There’s No Net Like Your Own Net

Luís Ángel Fernández Hermana - @luisangelfh
4 December, 2018
Editorial: 260
Fecha de publicación original: 27 marzo, 2001

What can one expect from hands that don’t give?

“Where can I find reliable, quality information that interests me?” “What search engine do you use?” “How can I find out who knows what, and get them to transmit it to me?” These three questions are possibly the most frequently asked by internauts, as they surf alone, or in a variety of forums where they get the opportunity to express their worries openly. Last week I gave four consecutive talks in two days, in three different cities (and I have lived to tell the tale, I think). One on knowledge management to a well-known insurance company, another on online education at a refresher course for teachers, another about information organisation at the Universidad Complutense in Madrid and the last one took the form of a moderated chat in At all of them, one way or another, the above-mentioned questions came up. And they are, at the same time, the spring board to any reflection on what it is really the key activity in the Information Society: knowledge management. Or, what we in call, Online Knowledge Management (O-KM).

No matter how much one reads on the subject, the discrepancy between common sense and attitudes currently in vogue, never fails to surprise. Sometimes it’s like reading one of those exquisite recipe books with gorgeous photographs and detailed explanations on how to prepare dishes, which you know you will never achieve: the distance between what you do and what you should do is so great that it cannot be bridged by good intentions alone. Something similar happens with O-KM. Loads of recipes with grandiloquent recommendations are flung at us, but there are few trustworthy explanations telling us what the right mixture of ingredients, temperature and cooking time are to ensure we get the dish we desire.

If we take a look at the information that is important to each individual, collective and company, the reason is obvious, but it is something which we so easily overlook: the information we most appreciate is our own or that which enriches it. It is the information we have spent the most time and energy on attaining and cultivating. And the same applies to all facets of our lives, from family relationships to the professional or leisure. Curiously, though, when we enter the Net we abandon this guiding principle. Surfing and appreciating other people’s information is par for the course. We collect search engines and curiosity pages as though they were part of an interminable stamp collection. Thus we move, almost without noticing it, from the search engine we have entrusted with the task of finding the information we want, to the frustration of the results it really comes up with. Until we learn to combine the need for a magic formula with more diffuse searches aided by some of the people we go to for help (sometimes with questions as bizarre as, “Please could you tell me everything you know about digital communication”, to which one can only respond, “Well, when I last looked, at a quarter past four, the situation was like this …..”). We have all had similar experiences.

This halting activity is implicit recognition of the fundamental characteristic of information and knowledge management in the era of the Internet: the efficiency and quality of one’s results depend on the efficiency and quality of the networks we construct to obtain that information and knowledge. And there is no more efficient network of better quality, or more intelligent, than our own, built up around our own interests. The key words here, as in any system designed to manage online knowledge, are “pertinent and pertaining”. The generation and management of pertinent information and knowledge in a context defined by the interests of the group of participants who pertain to that particular information and knowledge environment. There is nothing new about this. We do the same anyway with our networks of family, friends, ex-students, professionals, old boys, even within the organisations and companies we work for.

So, where does the difference with the Internet age lie? Namely, in that we share the same space, where suddenly everyone can see us. All of us and everything we produce, in whatever environment, is, in principle anyway, transparent. And this raises unavoidable problems, from tailoring the Net to suit our needs, to the definition of objectives that establish its limits, and all this without losing out on the opportunities and advantages that the Internet offers. The question is, therefore, how to make a fresh start and get back again to what we are already familiar with, to a Net we want to pertain to because its content is pertinent to us. And it is here that the difficulties start. Because virtual space does not allow for the mechanical transposing of networks from the real world into cyberspace.

To begin with, the Net presents a range of possibilities undreamed of in the physical world. Either informally, professionally or in the workplace, we come across people we would never have made contact with otherwise. And we do so communicating with them via information, ideas, knowledge. At the start , we don’t know if these contacts are useful, advantageous or interesting…., unless they occur within the context of a network inhabited by people with certain affinities that allow for feedback on the information and knowledge they share.

Could this apply to any kind of network? A group of friends connected by e-mail? A department of a company that communicates via a local network? No, of course not, we are talking about networks where the amount of energy and intelligence invested is the equivalent of what we put into play when we want something. In short, we are talking about information systems here with specific features that make it possible for individuals, companies, institutions and collectives to create and organise within networks, as many as are necessary from the point of view of the content and knowledge sought, or that are necessary for its operation, or for the objectives set. Intensive and intelligent networks where I get what I want, improve on what I already have, provide what I am asked for and which project the joint activities of all its participants.

The burning question is how one designs a network with these characteristics? How do we attain tangible results without getting lost in imperative declarations of intent such as “knowledge is the most important thing in the Information Society”, “first find the information you are interested in and then use it”, “we must make knowledge maps”, “find out who has the knowledge, get it and then distribute it in the organisation” (which sounds a bit like “Knowledge Wanted. Dead or Alive! Reward”). Is there a way of designing these networks in a discreet way without having to use contraptions specially adapted to a computer or computers and that my organisation and I have access to? How do I put my information into a network and how do I know that network is a “good one” ? We will be taking a look at all this next week.

Translation: Bridget King