oil salesmen of the Cyber Age – those who utter the term ‘knowledge management’ with illogical conviction.

Here in Hong Kong we’ve just had the local Knowledge Management Society’s forum, desperately attempting to ride in the ill-defined wake of Web 2.0. And one of the local newspapers ‘featured’ a thinly disguised advertisement for associated services this week. Not a good start, but let’s broaden our consideration for a while. One question is just begging to be asked: what the heck is knowledge management?

Over the last 20 years we’ve had tortured managerialisms like 360-degree assessment, Six-Sigma (though still with many defenders), business process re-engineering (from the ashes of methods and procedures analysis) and downsizing – that earnest attempt to re-focus business that became a vicious excuse to sack people. Downsizing is still alive and well, with major banks like HSBC excelling at it even though they’re earning record profits, despite claims of hard times after the sub-prime mortgage fiasco. The other methods are faltering, and will eventually fall behind newer fads, one of which is already fading. That’s knowledge management. But it’s not going down without a fight.

If You’re Not Confused, by B Tal, with Creative Commons LicenceSo much for the background – what does ‘knowledge management’ actually mean? Ray Sims recently posted an answer in cyberspace. Well, many possible answers really. Fifty-three all told. These aren’t similar, hairsplitting overviews, but “substantially different. There are only five attributes that are seen in 30% or more of the definitions”. At the Information Research blog, Tom Wilson commented that “in spite of all this he still calls ‘knowledge management’ a discipline!” Indeed.

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Technotes 1.0

22 March 2008

Microreviews from the Realm of Technology

Screen Technology, by rutty, with Creative Commons licenceOne of the more intriguing things about what we vaguely call technology is not what it can achieve, but how we perceive it in many and varied ways. We can embrace change and its sometimes dubious ramifications, take up the new tools of our times, or we can stand back and watch as our expectations shift. We can also shout angrily at the mute gods of permanence, demanding that they bring back what we knew and loved.

Constantly we stand on the daunting threshold of the new.

In that spirit of change I’ve banished last week’s microreviews to the dedicated page. Their counterparts this week, now in the sidebar, were inspired by a range of reactions to technology – my own, of course, and those of people around me. In a follow up to my earlier post on the limits of copyright, I’ve also been reading the emotionally charged work of Andrew Keen, the Cassandra’s Cassandra when it comes to all things participatory on the Internet. In 2006, Keen grouped Larry Lessig, the Stanford law professor who sits on the board of Creative Commons, with those he labelled “intellectual property communists”.

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Who Knows?

19 March 2008

Copyright, Creative Commons and the Limits of Knowledge

Maybe I am Crazy, by I’m Your Pusher, with Creative Commons licenceShare and share alike we’re told as kids, and it’s a pity we don’t always do so as adults. One of the more dubious, and most challenging, features of the Cyber Age is the promotion of intellectual property rights to the commercial extreme. Knowledge has become a commodity, and were it not for projects like Wikipedia and – let’s face it – rampant piracy, few would share the bounty of the times. But we can change that in our own small ways.

Yesterday I licensed the content of this blog under the auspices of the Creative Commons project. The details are at the bottom of the sidebar if you’re interested, and I hope you are.

Creative Commons Licence NotificationI’ve included the notification button here again – just click on it to see the exact conditions of my Attribution Share-Alike licence. Horrible name, I know, but it means that you can use what I write any way you like as long as you state that I created it in the first place. And I’m also asking you to offer the results of any changes under the same licence.

I’m not expecting a general sigh of relief and a rush to quote my material – Heaven forbid! What I’m doing is lending my modest support to a worthy cause.

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Time Enough to Loathe?

3 March 2008

A Three Minute Rule for the Cyber Age

Fed Up, by furryscalyCommunication is a delicate process; we assume much of it, but understand relatively little. Sure, the social sciences have given us an appreciation of the gap between words and thought, between the labels we give things and the nature of those things. But in our sophistication we insist on more, assuming that what we hear or read is the intended message, even when we know it might not be. Disappointment soon follows. Take the phrase ‘three-minute installation’, for instance. In my opinion it’s a malicious little lie.

Stephen Kosslyn’s Image and Brain

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