Recently I was approached to contribute an article to the getting geeky column with suggested topics of Enterprise Content Management (ECM) or Knowledge Management. While I must confess I was not flattered at being called a geek I did relish the thought of being able to expound on some of my research about ECM. But the more I thought about it I got a little tired and fell asleep. While I slept someone else typed this into my laptop.
I have problems. Those of you who know me will readily agree and for those of you who don’t, well just trust me on this one. My problem is content, data, information or by whatever arcane nomenclature it may be known. There is simply too much of it and there are way too many places to put, shove and just basically dump it. Even before I open some content I’m already thinking about where I’m going to put it. At times I feel so frustrated that I think that the best place for all content is down the toilet.
It is maddening and I have to believe that there are those of you out there somewhere in the ether that share my frustrations. What is the knowledge worker to do? We are asked to comment, input, and feedback on more and more content with less and less time to evaluate the quality of the information. I read (in yet another content dumping ground) that the average medical specialist would have to read multiple journals a day, every day, in order to stay informed of all the latest advances in her particular field of study. That must leave a headache.
And people keep producing more content. They can’t stop themselves. I guess it should be expected. People are social creatures by nature and if there is one thing we all love to do it is to share our knowledge with others and technology has helped us bridge the divide. Technology has brought communities together even though they may be worlds apart (I think some of my colleagues are aliens). Technology has put content everywhere. Content is appearing in places like phones, PDA’s, MRI machines and even refrigerators! It all has led us to the mountain range of information overload that quavers the courage of even the most intrepid knowledge worker. So I struggle as I imagine most of you do with sifting through paper, email, documents, records, images, scans, instant message threads and etc. And just when I get closer to finding a trusted path to quality information a new technology comes along (i.e. blogs, wikis, 3D MRI imaging, EMR’s and etc.) and buries me underneath that mountain of information again.
But all is not doom and gloom. There is hope. I believe that as we crest the current summit of information overload we will begin to see an enabling technology that will lift us rapidly to those glorious peaks of information. Those peaks my friends are built on context. Context helps guides us through rocks of content. Context is like a mountaineer guide that points out the relevant mountain and path to quality information. Content without context are like a ton of rocks. They are there lying all over the place. You want to watch out for the loose ones and would like to pick up a few gold nuggets on your path to knowledge discovery. But without context you’ll end up carrying around more lumps of coal and fools gold than actual knowledge.
What you really want to find and stuff in your pockets are special little stones called meta-data. Meta-data are precious stones that will make climbing the mountain of information much easier and prevent avalanches of information rocks falling on your head. Meta-data provides the context to content. It prevents you from getting stoned. However there is not one single peak that will provide the clarity we need to move forward with our individual paths. There are many context peaks. Each peak is built with content (and those precious meta-data stones) relevant to the context mountain you are climbing. So instead of just being a mass jumble of rocks and stone we begin to see structure in the information chaos. Context helps us climb all those rocks of information so we may reach our own knowledge summit.
So the next time you go off creating more unstructured content please remember to add a little context. It is not that hard. Simply find the right place in the device or application you are using and insert meta-data. Most software applications have a function under the File menu labeled Properties. However it may be hidden somewhere else so you might have to do a little cave spelunking to find the right place. If you don’t have a place in the application you are using then you probably got yourself a lump of coal.
As we become knowledgeable about the common content we share and discover in our search for information we realize we are not alone on our journey. Through context driven with meta-data we are able to find like minded individuals, content and information. Content delivered through context draws us together as a community. In turn as a community we will reach our summits of knowledge and deliver the highest quality for ourselves and the communities we serve.
Editor’s note: Richard is an Enterprise Architect in the Enterprise Architecture group in Service Delivery. Some of his contributions have been the National System Strategy Solution Delivery Portfolio Architecture and the NSS Enterprise Content Management overview as well as various KP-IT standards including ones on content. He would love to receive your comments and feedback.