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KM 2.0 and Knowledge Management: Part Two, “Buzz” and Some Skepticism

August 3rd, 2008 · No Comments

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During 2007, the KM 2.0 meme began to spread more rapidly, but as it spread, some observers began to express skepticism about the identification of web 2.0 tools and a fundamentally new sort of KM. One sort of skepticism was expressed by David Weinberger in an article posted at KM World on February 1. David Weinberger argues that Web 2.0 is not a discontinuous stage in web development, but rather a continuation of previous trends. Thus:

“The Web’s been participatory from its inception. Yet, it is certainly true that blogging software and wikis have dramatically lowered the barrier to participating. Likewise, applications were integrated with other apps before Web 2.0, although the growth of APIs and standards has made it much easier than before. So, while Web 2.0 correctly draws our attention to real changes, it would be a mistake to think that the phrase implies that those changes were radical innovations, and not better-faster-easier versions of what we already were doing.”

And then he goes on to draw what he sees is an important difference between Web 2.0 and KM 2.0:

“That’s why, in my opinion, KM 2.0 is both a useful phrase and fundamentally different from Web 2.0. KM 2.0 points to Web 2.0-ish phenomena gaining prominence in the KM space: bottom-up, participatory, rapid innovation, more mixing up and mashing up of information. These are all good things, or at least good things to try. But they are truly discontinuous from the paradigmatic versions of KM 1.0, which were all about managing and controlling information environments.

So, I think it makes sense to talk about Web 2.0 and about KM 2.0. Both point to real changes. But it’s simultaneously important to recognize the real difference between the two 2.0s. Web 2.0 gives a label to a set of phenomena continuous with what came before; KM 2.0 announces a significant change in KM. And not a moment too soon.”

So, David Weinberger thinks that Web 2.0 is different from KM 2.0 because Web 2.0 doesn’t really amount to a discontinuity in the evolution of the Web, while KM 2.0 does represent something revolutionary in KM because there existed a KM 1.0 which was all about managing and controlling information environments.

A contrasting view of the difference between Web 2.0 and KM 2.0 comes from Matthew Hodgson, who posted a blog on April 23 that also stated the issue well:

The fundamental principles of knowledge management . . . are actually about supporting social environments that stimulate informal sharing of knowledge through developing processes that encourage more formal knowledge creation and exchange. Now that we’re seeing the social web evolve and we’re moving onto Web 2.0 I think it’s off the mark to suggest that these sorts of tools equate to KM 2.0. This sort of thing is the systems view of knowledge management that failed years ago. KM is not about the systems, but about the people and processes.

So has KM evolved to KM 2.0? No, not at all. KM is still about people and sharing knowledge. It’s always been about ensuring a supporting environment in which this can be best achieved. It’s never been about the technology because good KM can exist without it! It can even be about drinks with your IA colleagues once a month.

Yes, we’re currently seeing, through blogs and wikis, an environment in which knowledge management can be supported through technology. My message is, just don’t get confused between the two of them.”

I think this is exactly right, and that of the two views just compared, Hodgson is right. The reason is that by 2005, when KM 2.0 originated, most of KM had long since recognized that KM was not about IT primarily, and also that it was not about control, and that control paradigms were inimical to KM. There’s plenty of evidence from the literature that this is true. I’ve reviewed some of it here, in the course of a critique of some of Dave Snowden’s early work written in 2002. But, also anyone who knows the degree to which KM work has been dominated by CoP interventions over the past 10 years, and who also knows about the popularity of CAS theory in KM will find a claim that KM has been trying to implement a control paradigm very strange indeed.

During the portal phase of KM it may have seemed to some that a control paradigm was involved, because of the scale of some many portal installations. But even there, the purpose was to facilitate individual problem solving and decision support as well as collaboration. Insofar, as portals involved any aspect of the control paradigm, this was due far more to the limitations of the technology Knowledge Managers had to work than it was to a KM paradigm emphasizing information control. For more on what portals tried to do and on their unfulfilled ideals and promise see my own book on portals and KM.

A slightly different take on the issue of the relationship of Web 2.0 and KM 2.0 comes from James Dellow. James said:

“Its great to see people talking about the links between experiences with KM adoption with E2.0. In fact, the speed at which we are traveling along the hype curve to get to this point is quite amazing. But, before we get too carried away and find ourselves in the same position of confusing knowledge management and information management I suggest we all read Wilson’s case against KM again, and also my own take on this issue.

Just as social software does not equal wisdom, E2.0 does not equal knowledge management. E2.0 simply provides KM with some new tools that can help with the KM problem of participation, including but not limited to social media (and that’s great!). In fact, while James Robertson suggests we abandon the term “Knowledge Management System” from a planning perspective, I actually like the fact that the term is vague – a KMS should be any kind of information system you use to achieve a KM objective (I should add that I agree with James’ central theme about buying branded KM systems). On the other hand, E2.0 represents a cross over between a KMS and just a part of a wider Web 2.0 trend that is also moving inside the firewall at the same time. Inside the firewall, Web 2.0 will provide:

  • New ways to support collaboration both inside and between organisations (also a benefit for KM, but not limited to KM);

  • A new approach for developing and deploying enterprise applications, and access to enterprise data (hmm, starting to get away from KM here) – for example, see Why “Super Users” are the new programmers; and

  • Better techniques for providing rich user environments that make software easier to use.

  • …and there are probably more.

More importantly, KM is alive and well and for next generation KM the addiction to information technology is under control:

  • Concepts like Communities of Practice (CoPs) and Storytelling can all work without information technology; and

  • Social Network Analysis (SNA) uses computing power as a means to an end.

E2.0 (“enterprise social software“) is different from KM because:

  • It is all about information technology – it does not and can not exist without it; and

  • It appears to have the power to change the shape of organisations, while KM typically tried to improve what was there or provide a way to tap into the back channel.”

I think this analysis of James Dellow’s is very well-taken. Neither E 2.0 nor Web 2.0 equals KM and to confuse either of these things with KM is to fall into old conceptual errors that afflicted earlier KM activities. IT is about supporting KM, it is not KM itself because Management activity whether directed at knowledge processing or any other enterprise phenomenon can’t be entirely automated. In this area we should always be talking about IT-assists for KM or knowledge processing and never about KM as IT.

Having said the above, I don’t entirely agree with James in his implication that while E 2.0 can be revolutionary, KM does not have the power to be. Clearly, if KM interventions can use E 2.0 and the latter can be revolutionary, it follows that KM can be equally, if not more revolutionary. James is right that KM has not been marked by revolutionary change in the past; but his implication, that it cannot be, seems overdrawn given his views on the potential impact of E 2.0, and given the possibility of even more radical IT innovations that KM may be able to make use of. Whether KM can implement revolutionary change, depends on part on whether one’s vision of KM is revolutionary. If such a vision is formulated, and if it meets technology that can support it, then perhaps revolutionary KM-induced change will be both possible and forthcoming.

During the remainder of 2007 the “buzz” surrounding “KM 2.0” seemed to accelerate. In Part 3 I’ll review some of the discussion during the remainder of 2007.

Tags: Complexity · KM 2.0 · KM Software Tools · Knowledge Integration · Knowledge Management · Personal KM